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.

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

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

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.

Sketch of Lake Boca Raton, Florida (1889)


Sketch of survey of Lake Boca Raton, Boca Raton, Florida, made by Arthur Wrotnowski, Civil Engineer, for a Report on the Florida East Coast Canal (Intracoastal Waterway) from Jacksonville to Miami, Florida in 1889 by Elmer Corthell of Chicago, Illinois. The report was undertaken to encourage New England investors like Bradley and Albert P. Sawyer of Newburyport, Mass. To invest in the waterway’s dredging. Courtesy, Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, R.I.</

1927 Florida Inland Navigation District Commissioners Negotiating the Purchase of the Waterway

1927 Florida Inland Navigation District Commissioners Negotiating the Purchase of the Waterway

Assembled here with a few exceptions are the eleven commissioners of FIND appointed by Florida Governor David Sholtz to purchase the old Florida East Coast Canal (“the Canal”) from Harry Kelsey (1st row, 2nd from the right) for turnover to the Federal Government for enlargement and perpetual maintenance as the Intracoastal Waterway.

Erstwhile New Jersey restauranteur, Kelsey sold all of holdings to begin developing more than 100,000 acres of Palm Beach County beginning in 1919. When Kelsey bought the Waterway in 1925, Kelsey intended to use the Waterway to transport building materials to his various developments including Kelsey City, employing John Nolen and the Olmstead Brothers to plan the City. Today, Kelsey City is known as Lake Park, Fla. Kelsey paid $550,000, almost all of it in the form of installment notes. Kelsey defaulted except for the down payment.

Others depicted in the photograph are newspaper publishers, real estate developers, and yacht club commodores as commissioners. Commodore Brook of Ft. Lauderdale is the short-statured, stout fellow with the bushy handle-bar mustache in the back row, third from the right. The chairman, Charles F. Burgman (front row, fourth from the right), Daytona publisher and developer, won his post by the ‘flip of a coin’. Courtesy, FIND.