Lake Okeechobee

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LAKE OKEECHOBEE. Known at various times throughout history as Laguna del Espiritu Santo, Mayaimi, and Lake Mayaco, Lake Okeechobee—from two Seminole Indian words meaning "big water"—is located in the center of Florida. It covers 730 square miles, has 135 miles of shoreline and an average depth of nine feet, and is the second largest freshwater lake in the continental United States after Lake Michigan. Its existence was mere legend to Americans until 1837, when U.S. Army colonel Zachary Taylor fought with the Creeks and Miccosukees during the Seminole Indian Wars. Even afterward it remained virtually unknown except to the Indians until the early 1880s, when Hamilton Disston dredged a navigable waterway north to Kissimmee River and west to the Gulf of Mexico, facilitating the first steamboat traffic. The first railroad was completed in 1915, and was followed by a major highway in 1924, five drainage canals in 1927, and an eighty-five-mile levee in 1937. Agricultural endeavors in the early decades of the twentieth century included peanuts, nuts, hay, sugar cane, and ramie. The lake and its surroundings provide a unique ecosystem abundant with flora, fish, and wildlife. The 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail was opened by the U.S. Forest Service in 1993 and the lake and its waterways are monitored and managed by the South Florida Water Management District in order to better predict its significant meteorological effects and protect it as a national resource.


Gross, Eric. L. "Somebody Got Drowned, Lord: Florida and the Great Okeechobee Hurricane Disaster of 1928." Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1995.

Hanna, Alfred Jackson, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna. Lake Okeechobee, Wellspring of the Everglades. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1948.

Christine E. Hoffman

See alsoSeminole Wars .

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Lake Okeechobee (ō´kēchō´bē), c.700 sq mi (1,810 sq km), SE Fla., N of the Everglades; third largest freshwater lake and fourth largest lake wholly within the United States. It is c.35 mi (60 km) long and up to 25 mi (40 km) wide, with a maximum depth of 15 ft (4.6 m). The Kissimmee River is its chief source and the Caloosahatchee River its main outlet. In reclaiming the Everglades and adjacent lands, many canals were built extending from the southern part of the lake, itself a link in the Okeechobee Waterway. A levee, built after the disastrous hurricane of 1926, rims the lake's shores, protecting the region from floodwaters and permitting use of the lake as a reservoir. The levees and canals have impeded the flow of water from the lake into the Everglades, which now suffers from saltwater intrusion, and have tended to contain pollutants from agricultural runoff in the lake. The drained lands bordering the lake produce vegetables and sugarcane. Okeechobee Battlefield National Historic Landmark, the site of a large battle (1837) during the Seminole Wars, is nearby.