The Gold Coast Marathon: Sam Griffiths’ Dream

In the years after the end of World War Two, Sam Griffiths, owner of the Pelican Harbor Yacht Club and a power boat enthusiast himself, organized the ultimate power boat race, the Gold Coast Marathon, which ran in the Intracoastal Waterway from his Club just south of the 79th Street Causeway to West Palm Beach, returning to Miami the next day.  The Marathon ran from the late 1940’s to the early 1970’s.  Some of the hydroplanes approached 100 mph, many averaging 50 mph to 60 mph, reaching West Palm Beach in an hour.

Contestants in the Gold Coast Marathon off-loading their hydroplanes and other power boats
Contestants in the Gold Coast Marathon off-loading their hydroplanes and other power boatshydroplanes approached 100 mph, with average speeds from 50 mph to 60 mph, reaching WPB in one hour.

In later years, the danger of hundreds of boats in thirteen classes running in the Intracoastal led to fatality and injuries, forcing Griffiths, a three-time winner, to move the event to an oval course at the sleek, ultramodern Miami Marine Stadium.  Even running on an oval course led to the death of a world class Italian driver. Ultimately the race’s danger coupled with the diminished novelty of the event over the years led to its ending.

Today, a group of preservationists has formed a nonprofit corporation seeking to restore the ultramodern Miami Marine Stadium to its former glory. But for now, the rusty Stadium bears the years of abuse along with the usual graffiti of an abandoned structure.  In the opinion of the author, the Stadium’s restoration is a worthwhile project. The architecture is significant of the very best in modern south Florida architecture.  It deserves restoration to its former beauty along with its interpretation and preservation for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations.

William G. Crawford, Jr., Esq.

Centennial Celebration of the Lake Worth Drainage District


Managing invasive aquatic plants within the Lake Worth Drainage District, using environmentally safe herbicide spraying.
Managing invasive aquatic plants within the Lake Worth Drainage District, using environmentally safe herbicide spraying

The year 2015 marks the Centennial Celebration of the Lake Worth Drainage District.  In 1915, as a result of state legislation, this District came into being to drain excess water during the rainy season and contain water during dry seasons through an intricate system of monitoring, pumps, and locks to prevent flooding.

In later years, the District’s mandate has been enlarged to assure safe and clean water for Palm Beach County’s ever-growing population.  Here, District workers spray herbicide to control the spread of fast-growing aquatic vegetation that hampers the use of canals where allowed and threatens to clog expensive pumps, locks, and other expensive machinery. The District encompasses the old Palm Beach Farms Company tract, comprising some 234 square miles from Okeechobee Boulevard south to the the south boundary line of Palm Beach County.

New board members will be sworn in on June 17, 2015.  Courtesy, Lake Worth Drainage District.

C-SPAN interview of William G. Crawford, Jr., author of “Florida’s Big Dig”

Ft. Lauderdale attorney and historian William G. Crawford, Jr., author of the award-winning “Florida’s Big Dig,”  was interviewed to air on C-Span 2  Book TV Saturday, May 16th and again Sunday, May 17th, 2015.  
The link to the interview at any time: Copy and paste to browser to view interview.
The 2008 winner of the prestigious Rembert Patrick award for the best academic book on a Florida history topic, “Florida’s Big Dig” is the story of the financing and construction of the Florida link in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, one of the largest public-private construction projects in the history of Florida. 

For building a continuous inland waterway from Jacksonville, Fla., to Miami, Fla., the St. Augustine privately financed company won over one million acres of public land along the coast from St. Augustine to Miami and the right to collect tolls until the old canal became a federal waterway in 1929.  The program will air perennially, depending on programming requirements.  DVDs of the various programs, including this interview, will be sold by C-SPAN TV, Washington, D.C.  See end of Interview for purchasing information.

Wanderlust Wednesday: The Venice of the North; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: the Venice of America.

The City of Fort Lauderdale has promoted itself as the ‘Venice of America’ for almost  a century because of its  more than one hundred miles of manmade and natural canals throughout the 36-square-mile city.  But before it proclaimed itself the ‘Venice of America’ beginning in the 1920s, its weekly newspaper advertised the town on its masthead as the ‘Gateway to the Everglades’.  Under Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (1905-1909), the State of Florida began a massive project to drain the Everglades to open up millions of acres of arable land for agriculture on a scale the world had never known.  The plan was to dredge five canals from Lake Okeechobee to both Florida coasts. The first to reach the Lake was the New River Drainage Canal in 1912, starting at Fort Lauderdale; hence the moniker, ‘Gateway to the Everglades’.

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin,” from “The Fault in Our Stars.”   Amsterdam, nicknamed the “Venice of the North,” is a city I would like to visit as part of my Wanderlust Wednesday. My friend, […]

Ben Franklin, the Gulf Stream, and the 1868 Florida Constitution 

 Benjamin Franklin's map of the Gulf Stream

At least to this author’s mind, one of the greatest enigmas in all of Florida history is the insertion in the 1868 Florida constitution of the “Gulf Stream” as the eastern boundary of the Sunshine State. It is unique among the state constitutions of every state in the Union.  No other state uses an indefinite, amorphous and ever-changing geographical feature in describing at least one of its boundaries. Benjamin Franklin was the first to map this feature in 1760.  The stream runs as close as three miles and as distant as two hundred miles from the east coast. The feature changes so rapidly that in a single day, the Gulf Stream changes as much as ten or more miles in width.

Other states use boundaries such as rivers to separate states or the banks of lakes to define their boundaries. Still others, like the coastal states, use statute miles or leagues from the shoreline to define their coastal boundaries, contemplating matters like the distances a cannon ball could be fired from an enemy ship. It’s true that the boundaries of rivers change–over time. But, generally, changes in the courses of rivers depend upon erosion and other natural, predictable, slow-moving changes over time.

Second, the circumstances under which the “Gulf Stream” boundary was inserted remain a mystery subject to speculation.  At the conclusion of the Civil War, before a seceding state could be readmitted to the Union, such state would be required to submit to Congress an acceptable constitution.  In 1868, a duly constituted convention of delegates met in Tallahassee, at the Capitol, and adopted a conservative constitution. A group of radicals bolted the convention and met several miles away at the small town of Monticello. A new “radical” state constitution was adopted under guard behind closed doors.  No complete set of minutes of those meetings survives.  We only know that Congress accepted the “radical” constitution adopted at Monticello and readmitted the State of Florida back into the Union.  The insertion of the Gulf Stream in the 1868 constitution survives to this day.

Its usefulness is doubtful in light of federal law; but as a matter of state history, there it is. And it has never been changed.  Some speculate Florida simply wanted to “flex its muscles”; others believe that the expansion was a protection of important fishing rights in disputes with the Bahama Islands.  Nevertheless, it remains a conundrum without a resolution. Perhaps some day we may know the real reasons for the language.  But for the moment, it remains a mystery.