Lake Okeechobee’s Five Counties

On December 25, 2007 · 4 Comments

Lake Okeechobee dominates South Florida‘s landscape, a massive liquid patch along a narrow peninsula, as if some giant creature found the lower portion of the state a convenient coaster for the world’s largest mug. It is the second largest freshwater lake contained wholly within the United States, behind only one of the Great Lakes — Lake Michigan. It covers a whopping 730 square miles but averages a measly 9 feet deep. It’s really just an opening within the surrounding Everglades, a clearing in a much larger body of water camouflaged by swamp and sawgrass. This would generally be interesting enough to warrant coverage on this website but there is an even more unusual feature that has nothing to do with nature, and everything to do with the unique way mankind carves out its little territories.

Lake Okeechobee 5 Counties

Looking at Lake Okeechobee on this Microsoft Encarta map clearly shows a point where five different Florida counties come together at a single point: Glades; Hendry; Palm Beach, Martin and Okeechobee. There is no other spot in the United States where this occurs. It’s fairly common to find a boundary where four political units come together since this happens logically anytime two lines cross. It is much more unusual to find more than four coming together. It often signals that something of importance sits at the common point. In this case it’s the lake itself, or more specifically, the large reservoir of fresh water that is useful both for drinking and for agriculture.

Lake Okeechobee in 1921

Lake Okeechobee wasn’t always shared so equitably. The Palm Beach County government’s public affairs website explains that the entire lake belonged to Palm Beach County until 1963. This prior ownership arrangement can be seen quite clearly in this detail from a 1921 L.L. Poates map available through the University of South Florida. Notice how the blue county boundary for Palm Beach marked by the red arrows wraps entirely around the lake. As the population of South Florida and demands for fresh water grew, so did the demands of counties bordering on Lake Okeechobee. Eventually the State of Florida stepped in and divided ownership among the five. That is how the state ended up with five counties coming together at a common point.

On December 25, 2007 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Lake Okeechobee’s Five Counties”

  1. David P. Smith says:

    Can anyone tell me if there is any type of bouy or fixed marker at the five-county quintipoint in Lake Okeechobee, Florida?
    How accurately has this point ever been determined?

    • Good question, David. One of the regulars who comments on this blog has been to that point. You can get contact information at the bottom of this post. Also I remember reading his original account about this feat (although my memory is getting a little fuzzy on the finer points). I don’t recall reading about a buoy but I remember being fascinated that he reached a spot in the lake where he could not see land in any direction! I’m pretty sure you should be able to get to the point fairly accurately with an hand-held GPS. The longitude/latitude is precise but it’s probably unmarked other than what you might see on your GPS. Best of luck and please let us know if you reach the spot. Also, please feel free to return if you would like to follow some more geo-oddities.

  2. George William Brock Scott says:

    This point of the five counties meeting involves more than just water. In the early 1960s, my father William R. Scott in his term in the Florida legislature representing Martin County proposed, guided, and saw to completion the division of Lake Okeechobee because at that time (and perhaps still), highway funds were determined by the total area covered by the counties.

    By claiming all of Okeechobee, Palm Beach County’s share of highway funds was at a higher level than justified by the area of the county which could actually support a roadway. Martin was formerly a part of the larger county, and when it was pared from Palm Beach County the lake remained claimed by Palm Beach County until my father’s legislation.

    Upon confirmation of the new legal jurisdiction, representatives from Palm Beach County presented William Ralph Scott with a jug of water, representing all the water left to Palm Beach County by William Scott. This jug and its commemorative label and documentation now resides in the Martin County Historical Society Museum on Flagler Avenue in Stuart, Florida.

    I have tried to determine the best name for the point where the five counties meet. I could find no legal term for this point, so I called Math Professor David Anderson at the University of Tennessee, who suggested the geometric term “Vertex”. The proper name for this point is the “William Scott Vertex of Lake Okeechobee”. Future divisions of this sort can justifiably be called “Scott Vertices”.

  3. Fritz Keppler says:

    Curiously, MapQuest maps (as well as Bing and AAA, perhaps more) show another quintipoint in Chesapeake Bay, at the supposed meeting place of Northampton, Poquoson, York, Gloucester and Mathews counties/cities. I hope that this is a mapping error and that the borders have changed, since one quintipoint in the US is enough! Oddly, MapPoint shows this meeting of 5 units only at its Zoom Level 10 and higher, and shows the more traditional lines at Zoom Level 9. (Lower levels do not show county lines.) I wrote MapQuest asking about this discrepancy, but they were unable to account for it, and they have not returned subsequent queries. Very strange indeed. I have been finding numerous line discrepancies in the online mapping programs, so for my own records I go by DeLorme, since that is the type of GPS I use.

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