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.

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.

Overlooking Calibogue Sound (ICW) From Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Waterway at sunset
Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

For some time, there has been much debate over where the northern terminus of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) might be located. When I appeared as the “waterway expert” on the Modern Marvels documentary “Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway” shown on the History Channel, the writer/producer contended as many still do, that the AIW begins in Miami and ends in Boston. But as many point out, and I agree,the barrier islands along the Atlantic coast end in Virginia. And for the most part, there is open water north of Virginia,with some exceptions like the Cape Cod Canal.

In the early 1900’s, a new renaissance arose over federal support of inland waterways with the election of progressives like Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency and Napoleon Bonaparte Broward to the Florida gubernatorial post. More than thirty citizen’s groups lobbied Congress for inland waterway support. Among the most influential was the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association (ADWA) led by Congressman Joseph Hampton Moore of Philadelphia. The ADWA had over 500 members, representing the coastal states from Maine to Florida when it first met in Philadelphia in 1907. The ADWA would spend the next three decades lobbying Congress for a continuous Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which would officially open in 1935 from Miami, Florida to Trenton, New Jersey.  Courtesy, the author.