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.

Corthell’s 1889 Estimate of the Cost to Complete the Florida East Coast Canal


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.

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.

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.


1892 Color Map of the northern East Coast of Floridaj

1892 color map of the lands of the Florida canal and Boston & Florida land companies
1892 color map of the lands of the Florida canal and Boston & Florida land companies

This rare map was found in the Trent University archives, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. It shows the state lands reserved for granting to the Florida canal company in yellow and the lands of its affiliated land company, the Boston & Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company, in blue.  Each square block represents a “section” or one square mile of land. The larger squares represent townships, comprised of 36 sections or 36 square miles.

Several of the investors in the canal company organized the Boston & Florida land company to buy 100,000 acres of the Florida canal company at a dollar an acre. Sir Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway soon became the land company’s largest stockholder. The participation of Canadian investors in Florida as early as 1892 has been a little known fact in Florida history. This map was so large that Trent University could not scan it as one continuous document. Hence, it had to be broken up and scanned in three separate sections. Is there enough interest in seeing the middle and southern east coast of Florida ca. 1892? Courtesy, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

1889 sketch of Lake Boca Raton

1889 sketch of Lake Boca Raton

1889 sketch of Lake Boca Raton by civil engineer Arthur Wrotnowski’s illustrating a survey for the construction of an inland waterway from St. Augustine to ‘Cocoa-nut Grove’, Fla., made by Chicago railway and inland waterway engineer Elmer C. Corthell. The survey was made to induce George Bradley and other wealthy investors to join in the enterprise. Courtesy, Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, RI.