Written by Marge Stolte
Ancient Indians once prospered in the bounty of the region now known as Myakka River State Park. The 28,875 acres of majestic natural wonders of the river valley are now enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.
In the 16th century, tribes of Timucua and Calusa Indians roamed the area. They were followed by the Seminole Indians in the 18th century, and native people still lived in the river valley when the early settlers arrived. As time passed, the native people were forced away, as homesteaders encroached upon their land. The name Myakka has evolved from the native Macaco people. The area first became known as Mayacca, which turned into Miakka, and was ultimately changed to what we know today as Myakka. In this region’s early history, the graceful river wandered unencumbered where it desired, generously spilling its overflow in time of rain. In dry seasons, the smaller of the two lakes would sometimes shrink to become what was known as “The Big Hole” until the rain returned and filled it once again.
In the late 1800s, this area was an open cattle range. Early settler Jesse Knight forged a trail between the Myakka area and Horse & Chaise (which eventually became Venice). A portion of the original trail was found running through what is now Knight’s Trail Park in Nokomis, hence the park’s name.
One particular parcel in the Myakka River Valley was owned by Garrett Murphy at the time that Mrs. Bertha Palmer went to see firsthand the pristine beauty of the area. Mrs. Palmer was escorted via horse and buggy by A. B. Edwards, the same gentleman who facilitated her 60,000-acre land purchase in Venice. She was greatly impressed with the natural countryside around her. As the story is told, in 1910, she bought 6,000 acres and 3,000 head of cattle from Mr. Murphy without even getting out of her buggy! She was quoted to have called the area, “The most beautiful spot in all Florida.” This sophisticated, worldly woman had her sights set upon cattle ranching. Apparently, the local ranchers believed this to be only a passing fancy for her, a folly, an undertaking that would prove unsuccessful. She lovingly called her new ranch “Meadow Sweet Pastures.”
Mrs. Palmer did things right, with planning and forethought. She was a problem solver. Ticks on the cattle were a big concern, and in 1915 Mrs. Palmer was the first to “dip” the herd to control the pests. The nearby ranchers laughed at her, believing the effort to be a waste of time. However, the treatment was successful. She was the first rancher in the area to fence the land to secure her breeding stock, moving away from the open pasture methods of the past. The other ranchers stopped laughing when she shipped 1,000 head of cattle that same year, requiring 31 rail cars to transport. It was the largest cattle shipment in the county at that time.
After Mrs. Palmer’s death, Meadow Sweet Pastures became part of her estate. A. B. Edwards loved to spend time in the Myakka River Valley and became the central figure in eventually procuring the area for permanent public enjoyment. Mr. Edwards, in association with the local Fresh Water Fish and Game Protection Association, brought the idea of a state park to Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund. They were ultimately persuaded to purchase more than 17,000 acres for 37 1/2 cents an acre from the A. C. Honore Estate. Almost immediately, Honore Palmer and Potter Palmer, Jr. donated another 1,920 acres expressly for park use in memory of their mother, Bertha.
In 1934, the formidable task of building the park itself fell to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a federal relief agency segment of the depression era’s New Deal program. CCC Company #1421 toiled for seven years building roads, bridges, dams, cabins, pavilions, picnic shelters and residences still in use today. They used native building materials exclusively to blend with the natural surroundings.
The crews, numbering from 140 to 210 men, cleared picnic areas, cut fire breaks, and removed exotic water hyacinths clogging the waterways that were previously introduced into the environment. They planted more than 100,000 seedlings. Mark D. Smith, an archivist for the Sarasota County Department of Historical Resources says, “In one day, a crew of 51 planted 9,900 trees.”
The Myakka River State Park, one of the oldest and largest wilderness preserves in Florida, was officially dedicated on February 18, 1941. A. B. Edwards, who was fundamental in seeing the park come to fruition, took part in the festivities. The dedication was well attended, as reported by the Herald Tribune on March 2, 1941, “More than 8,000 persons from many sections of the state attended the colorful dedication ceremony Friday and enjoyed a fish fry prepared by veterans of the nearby CCC, while Ringling Circus clowns delighted the throng with their antics.” The crowd was also entertained by bands from Sarasota and Bradenton High Schools. The Kentucky Military Institute cadets from Venice entertained with concerts and snappy drills.
Thanks to the vision of early naturalists and the accomplishments of the CCC, the natural environment of the Myakka River State Park provides outstanding outdoor recreational activities today. Myakka State Park is America’s first two-time winner of the prestigious National Gold Medal Award, which is the highest award recognizing park service excellence.
For more information, call 941-361-6511 or visit www.MyakkaRiver.org. Myakka River State Park is located 9 miles east of Interstate 75 on State Road 72.
To view photos from the Venice Archives and Area Historical Collection, visit http://venicefl.pastperfect-online.com. Don’t miss the new exhibit running through the month of April, “Opening Day At Venice February 27, 1926: A Photographic Journey by Grover Koons.” The Venice Archives and Area Historical Collection is located at the Triangle Inn, 351 Nassau Street S. on Venice Island. The Archives is currently open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
|< Prev||Next >|