Col. Gilbert A. Youngberg — Florida Chief of Army Corps of Engineers, in 1922

The nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, constantly fought Alexander Hamilton, first Treasury Secretary under President George Washington, over Hamilton’s liberal views of the Constitution. Jefferson believed in a strict construction of the Constitution. Adamantly opposed to Hamilton’s support of a standing (permanent) army, Jefferson supported the Military Peace Establishment Act, which founded the U. S. Military Academy at West Point.

Col. Gilbert A. Youngberg, Florida Chief of the Army Engineers (1922). Courtesy, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.
Col. Gilbert A. Youngberg, Florida Chief of the Army Engineers (1922). Courtesy, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.

Jefferson believed the federal government should train its best soldiers to survey but not build inland waterways, roads, and bridges as army engineers. In fact, because the Academy believed that French engineering produced better infrastructure based on more solid concepts over British engineering, West Point cadets read their engineering textbooks in French in the early years. Moreover, cadets who graduated in the top ten percent of their class were able to choose their areas of military service after graduation.

A crucial appointment by the Chief of Engineers in Washington, D.C., in 1922 led to the appointment of Col. Gilbert Albin Youngberg as Florida Chief of Engineers.  Youngberg emphasized the importance of assembling economic data to support Florida’s case for the federalizing of the privately owned old Florida East Coast Canal and its conversion into the toll-free, federally controlled, Intracoastal Waterway.

Five years later, in 1927, Youngberg put together a strong brief in support of a federal takeover of the East Coast Canal, later incorporated in House Document 586.  Acting on Youngberg’s support, Congress approved federalization as long as the State of Florida turned over to the federal government free and clear the old canal, the necessary right-of-way for enlargement to a depth of eight feet and a width of seventy-five feet, and provide the land for the deposit of spoil.  In exchange, the government would enlarge and maintain the waterway in perpetuity.

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