President Theodore Roosevelt operating a Dredge in the Culebra Cut of the Panama Canal

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt operating what appears to be a dipper elevator dredge in the Culebra Cut in 1906,

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt operating what appears to be an elevator dredge in the Culebra Cut in 1906.

The Culebra Cut was the most difficult of all the dredging operations in the digging of the Panama Canal.  Capt. David Gaillard, of French Hugenot ancestry, was chief of dredging operations at the Cut and a cousin of Henry Gaillard.  Henry had been one of the four original incorporators of the Florida canal company, the longest serving director, and a St. Augustine state senator.  Henry’s political importance in securing the million acres of state land promised for dredging what would become the Intracoastal Waterway cannot be overstated.  Without Henry’s political clout after the death of Dr. John Westcott, it is doubtful the company would have been successful.

The Culebra Cut was essentially a cut through a solid mountain.  So arduous was the work, including dynamiting and the building of a railway to remove the rock and debris, it left David a broken man.  David was hospitalized for the balance of the Panama Canal work.  He died before the opening ceremonies. Here, Roosevelt operates an elevator dredge, which required level ground and the laying of railway steel and wooden ties.  The Florida canal company used elevator dredges in the northern extension of the Florida waterway from St. Augustine to Jacksonville.  Courtesy, Library of Congress, American Memory.

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