Matanzas Inlet – South St Johns County



The Matanzas Inlet is eighteen miles south of St. Augustine at the the south end of the St. Johns County barrier island. On the south side of the inlet is the barrier island to Ormond Beach, another twelve miles.  West of the barrier islands is Fort Matanzas National Park.  The absence of jetties at this natural inlet makes possible the continued shifting north of the Inlet by natural Atlantic littoral shifting described in another posting that has been an ongoing process for at least a hundred and fifty years.  The waterway running north and south through the inlet inside the barrier islands is the Matanzas River reach of the Intracoastal Waterway.

In 1882, when the Florida Coast Line Canal & Transportation Company (“the Florida canal company”) began the actual work of dredging what would become the Intracoastal Waterway, the company started its work with one dredge south of St. Augustine working south and another dredge at Ormond Beach working north.

Using crude continuous bucket dredges, the work was difficult, almost incorrigible in many places. The Inlet shown in this photograph made that part of the work even more challenging, introducing swirling currents, tides, and beach sand as well as rock, coquina, and mud. 

Because the State of Florida agreed to grant the company 3,840 acres of public land for every mile of waterway dredged, the canal company soon moved the work south into easier cuts such as the Indian River Lagoon.  The lagoon was a waterway of sorts but not navigable in any sense of the word.

A canoe could traverse the large body of water but its depth barely exceeded a few feet in many places.  The State of Florida required a waterway at least five feet deep. The canal company cut a navigable pathway through the lagoon and marked the Lagoon’s depth at five feet and width of fifty feet as required by the State, even though the large sheet of water expanded to as much as four miles wide in some places.

Florida’s Big Dig

Matanzas Inlet -South St. Johns County Matanzas Inlet -South St. Johns County In 1881, the private St. Augustine-based Florida canal company agreed to dredge an inland waterway from Miami, Fla., to St. Augustine, Fla., and later to Jacksonville, Fla., a distance of approximately 400 miles. For every mile of waterway dredged, state legislators agreed to convey to the canal company 3,840 acres of state-owned land. Upon the delivery of the last (12th) deed to the canal company, the State had granted the canal Company a little over a million acres of public land.

Of the total length of the waterway, between 80% and 85% of the total was pre-existing waterway. Nonetheless, of that 80% to 85% of the waterway, much of it required the dredging of safe, uniform channels as we see them today in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Moreover, both artificial and natural inlets dot Florida’s east coast making difficult maintenance of the waterway at these…

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Cost of Completing the Florida East Coast Canal (ICW) from St. Augustine to Cocoa-Nut Grove

Sometime in 1888, the Florida canal company engaged acclaimed Chicago-based railway and waterway engineer Elmer Lawrence Corthell to undertake a complete survey of the cost of the work to be done in completing what would become the Intracoastal Waterway from St. Augustine to Miami, Florida.  In turn, Corthell retained Arthur F. Wrotnowski, an experienced civil [...]

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, [...]

Brigadier General Quincy Adams Gillmore

Brigadier General Quincy Adams Gillmore, Second Florida chief of the Army Corps of Engineers. Gillmore graduated first in his class at West Point. He conducted several surveys of the Florida east coast during his command (1869-1884). In later years, Gillmore published several textbooks, including one on underwater concrete, a necessity in waterway and canal improvements. [...]