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Three Islands

Torry Island (1917 to 1921); Kraemer (1918 to 1932) and Kreamer (to 1936); and Mabry/ Ritta Island (1922 to 1923)

A 1935 map showing the islands of Torry, Kreamer, and Ritta.

A 1935 map showing the islands of Torry,
Kreamer, and Ritta.

Three low-lying islands – Torry, Kreamer, and Ritta – occupy about 7,000 acres at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee; each grew larger when drainage lowered the level of the lake. One of the larger farms on Torry Island covered 700 acres. 

Prior to settlement, Torry and Kreamer islands were covered by dense stands of pond apple trees (mistakenly called custard apples) and the now-endangered Okeechobee gourd that draped its vines on them. When some of the first Glades farmers settled here in the early 1900s, they cut down the trees to accommodate their crops: vegetables, some sugarcane, and banana, grapefruit, and avocado trees. The fertile custard apple muck soils, now known as Torry mucks, were found along the southeast edges of the lake, which added minerals to the soils.

The U. S. Government surveyed all the Okeechobee islands in 1917 and declared them open for homesteading. But Kreamer Island had been settled as a fishing and agricultural settlement in the 1800s. Hamilton Disston, a Philadelphia millionaire, had become Florida’s largest landowner in 1881 when he bought four million acres from the state for 25 cents an acre. When Disston began the state’s first large drainage effort in the Everglades, Colonel James N. Kreamer was chief engineer and the apparent inspiration for the island’s name. It seemed the first registration of the post office was misspelled and not corrected until 1932.

Kreamer Island had a church, a school, and several homes; one served as post office and general store. Limited access to the island contributed to the end of the community, as did the 1928 hurricane; the raising of the dike afterward dealt the final blow. A bridge to the island burned in the late 1970s. When a drought in 2001 exposed tiny Kreamer Island once again, it also exposed thousands of tires believed to have been dumped there decades earlier. The South Florida Water Management District and local officials have discussed turning the island into a park.

Ritta Island, about a mile off shore from the Miami Canal, was first settled about 1909. When a post office was established there in 1922, it was called “Mabry.” Charles A. “Mutt” Thomas, whose family lived there in the 1920s, recalled:

They cleared the land by hand, planted and farmed with hand tools mostly. Captain Felix Forbes had the only mule on the Island. The children worked as soon as they were big enough and when they were not in school. In those days the family with the most kids had the best farm. [Our] green beans and onions were shipped to Fort Lauderdale on Captain Shakleford's freight boat and sold there.

In the late summer of 1922 the rains came, and by September 30 the rainfall was ten inches in excess of the annual average. The level of Lake Okeechobee rose five feet [to] 22 feet or better. Ritta Island had an elevation of 21 feet, as it had just been cleared and had not yet packed down. Bare Beach, Clewiston, Okeelanta, as well as the islands were under water.

The islands are now inside the Hoover Dike and are considered part of Belle Glade.

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