Author leads tour on the Intracoastal (without leaving the hotel)

Last year, I led my first tour on the Intracoastal Waterway about this time of year while aboard the ubiquitous WaterTaxi in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The participants were Road Scholars, a program devised by the Cambridge, Mass., non-profit organization that launched ElderHostel some years ago, today a worldwide lifetime learning program.A Road Scholar trip on the Intracoastal

Participants ranged in age from 50 to 75 who want something out of travel ,than just travel, a destination, and maybe the city bus tour with some history but mostly humor and tales my grandmother would never tell me.  The groups are comprised of highly intelligent former or current teachers, engineers, doctors and other professionals. The Road Scholar people think of everything to make the trip comfortable, interesting, and educational.  On the Intracoastal Waterway boat tour last year, I had a headphone and each Scholar had his or her own set of wireless, adjustable, channelized ear buds that masked out undesirable waterway noise, so that each Scholar could hear me–or not.

This year we were without our WaterTaxi, but we decided to use the ear buds anyway for comfort.  I gave a seventy-five minute talk on the history of the Intracoastal using PowerPoint slides that tell the story of how Florida got its section of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, a privately owned tollway before the Army Corps of Engineers assumed control and removed the six toll chains in 1929.  No one went to sleep during my talk.  Not one.  The venue for my lecture, The Riverside Hotel, could not have been more accommodating.  I’ll give four more lectures there in the coming weeks to more Road Scholars spending a week here.

The rest of the lineup is spectacular.  Patsy West, a leading expert on the Seminoles, will lecture on our Native American history and provide lunch in her charming turn-of-the-last-century Dade County pine, vernacular-style home on the New River.  Elliot Kleinberg, writer for the Palm Beach Post and author of numerous books on Florida history, including his award-winning book on the 1928 hurricane that devastated Palm Beach County and the Everglades, will also lecture in his energetic, humorous style. The Road Scholar people definitely have their act together.  Their online brochure even identifies activities by physical exertion level so you know ahead of time whether a particular tour is something within your capabilities.  If you’re looking for entertaining and educational travel plans, this program is for you. Look at their website near the time you’d like to travel. They have hundreds of listings throughout the country and the world.  Listings are subject to cancellation depending upon interest.

Website: The author has no financial interest in these travel programs. The author is paid an honorarium for each lecture just as he has been paid by other organizations for lectures at other times and places.

Col. Gilbert A. Youngberg, Florida chief of the Corps of Engineers

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, uFla.

1922 became a key turning point in the history of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Florida. First, Charles F. Burgman became the president of the Association of East Coast Chambers of Commerce. By 1922, nearly every local chamber of commerce or board of trade had launched a campaign calling upon the Federal Government to take over the Florida East Coast Canal because of the failure of the Florida canal company to maintain the Canal.

The Florida canal company had collected thousands of dollars in tolls from vessels transiting the Canal, which at many points had become impassable because of poor maintenance.  When the Florida Legislature agreed to allow the canal company to collect tolls, the tolls were to be used to maintain the Canal once it was completed.  Burgman’s organization met as many as four times a year to launch public awareness campaigns and to push for a federalized waterway.

In August 1922, the Chief of Engineers in Washington, D.C.., appointed Col. Gilbert Youngberg to replace Col. William Lemen as Florida chief of the Army Corps of Engineers. Lemen’s work had been lackluster at best. Youngberg emphasized to Burgman’s group the necessity of making Congress aware of the facts and figures supporting the economic impact of a continuous inland waterway. This was especially important given the sparse populations in most settlements and villages along the east coast except for Miami.

Youngberg’s predecessor, Col. William Lemen, had been directed to determine whether the Corps should assume control of the old Florida East Coast Canal in its entirety or assume control of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville south to a more centrally located Sanford, Florida, on Lake Monroe, continuing southeast to a point near Titusville where an artificial canal could be constructed to the southern reaches of the old Florida East Coast Canal to Miami. The principal advantage of the St. Johns River route was the river’s natural depth and width. Nature had already provided Sanford with a waterway deep enough and wide enough for any steamship available, as steamships had already been in operation for decades between Sanford and Jacksonville, Fla.

In June 1922, Youngberg’s predecessor, Lt. William Lemen held four hearings at Titusville, West Palm Beach, Daytona, and Sanford. At Daytona, nearly ever individual interested in the waterway was present to support the old Florida East Coast Canal. If the Army chose the St. Johns River-Sanford route, Daytona would be cut out completely from an Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway project. Similarly, nearly every person in Sanford turned out for the hearing held there. Selection of the old East Coast Canal route would mean economic death for Sanford. The result was a preliminary selection by Lemen and a special board of Army engineers of the St. Johns River route, thus cutting out Daytona because an insufficient case had been made for a takeover of the East Coast Canal in its entirety.

Burgman and his Association of Chambers of Commerce of the East Coast of Florida went to work with Youngberg’s help to reverse Washington’s preliminary decision favoring the St. Johns River route. The final  result was a recommendation by the Chief of Engineers to the Speaker of the House of Representatives favoring the old Florida East Coast Canal as the Florida route for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.