North Carolina congressman John Humphrey Small (Rep.) Intracoastal Booster

North Carolina congressman John Humphrey Small, Intracoastal booster
North Carolina congressman John Humphrey Small, Intracoastal booster

Within two weeks of Philadelphia congressman Joseph Hampton Moore (Rep.) filing a bill in March 1907 authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers to survey a route for an Intracoastal waterway from Maine south to Beaufort, N.C., North Carolina congressman John Humphrey Small (Dem.) filed a similar bill authorizing a survey from Beaufort, N.C., to Key West, Fla.

Consistent with Congress’s early historical view of the Constitution as a limiting document, constraining the powers of Congress to surveys only for internal improvements within the States, it would take two more decades for Congress to acquire the privately owned canals along the Atlantic coast, including the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal, and the Florida East Coast Canal, as well as the Cape Cod Canal to the north of Norfolk, Va. In the case Florida, Florida was the only state required to purchase its own canal (the old Florida East Coast Canal) and turn it over to the federal government, free and clear, for future improvements, along with all necessary right-of-way and maintenance spoil areas for deposit of future dredged material from the conversion of the old Florida East Coast Canal tollway into the toll-free Intracoastal Waterway.

A continuous Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Trenton, N. J. to Miami, Fla., would not be fully completed by the Army Corps of Engineers until 1935, with the exception of a few incomplete miles in New Jersey.

A Ten-Minute Trip Through the Cape Cod Canal

The purchase of the Cape Cod Canal built by August Belmont was authorized by the same Act of Congress in 1927 that authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to enlarge and perpetually maintain the Florida East Coast Canal.  Like the Cape Cod Canal, the Florida East Coast Canal was privately owned and collected tolls from marine traffic transiting the waterway.

The difference was that Federal funds were used to buy the Cape Cod Canal and every other waterway along the Atlantic coast to create parts of what some called the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, with the exception of the Florida East Coast Canal.  The State of Florida created a special taxing district along the Florida coast to issue bonds and buy the waterway for $725,000.  No other state was required to turn over its inland waterways to the federal government, free of charge.