Category Archives: dredging

Matanzas Inlet – South St Johns County

Matanzas Inlet -South St. Johns County

Matanzas Inlet -South St. Johns County

In 1881, the private St. Augustine-based Florida canal company agreed to dredge an inland waterway from Miami, Fla., to St. Augustine, Fla., and later to Jacksonville, Fla., a distance of approximately 400 miles. For every mile of waterway dredged, state legislators agreed to convey to the canal company 3,840 acres of state-owned land. Upon the delivery of the last (12th) deed to the canal company, the State had granted the canal Company a little over a million acres of public land.

Of the total length of the waterway, between 80% and 85% of the total was pre-existing waterway. Nonetheless, of that 80% to 85% of the waterway, much of it required the dredging of safe, uniform channels as we see them today in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Moreover, both artificial and natural inlets dot Florida’s east coast making difficult maintenance of the waterway at these points. Natural littoral drift along the entire Atlantic coast would routinely fill up these inlets and the Intracoastal Waterway. Some inlets like the Hillsboro Inlet have special navigation districts formed for the purpose of addressing littoral drift. In his report of 1889, Corthell opined that inlets would bring sea water into the inland waterway and naturally kill off fresh water plants such as the hyacinth that often clogged the waterways, representing navigational hazards.

Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse (built 1903)

<img class="size-full wp-image-2570" src="https://floridasbigdig.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/image6.jpg” alt=”Hillsboro Inlet and Lighthouse (1903), relatively current photograph.” width=”600″ height=”616″ /> Hillsboro Inlet and Lighthouse (1903), relatively current photograph.

This photo shows the lighthouse on the north side of the inlet, Intracoastal continues north between Town of Hillsboro Beach to the right and the City of Lighthouse Point to the left of the ICW.

The Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association and Congressman J. Hampton Moore

imageAt the turn of the last century (1895-1920s), something of a renaissance occurred in the political will of the Nation in the demand for inland waterway transportation.  More than thirty citizens groups coalesced from all over the country to demand waterway construction to challenge not only the confiscatory tariffs charged by the railways but also to address the shortage of railway cars available to ship freight and carry passengers across the country.  Among these citizen groups were the National Rivers and Harbors Congress (NRHC) and the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association (the ADWA), both of which formed in the early 1900’s.

A first-term Republican congressman representing Philadelphia, Joseph Hampton Moore sought funds to deepen a portion of the Delaware River.  His colleagues voted the bill down.  So resolute was Moore in finding some way to acquire these funds that he spearheaded the organization of the ADWA in Philadelphia in 1907.  Five hundred governors, congressman, other political leaders, as well as business leaders, and chamber of commerce representatives attended.  Instead of each state along the Atlantic seaboard separately applying for scarce funds under the Rivers and Harbors Act, Moore advocated a ‘one for all, all for one’ lobbying approach. No longer would states be pitted against each other by governmental bureaucracies distributing funds for improvements.  Within weeks, Moore introduced a bill in Congress to authorize the Corps of Engineers to survey a continuous inland waterway from Maine to Beaufort, N.C.

North Carolina congressman John Humphrey Small, ardent supporter of the ADWA.

North Carolina congressman John Humphrey Small, ardent supporter of the ADWA.

A few days later, North Carolina Democratic Congressman John Humphrey Small introduced a bill to authorize the extension of the survey southward from Beaumont, N.C. to Key West, Fla.  It would take until 1935 for the federal government to acquire and enlarge the largely privately owned inland tollways into a continuous, federally controlled, toll-free Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Miami, Fla., to Trenton, N. J., with the exception of a few miles.

The New Englanders and the bank administering Bradley’s estate finally saw a way out of the Florida waterway’s never-ending maintenance problems and the slow sale of Florida land.  They could sell the Florida East Coast Canal en masse to the federal government. It was only a matter of time.

Watermelon Feast on East Coast Canal (Under Construction) at Boynton Beach, Fla. In 1914

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By November 1912, according to the terms and conditions of the Settlement Agreement made in 1906, the last of twelve deeds had been delivered by the State of Florida Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund (the State Cabinet) to the Florida canal company conveying in the aggregate more than one million acres of prime east coast land for dredging 268 miles of Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Miami.

Under the 1906 agreement, state legislators had given the canal company more time to finish the waterway and more state land if the canal company dredged an additional 30 miles north of St. Augustine to Jacksonville. In 1914, many stretches of the waterway had not been completed to state specifications. The state had required a canal five feet deep and fifty feet wide. In many cases, embankments as in this photograph slid back into the water, requiring remedial work.

At the same time, shippers, business and trade associations complained that the State should not have given the last of the twelve deeds for work that had not been completed or completed incorrectly. The photograph plainly shows a deficiency of retaining walls or their equivalent to keep dredged material from sliding back into the canal by 1914.  Unfortunately, the State’s original specifications called for “maintenance” of completed work to be paid for out of toll money collected but little else in specifying precisely how the waterways were to be maintained.  

Courtesy, Boynton Beach Historical Society/Janet DeVries.

Commodore Avylen Harcourt Brook (1866-1946)

Commodore Avylen Harcourt Brook


Commodore Avylen Harcourt Brook was born in Sheffield, England, in 1866 into a family of silver and bronze electroplaters. His early education was in England. Brook studied art under the famous English artist and critic John Ruskin. It was said that one of his ‘parlor tricks’ was to paint two paintings simultaneously, one with his right hand, the second with his left hand.

He migrated in his early teens to Brooklyn, New York, where he soon became president of the Thomas Cusack Outdoor Advertising Agency. There, Brook created the famous Maxwell House “Good ’til the last drop” neon sign and turned Broadway into the ‘Great White Way’, with advertising signs everywhere in neon lights. As president, Brook was earning $25,000 a year, a princely sum in those days.

In 1919, at the age of 53, Brook retired. He sailed his 22-foot sloop ‘Klyo’ down the Atlantic coast to Fort Lauderdale where he lived in a modest residence named ‘Brookside’ on the New River; his sloop ‘Klyo’ docked in the back on the River. Brook had acquired the title Commodore from his leadership of at least two yacht clubs on the Long Island Sound. Brook had been a member of various groups that promoted the construction of a continuous inland waterway inside the Atlantic coast. In Fort Lauderdale, Brook represented Broward County as a member of the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND), tasked with the duty of acquiring the old Florida East Coast Canal tollway and turning it over to the federal government for enlargement and perpetual maintenance.  When Brook died, downtown retailers closed for half a day in respect for Brook’s contributions to the community.

Corthell’s 1889 Estimate of the Cost to Complete the Florida East Coast Canal

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In 1888, Florida canal company general manager George F. Miles engaged acclaimed Chicago waterway and railway engineer Elmer Corthell to survey the soil, rock, sand, and other material the Company dredges would likely encounter in completing the waterway and to estimate the cost of completion.

In turn, Corthell employed a former Army engineer, Artur [sic] Wrotnowski, to perform the actual on-the-ground measurements between bodies of water, their depths, and distances, with calculations of how much material the Florida canal company would have to move to comply with state requirements. Corthell reviewed Wrotnowski’s survey in detail and reported to the directors of the Florida canal company the amount of material to be moved and the cost to complete the waterway.

Corthell also considered mounting marine vessels on railway cars to transit difficult-to-dredge dry land between waterways but rejected the railway alternative as too expensive to maintain. In conclusion, Corthell endorsed the project on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, starting with minimum depths now, using the waterway to generate revenue to dredge a deeper and wider waterway later.  Withal, Corthell thought the Florida East Coast economy robust, more than enough to justify his estimated cost to complete of a little over $1 million in  1889 ($26 million in historic standard-of-living dollars today, 2014). Courtesy, Brown University, Hay Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

Steamer "Swan" Schedule of Tolls, 1911

As the 1912 deadline approached for the completion of the Florida waterway, George Francis Miles became increasingly disenchanted with his role as general manager of dredging operations.  In 1911, Miles and others organized the Florida Coastal Inland Navigation Company to run steamboats on the completed portions of the inland waterway (Florida East Coast Canal).  

Shown here is the toll schedule of the new steamer company running the old “Swan,” a light draft flat-bottom sternwheeler that once ran cotton on the Mississippi River.  The “Swan” now transported cargoes of winter vegetables and citrus or passengers with their automobiles stowed in the open on the first level.  Courtesy, Florida State Archives, Tallahassee, Fla.