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.

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.

Lake Boca Raton with the Boca Raton Hotel & Club (background, west)

Lake Boca Raton and Boca Raton Hotel & Club (in the background)
Lake Boca Raton (foreground) and Boca Raton Hotel & Club (in the background. 

The 1889 Corthell survey of the Florida East Coast Canal showed the Lake at 5′ – 9′ deep with a forty foot bluff along the near, east (Atlantic Ocean) side of the Lake.  While four feet would have satisfied state specifications in 1881 (3′ then), by 1889 that depth would not have been navigable for most purposes, nor would it have satisfied the new minimum at that time of five feet deep.

Today, the Intracoastal Waterway runs through Lake Boca Raton from south to north. The same shallow conditions prevail except for a narrow, dredged marked route through the Lake. Interestingly, except for the channel marked for the Intracoastal Waterway, during weekend low tides, power boats congregate and raft with each other, party-goers exit their boats and literally walk in the shallowest parts of the center part of the Lake. Even the children walk in the shallow water. It’s party time!

This Lake and other lakes, rivers, and lagoons along the Florida East Coast Canal had water present throughout the year but for all practical purposes these watercourses were non-navigable to all but the lightest flatboat steamers and light draft sailboats. Dredging was required despite the presence of water.

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.

Boarding up Celery at Sanford, Florida, on the St. Johns River

It seems that celery has always been the staple crop of Sanford, Florida. One of my African-American friends, W. George Allen, just retired from the practice of law at 70 years old, a veteran of the civil rights movement.  George grew up in Sanford. As a child, George picked celery every day during the dark days of segregation.  One day in the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale George showed me the palms of his hands. Long, thin lines scarred his palms from pulling celery stalks out of the ground during childhood.  He left Sanford, graduated from Howard University, and was the first Black to graduate from the University of Florida Law School.

Located strategically on Lake Monroe, near Orlando, on the southern stretch of the St. Johns River, at the turn of the 19th century steamboat traffic between Sanford and Jacksonville had always been heavy and profitable.  However, in the early 1920s, a threat to Sanford’s agriculture and trade business appeared imminent. The threat was the privately owned Florida East Coast Canal, now a completed tollway between Jacksonville, Fla., and Miami.

The Corps of Engineers could not make up its mind. Should it recommend to Congress the taking over of the old Florida East Coast Canal?    Or recommend a change in course and the larger and deeper St. Johns River south, near Titusville, thence a short connecting Canal to the southern part of the old East Coast Canal?  If the Army recommended the old East Coast Canal, it would spell the death knell for Sanford and Central Florida. If the Corps decided upon the St. Johns River route, Daytona Beach and its thriving tourist business would be cut out of the picture. The Corps held four hearings in 1922 throughout the east coast to decide the question.