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.

The first dredge machine used in the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway (1882?)

First known dredge machine used in the Matanzas-Halifax River Cut (1882?). Courtesy, St. Augustine Historical Society.
First known dredge machine used in the Matanzas-Halifax River Cut (1882?). Courtesy, St. Augustine Historical Society.

The first dredge used in constructing the Intracoastal Waterway was a crude steel bucket dredge. Each bucket was the size of two average-sized men standing inside. The buckets were attached to a continuous steel chain, powered by steam. First used in the so-called Matanzas-Halifax Cut, the dredge was to join the Matanzas River at St. Augustine with the Halifax River at Ormond (now, Ormond Beach). The thirty-mile stretch of dry land required thirty years to complete the work. The constant breaking of the continuous chain as well as the tearing away of buckets from the chain made the work difficult to sustain.

In the dredging of dry cuts like this one, it was necessary to put fifty to eighty men with shovels and picks ahead of the bucket dredge to break up the solid ground and remove any sizeable trees. Often, expediency required a source of water ahead of the the work to make the rock and sand more easily removed by the buckets without sand and rock escaping the buckets.

It didn’t take canal company officials long to realize that more efficient machines were needed. The dredge machine was all encompassing. It contained not only the dredge itself but also sleeping quarters for the men operating the machine, a kitchen and dining area, as well as an acetylene gas generator for lighting, for dredging twenty-four hours a day.

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.

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.

Florida Coast Line Canal & Transportation Co. Toll schedule for the Intracoastal Waterway (1920)

Florida canal company (private) toll schedule (1920). Courtesy, Youngberg collection, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.

Evidence is scant but it appears that State trustees first permitted the private canal company to collect tolls from vessels transiting the inland waterway at various points in 1911. The method of collection was to stretch chains across sections as narrow as fifty feet. When the vessel paid the toll exacted, the toll keeper relaxed the chain to the bottom of the waterway, thus allowing the vessel to pass.

By 1920, as many as six chains were stretched across the waterway at six different points from Jacksonville to Hallandale. The number and location of the chains depended on the amount of tolls collected from each section. Oftentimes, the State trustees (the Cabinet) would move the toll chain from Dania (Beach) to Hallandale (Beach); at other times, the trustees would suspend collections entirely upon evidence that the tolls collected did not justify maintenance of the chain and the salary of the toll keeper.

As late as 1925, just before the collapse of the real estate market and the Hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, toll collections amounted to an astounding $50,000 in one year.

Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse (built 1903)

<img class="size-full wp-image-2570" src="” 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.

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.