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Big water event in Southeast Florida October 1884

By: indianrivguy, 2:25 PM GMT on September 01, 2012

Big water event in Southeast Florida October 1884

This is from the unpublished manuscript of my Great Granduncle Charles W. Pierce which is held in trust at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Called On the Wings of the Wind it is some 690 pages long and was edited down to 250 pages in 1970 by Dr. Donald Curl at Florida Atlantic University into the book Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida. This is the unabridged version from the manuscript, transcribed “as is”
The Station is Biscayne House of Refuge #5, called the Indian Creek Station by the locals, was located at about 72nd Street on today’s Miami Beach. This was my GG Grandfather Hannibal Dillingham Pierce’s second Station command, as he was first Keeper, 1876-1878 of Orange Grove House of Refuge #3 located at today’s Delray Beach. The author’s sister, my G Grandmother Lily Elder Voss was born there August 15, 1876, the first child born to a Keeper in service. At the time of this event, there but two structures on what we now call Miami Beach, the Station, and the home of Charles Lum built 1882. If you should have further, or deeper interest in any of this era let me know as I am pretty well versed on pioneer Florida and would be happy to share.

As I watched, and lived under, Isaac’s training feeder band that pummeled the Florida east coast, I thought of this story. Its not so hard to believe now.

On the Wings of the Wind Page 491

Chapter 33

In October of that year (1884) occurred the greatest and longest rainfall ever known on the east coast since its earliest settlement. It poured down for eight days and nights, slacking at times for a few minutes, but never stopping: then come down again harder than ever if that were possible. The whole southern part of the state, with the exception of higher ground was inundated. All hollows on the beach ridge east of Indian Creek were full of water. Our road to the landing on the creek crossed one of these swales, now it was arm deep and we were compelled to build a bridge over it in order to reach our boats without almost swimming in crossing this place.

On the night of the eighth day the rain stopped and the next day came in bright and clear and the sun shone brightly on a rain soaked Florida. In the afternoon of that day I was on the east porch looking out to sea. A record had to be kept on the Station log of all types of vessels passing each day, and every hour or so someone would take a look over the ocean to see what kinds of ships might be in sight. Looking up the coast to the northward I caught a glint of something white about four miles away. At first I thought it was a sea gull, then it looked like striking fish. I was not certain which it was so I went for the old long spyglass to get a close up view of that scintillating white.

What the spyglass revealed surprised me, the flickering white I had seen was now clearly shown through the glass to be whitecaps of breaking seas at the head of a dark body of water rushing down the coast. In less than an hour it was passing the Station, in the meantime I had called “all hands and the cook” to come and see the strange sight. A dark mass of fresh water, some hundred feet in width rushing along to the south, and with breaking seas overrunning the blue water in front. It was a strange sight and at first we all wondered where it came from.

Father solved the mystery when he said: “It is fresh water from New River Inlet.” Could that be possible? New River was fourteen miles away, yet there was no other solution of the phenomenon. What a mighty volume of water must be coming out of the inlet, and with tremendous velocity, enough to overcome the resistance of wind and sea for so many miles.

By night of that day the entire ocean in sight of the station was covered with dark coffee colored fresh water from New River. Not a bit of blue water to be seen in any direction. Biscayne Bay was fresh for nearly a month after the week of rain.


I looked; the only tropical storm in October that year was Hurricane #4 ts/at_1884_charts_zoom/at188404.gif

As you can see it never got closer than 300 miles +- but it spent a number of days running up the 75 degree line. Given what we just witnessed, I supposed it is reasonable to say this storm may have been the cause. The total run from its initial development, to when it began accelerating away is seven days, but, a report from Orange Grove House of Refuge some 45 miles north implies the wind and cruddy weather arrived about noon on October 9th, but the rough surf was already going on. This suggests that wind from that fetch had been going on long enough to roughen seas. Hurricane #4 was about to make landfall at Gitmo on the 9th. On the 15th, it was blowing a “gale” which is what a hurricane was called most of the time back then. The Keeper recording this is a Brit Stephan Andrews, I have more than 5000 of his daily entries.

Here are the two log entries from Orange Grove House of Refuge that pertain, they were the only two in this timeframe that had any “Keepers remarks” so were the only two “I” transcribed.

Orange Grove House of Refuge #3 Daily Journals
Keeper Stephan Andrews
October 9, 1884 Thursday
sunrise, moderate E wind, clear weather, heavy surf
noon, strong NE wind, cloudy weather, heavy surf
sunset strong NE wind, cloudy weather, heavy surf

Mile Post No. 1 and Mile Post No. 18
north of Orange Grove House of Refuge
cut out by heavy surf
new ones replaced by Keeper, S. Andrews

October 15, 1884 Wednesday
sunrise, gale N wind, cloudy weather, heavy surf
noon, gale N wind, cloudy weather, heavy surf sunset, gale NE wind, cloudy weather, heavy surf

Champ H. Spencer Dis. Superintendent
made examination of Orange Grove House of
Refuge also Paid Keeper his salary for quarter
ending September 30/84

I have the “remarks” from grandpa at Biscayne House of Refuge #5, but no weather report. This comes from;
Tequesta Magazine 1978
The Log of the Biscayne House of Refuge by Thelma Peters

Keeper Hannibal Dillingham Pierce
Oct. 12,1884.
Forwarded my resignation as keeper of the Biscayne
Bay House of Refuge Life Saving Service to Champ H. Spencer, District
7. Cause assigned: the failing health of Mrs. Pierce makes it necessary
for me to live near a doctor. Resignation to take effect from Dec. 1, 1884 or as soon thereafter as possible.

So, in the middle of all this, Grandpa tendered his resignation.

I would love to read all of them all, not just the ones published but they are presently beyond my reach. Superintendent Spencer was three days later at Orange Grove and the weather was much too rough for his sharpie Skipperee. Some of you from Biscayne will recognize this sharpie as being built by Commodore Ralph Monroe. With the ocean out of the question, there were just two ways left to get north; ocean beach, or through the everglades. If route walked by Superintendent Spencer was the ocean beach, then he would have needed a boat to cross the swollen and raging New River Inlet, and Hillsborough River. As the last Barefoot mailman period was still two months away, Spencer could not travel with and use the mailcarriers boats for this journey. It is more likely he took the backcountry, everglades route with a guide, perhaps Joe Jenkins or George Charters. They had both guided that route with Spencer, and though the wind would be in their face, there would be plenty of water. I am fascinated that even though the weather was plainly awful, business “exposed to the weather” went on as usual. Tough folks back then.

So, I cannot conclude that this was “the” event that brought the prodigious amounts of precipitation, but it is not excluded by anything I have found to date.

Flood Hurricane

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