Early Settlers in CREW

Europeans & Early American Settlers, the history of land use and its effect on our water resources and wildlife in CREW
Lakes of Flint Pen Strand

Water management in Florida today has evolved from the lessons of the past, as well as from changing philosophies about natural resources and the environment. Early Native Americans in Florida altered the land by building settlements, cultivating fields, building mounds, establishing transportation routes, and digging canals and fish ponds. European explorers and settlers arrived in the 1500s, but much of Florida, particularly the central and southern regions, remained relatively undeveloped until the last decades of the 19th century. Significant increases in population and tourism were contemporaneous with new development and developers directly and indirectly caused significant changes to the natural landscape and resources of the state (Purdum et al.).

Europeans & early American settlers:

The history of Florida’s human settlement for most of the past 14,000 years has been shaped by water. When Spanish explorers arrived in Florida in the 1500s, an estimated 350,000 Native Americans were living throughout the state almost exclusively near water filled regions (Bureau of Archaeological Research). At the time of the European contact in the late 16th century, the Spaniards identified the people of Southwest Florida as the Calusa. The Calusa occupied the coastal zone, however their political influence and trade network extended inland to the Lake Okeechobee basin.

Settlement of Lee County really began in the years following the Civil War. Government land surveys seeking out areas for settlement were also completed during this period, although CREW area surveys were left incomplete due to the “impracticable” nature of the swamp. Ultimately, even though people had lived in Florida for thousands of years prior to 1900, their overall impact had been minimal.

Lakes of Flint Pen Strand where majority of research was conducted. Photo by John Lane

Historical & archaeological research at CREW:

Archaeological research on the CREW lands, which includes approximately 60,000 acres, have uncovered no prehistoric or historic artifacts (Halperin et al.). However, archaeologically significant sites were identified adjacent to the CREW lands near Lake Trafford and several potential sites with historical resources were identified within the CREW project. Even though archaeological research uncovered no diagnostic artifacts and given the limited excavation done, it is reasonable to assume CREW would have been used for hunting and gathering activity by prehistoric peoples. Feel free to contact the CREW Trust or the Bureau of Archaeological Research if you discover a possible historical/archaeological site.

The early 1940s aerial photographs show limited cultural activity within the CREW project and by the 1970s, only a partial ditch system was in place. The Flint Pen Strand canals were more recently constructed, as evidenced by the dirt and rubble leftover from excavation. Some time after 1970, 12 to 15 homesteads were established in the slightly higher eastern part of the CREW project. The sites appear to have been selected based on slight elevations and access via the dirt trails. Almost nothing remains of these homesteads except abandoned power poles and a thin scatter of debris (Halperin et al.). 

In 2010, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) began steps to restore hydrologic functions within the CREW Flint Pen Strand area (Blog: History of  Flint Pen Strand: Part Two), just another example of Floridians actively seeking ways to preserve, protect and restore water resources in more recent years.

Environmental choices & change:

Since 1900, Florida has seen substantial changes in land and water use. General consensus viewed Florida as having too much water and as a result, many Floridians were focused on drainage, flood control and navigation (Purdum et al.). Historically, water resources were seen primarily for human use and therefore were controlled and modified to suit our needs. Now, the value and sustainability of our finite water resources are clear. Land managers (SFWMD) today are concerned with water quality protection, water supply and ensuring natural places like the CREW watershed are under protection and preserved for future generations (Purdum et al.). 

Bibliography

Halperin, Christina, et al. “Cultural Resources Survey of the Corkscrew Marsh Tract of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, Collier County, Florida.” C.A.R.L. Archaeological Survey, vol. Bureau of Archaeological Research, no. June, 2002, p. 42.

Purdum, Elizabeth D., et al. “Florida Waters.” A Water Resources Manual from Florida’s Water Management Districts, vol. Florida Water Management District, no. 1, 2002, p. 120.

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