Lt. Horatio G. Wright, Florida’s first chief of engineers

Lt. Horatio G. Wright
Lt. Horatio G. Wright

Horatio G. Wright was the first Florida chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1852-1854). Wright superintended the first cut in what would become the Florida section of the Intracoastal Waterway, joining the Matanzas and Halifax rivers at Titusville, Fla. After years of wrangling over Congress’s constitutional powers, Congress authorized a mere pittance of $1,200 to dredge a short cut two feet deep and ten feet wide to join the waterways for military defensive purposes.

At the country’s founding, Thomas Jefferson had fought for a military with limited powers to survey the internal improvements of the Nation but not to spend a dime’s worth of taxpayer dollars for construction of roads, waterways, and bridges.  Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists pursued an expansive view of the military to fund inland waterways at taxpayer expense.  The small waterway at Titusville represented a grudging nod to a burgeoning nation with the need to transport commerce and defend the Nation. Courtesy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Small tourist steamer in the Jupiter Narrows

A narrow steamer carrying tourists in the Jupiter Narrows section of what was then called the Florida East Coast Canal (now, Intracoastal Waterway), as the Indian River narrowed down into Lake Worth. In some stretches of the Narrows, steamers of ordinary width stopped and started their way through a brush-lined privately owned tollway in the early 1900s. Courtesy, State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee, Fla.