Tag Archives: dredges

Back to the future: the Chesapeake and Delaware River Canal

Completed in 1829 during the first great Canal Era when arguments over Constitutional restraints kept Congress from using Federal taxpayer money to fund inland waterway construction, a private company completed the 17-mile waterway between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.

The original waterway was a tollway ten feet deep and sixty-six feet wide, with a boat channel thirty-six feet wide. It had four locks, each 110 feet long and 22 feet wide, later enlarged to 220 feet long and 24 feet wide.  The canal system later gave way to the faster and more economical railway by the time of the Civil War.

Today, the Canal has 5 fixed bridges and one lift bridge.  The four locks have been removed. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal serves as an important inland link in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Boston to Miami.

To see a short film of a boat transiting the Canal, Tap on this:

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.

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.

Bucket dredge in the Matanzas and Halifax rivers Cut, ca. 1893

Bucket dredge in the Matanzas -Halifax rivers Cut south of St. Augustine ca. 1893. Large steel buckets attached to a continuous heavy chain scooped up sand, clay, and rocks, and then dumped the material on either side of the Cut via conveyor belts. Among the earliest of the dredges employed, the bucket dredge soon fell into disuse as chains often broke under the strain of conveying heavy spoil. Eighty to a hundred men with picks and shovels opened up ditches where little or no water existed. Courtesy. St. Augustine Historical Society.

Dipper dredge in the cut near Delray Beach

Dipper dredge in a difficult “dry” cut near Delray Beach. The dipper dredge used an A-frame for stability. Long posts on the corners were driven into the bottom of what appears to be shallow water. The dipper scooped up the bottom consisting of soil and rock, depositing the spoil on either side and building up high banks. Attached to the A-frame the dipper could swing to either side. Dredges often ran 24 hours a day, lit by lamps burning acetylene gas (a combination of calcium carbide and water, but often an explosive one). Accounts indicate that dredge workers ate well, supplied with Chicago beef in Florida’s wild terrain. Native fare would have been wild turkey, fish, and vegetables). Settlers in what were the settlements of Delray and Boynton included farmers from Michigan led by promoters William Seelye Linton and Major Nathan Boynton. Courtesy, State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee, Fla. </