History Happened Here

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Clewiston

Hendry County

Year Founded: 1925Founded by: John J. O'Brien, Marian Horwitz O'Brien and Alonzo C. Clewis Previously known as: Sandpoint

History

Majestic cypress trees formed a green canopy along the meandering ridge that sloped softly into the pristine waters of Lake Okeechobee. This picturesque setting was first inhabited by the Mayaimis Indians and later the Seminoles. By early 1900, commerical fishermen had established fish camps and named the sandy strip of land Sandpoint. In 1915, Japanese families arrived and started the first farming settlement.

The most sparkling personage to settle Sandpoint was Marian O’Brien, who was the first mayor of Moore Haven in 1917, and historically, the first female mayor east of the Mississippi River. On boating trips, the O’Briens cruised past the scenic ridge and were inspired to start a new community on its lovely shores.

Mr. & Mrs. O’Brien shared their enthusiasiam with business associate, Alfonso Clewis, a Tampa Banker. Mr. Clewis partnered and the O’Briens responded graciously, naming the new community Clewiston. In 1921, the partners completed the construction of a railroad line called the “Moore Haven and Clewiston”. Its completion provided transportation for the area’s abundant winter vegetable crops.

Mrs. O’Brien envisioned the area becoming the nation’s vegetable capital and Clewiston, a Chicago. In 1923, she commissioned famous city planner John Nolan to create a plan for her visionary city.The water front city plan was unveiled in 1925. However, the O’Brien’s dream was soon plagued by financial losses and the destructive hurricanes of 1926 and 1928.

In 1925, Bror Dahlberg, President of Celotex Corporation in Louisiana, purchased the O’Briens entire holdings. He planned to grow sugar cane and manufacture a particle board called “Celotex”, from crushed, sugar cane stalks. The Great Depression of 1929, coincided with the grand opening of his Southern Sugar Company, causing the company to eventually go into receivership.

In 1931, Michigan industrialist Charles Mott purchased Southern Sugar Company and renamed it United States Sugar Corporation. Mr. Mott had a philosophy that was simple and honest, “what is good for the community is good for the company”. It was a motto that brought prosperity to Clewiston and United States Sugar Corporation in the coming years.

During World War 11, Clewiston was home of Number 5 British Flying Training School, established west of the city at Riddle Field. Over 1,800 cadets were trained at Riddle Field as RAF pilots during the war.

The post war years brought citrus groves and futher expansion of winter vegetable farming and ranching operations. With the termination of sugar imports from Cuba in the early 1960s, the area underwent a massive expansion of its sugar cane industry. In 1961, former President, Herbert Hoover, visited Clewiston and was honored with the naming of the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.

Severe freezes in Cental Florida sifted the Florida citrus industry to the Clewiston area.Our home county,Hendry,now leads the state in citrus production and is home to the largest orange juice processing facility in the nation.

Clewiston is home to growing numbers of winter visitors and fishermen, who travel to “America’s Sweetest Town” to enjoy the great Bass fishing on famous Lake Okeechobee and the southern hospitality.

Story of City's Founding

In 1923, Mr. Clewis and the O'Brien's plans for Clewiston were progressing so nicely that they pursued a city offical charter from the State of Florida. However, by 1924 the O'Briens and Mr. Clewis had practically absolved themselves of the responsibility of developing Clewiston. Clashes with townspeople and farming losses resulted in the O'Briens moving to Palm Beach and then Michigan.Mr. Clewis in the absense of his partners lost interest and divested himself of land holdings in Clewiston. In 1925, owing to the earlier efforts of the O'Briens and Mr. Clewis, the Florida legislature passed a special legislation extending a charter for Clewiston with the requirement it be carried out within two years. Bror Dahlberg and his investment group brought the O'Brien holdings in 1925. Mr. Dahlberg stayed very busy creating the Southern Sugar Company, cane farming and constructing a sugar mill. He also tried attracting outside industrial investors as well as push for the real estate development in Clewiston. In 1926, the great Florida land bust occurred and things got bleak. Due to his busy work load, Mr. Dahlberg had apparently failed to make activating the city charter for Clewiston a high priority. He now worked to have the state legislature amend the original charter legislation to give them until 1929 to get the charter activated. The bill passed and the charter activation date was extended. Unfortunately, 1929 rolled around and absolutely nothing had been done to offically create Clewiston. This was caused in part by the bad ecomomic woes in Clewiston. The real estate development of Clewiston had not materialize and there were no great inflows of cash coming from the new mill. Mr. Dahlberg and town again asked legislature to give them one more extention, this time until October 1, 1931. The extention was granted. The Great Depression struck in 1929 and now , not only Florida, but the entire nation was in financial difficulties. Southern Sugar Company went into receivership in the late 1929 and for the next two years the future of Clewiston was in the air. In April 1931, Charles Stewart Mott purchased Southern Sugar Company assets, which brought some stability to Clewiston. However, through the two years of uncertainity and choas, nothing had been done about activating the city charter. Now with a glimmer of hope, Hendry County State Representative Elbert Stewart sought to extend the charter for another two years. Mr. Stewart soon dropped his effort after receiving opposition. Now the clock was ticking and it was time for the leaders of the community to take the measures necessary to activate the charter. True to form, the organizational meeting of the City of Clewiston did not occur until 10 a.m. on October 1,1931. The legislation passed, as amended in 1929, but the charter proved to be very interesting. The law specifically named F. Deane Duff as Mayor, R.Y. Patterson as Commissioner of Public Works, and Malcolm W. Biggs as City Clerk. The other two commissioners named - F.E. Byrant and Jules Burguieres had no specific duties. In fact the law said only three of the commissioners had a reside in Clewiston. That was a very accommodating feature since neither Byrant nor Burguieres ever resided in Clewiston. Even mor interesting was the fact that there were no provisions in the law of elections. These commissioners were appointed for an initial four -year term. In the event they could no longer serve, they had the power to appont thier successor. If they died in office, the remaining commissioners would elect thier replacement. Each commissioner could remain in office, if they so chose, for a period of ten years. Essentially, the citizens of Clewiston had no direct say in who would represent them in city affairs for those ten years.

Little Known Facts

Key Historical Events

Event: The great Storms of 1926 and 1928
Event Description:

Hurricane force winds swept across Lake Okeechobee in 1926, killing 300 people in Moore Haven. In 1928, a far sinister storm swept across the southern tip of the lake killing as many as 3500 people. The 1928 storm is listed as the third largest castropphy in the United States.

Event: Hurricanes of 1926 and 1928
Event Description:

Hurricane force winds swept across Lake Okeechobee in 1926, killing 300 people in Moore Haven. In 1928, a storm destroyed Lake Harbor, South Bay and Belle Glade, killing thousands. Clewiston lives were spared in both storms.The 1928 storm is listed as the third largest national catastrophe in the United States.

Event: Herbert Hoover Memorial
Event Description:

On January 12, 1961, former President Herbert Hoover visited Clewiston and was honored with the naming of the dike. The ceremony was held at the dike. A memorial on the Clewiston dike commemorates Mr. Hoover and the historical event.

Event: The Herbert Hoover Dike
Event Description:

In 1929, President elect, Herbert Hoover, visited the storm ravaged communities around Lake Okeechobee. In 1930, he was instumental in getting a bill passed for the construction of a levee. The dike constructed was eventually completed in 1967. The dike is 35′ in height and 155 miles long.

Event: The Number 5 Britsh Flying Training School
Event Description:

During World War 11 , Clewiston was the home to over 1,800 British cadets that trained as RAF pilots at Riddle Field from 1941 to 1945. The British cadets were well received in Clewiston and lasting friendships were formed. Some of the former cadets still return to Clewiston.

Event: United States Sugar Corporation
Event Description:

Charles Stewart Mott purchased Sothern Sugar Company assets in 1931, and renamed the company, United States Sugar Corporation. Under Mr. Motts leadership the company prospered. United States Sugar Corporation now has the largest sugar mill/refinerey combination in the world. United States Sugar Corporation’s main office is in Clewiston.

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