A Floating Hotel and Restaurant in the Intracoastal during the 1930’s

In the 1930’s, Commodore Avylen Harcourt Brook, second chairman of the Florida Inland Navigation District, diligently worked with community leaders to bring the Amphitrite, a floating hotel and restaurant to Fort Lauderdale. Actually, the Amphitrite served as a warship in the Spanish-American War and the First World War; later, she was decommissioned and sold to investors, who converted her into a floating hotel and restaurant. In Greek mythology, Amphitrite was the wife of Poseidon.

The “Amphitrite,” floating hotel

The Amphitrite seen here in the New River Sound, a large body of water of the Intracoastal Waterway, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with its bow facing north.  The floating hotel boasted a number of amenities in addition to serving as a hotel and restaurant.

Ultimately, the ship was not financially successful. The coups d’grace was delivered when a hurricane blew her from her mooring to another part of the Intracoastal. Over the years, the ship became something of an ‘eye sore’ from lack of maintenance. She was not missed by local residents when the old vessel disappeared during World War II, according to local legend.

As fantastic as a floating hotel may seem, Palm Beach County investor Harry Seymour Kelsey, developer of Kelsey City, now Lake Park, Fla., planned in the early 1920’s when he bought the Florida East Coast Canal from the estate of George Ł. Bradley to install a string of floating hotels along the Canal. His sale of the waterway to the State of Florida for later transfer to the federal government for conversion into the Intracoastal Waterway interrupted his master plan of “floating hotels” along the waterway.

William G. Crawford, Jr., Esq.
Author of “Florida’s Big Dig”

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.

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.

2015 Miami Beach Yacht & Brokerage Show along the Indian Creek Waterway

2014 Miami Beach Yacht & Brokerage Show
2014 Miami Beach Yacht & Brokerage Show

In the heart of Miami Beach along a one-mile stretch of Indian Creek Waterway from February 12 through 16, 2015, more than 500 yachts and super yachts worth more than a billion dollars are expected for the 2015 Yacht & Brokerage Show. The show is free to the public. This boat show is unique among the many held along both Florida coasts because all of the vessels will be displayed in the water, occupying 1.2 million square feet.

St. Augustine’s anchoring and mooring pilot program tested | StAugustine.com

St. Augustine’s anchoring and mooring pilot program tested | StAugustine.com.

Under a state pilot program, St. Augustine enacted an ordinance requiring boats to moor at least fifty feet from the navigable channel of the Intracoastal Waterway. One man who has lived aboard his sailboat for eleven years filed suit challenging the law in federal court.

Under federal maritime law, the federal government has the right to establish mooring rights within the Intracoastal Waterway and its tributaries. The federal supremacy clause makes federal law the supreme law of the land.

Generally, regulation of the use of the Intracoastal Waterway depends upon whether or not the federal government has preempted state and local law by enacting federal law over various uses of the waterway. However, the State of Florida owns the bottom lands of the Waterway by right of sovereignty under federalism. Unless the federal government intervenes in various uses, local governments may set speed limits for marine vessels, for example, transiting the waterway.

Court watchers await the final decision of the United States Supreme Court if the matter reaches that level of judicial authority. The author of this blog believes the federal government will prevail. In the absence of a uniform federal law on mooring, the author envisions scores of municipalities each with a confusing mishmash of differing mooring laws along the waterway.

Watermelon Feast on East Coast Canal (Under Construction) at Boynton Beach, Fla. In 1914


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.

Turnstyle Bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway at Fort Lauderdale

Turnstyle Bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway at Fort Lauderdale
Turnstyle Bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway

At Fort Lauderdale, the first bridge to the beachside was a short wooden bridge across what then known as the private Florida East Coast Canal ca. 1910. Located on the north side of the land was a small wooden house occupied by the bridge-tender and his family. Upon the approach of a small boat or light draft barge, the tender would exit his house and turn the bridge ninety degrees with a long pole inserted like a ‘key’ in the middle of the bridge roadway.

Some years after 1929, the Army Corps of Engineers widened the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)  to at least 125 feet, removing the turnstyle bridge, the spit of land in the middle of the Waterway and the fixed bridge west of it. My best guess of the date the photo was taken is in the 1930s.

In the mid-1950s, a double-bascule bridge replaced the fixed bridge, the small island, and the old turnstyle bridge, connecting the mainland to the beaches. It was dedicated in memory of Dwight Laing Rogers, Sr., M.C., who died unexpectedly in 1954. As a Florida state representative, Rogers authored the homestead exemption saving many residences of the head of a household from seizure and sale for non-payment of property taxes during the Depression. Courtesy, Bridge-tender’s daughter, Jeri Burrie Howard.