North of Biscayne Bay is a small geographic feature known more accurately as Dumfoundling Bay, part of today’s Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
After federal takeover of the Intracoastal in 1929, the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) began the process of surveying the contour of the waterway as well as any other rights-of-way needed by the Army Corps of Engineers to deposit spoil to be removed in enlarging the width and depth of the waterway under the 1927 Act of Congress. Appointed by FIND to survey the waterway in the three southernmost counties was a very competent but salty-tongued Fort Lauderdale engineer, John Charlton.
If anything, John Charlton was punctilious about the precise spelling of the names of every geographic feature along the Florida waterway. When Charlton reviewed the spelling of the Dumfoundling Bay, he noticed there were two other variants in spelling the small bay leading to the larger Biscayne Bay.
Various maps going back to the early 1800s spelled the feature Dumbfounding Bay and Dumbfoundling Bay as well as the Dumfoundling Bay. Fortunately, Congress established a Board of Geographic Names to hold hearings, receive evidence, and make the final decision on spelling geographic features throughout the United States where such features had conflicts in naming.
Charlton submitted numerous maps, supporting material, even a sarcastic poem justifying the historical usage on maps for hundreds of years past naming the feature “Dumfoundling Bay.” After all, Charlton observed, naming the feature “Dumbfoundling Bay would result in naming it a “speechless orphan.”
In 1932, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names put the matter to rest, finally siding with Charlton and with the less controversial “Dumfoundling Bay.” Although one may see it spelled differently today in sloppy media, the correct and official name has already been decided otherwise by the governmental board whose job it is to decide these questions to insure uniformity in the naming of features on maps and thus prevent confusion.
So, my theory is that there was, indeed, an orphan found that could not talk and was possibly deaf. Is there an historian that can verify this? We have had a School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine since 1888.
Maryann, I am pleased you took the time to ask a thoughtful question. When the brouhaha arose over the name, the surveyor F.I.N.D. appointed to survey the offiJohn Charlton of Ft. Lauderdale submitted the enigma to the United States Board on Geographic Names to make a final decision on the precise spelling of the Name. Congress passed a law some time ago creating an agency of the Executive Branch under the Department of the Interior to determine disputes for the proper naming of every substantial geographic feature in the United States such as rivers, mountains, and lakes, without exclusion of any disputed feature. However, because of budgetary problems, several years ago the Board decided to decide disputes of monumental importance and it does not update interpretations already made.
I did some checking. The board decided the matter as follows:
Dumfoundling Bay 281852 Bay Miami-Dade FL 255643N 0800747W 0 North Miami 01-JAN-1932 19-OCT-1979
You can go online and see the above info. The “b” was removed from “Dumb” by a board decision made on January 1, 1932, recorded October 19,
1979. He 1932 decision was never appealed by anyone. It looks like you can obtain the minutes of Board meetings, which might reveal information on how the decision was made.
Thanks for your question.
All best, I apologize for the delay.
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