Evidence is scant but it appears that State trustees first permitted the private canal company to collect tolls from vessels transiting the inland waterway at various points in 1911. The method of collection was to stretch chains across sections as narrow as fifty feet. When the vessel paid the toll exacted, the toll keeper relaxed the chain to the bottom of the waterway, thus allowing the vessel to pass.
By 1920, as many as six chains were stretched across the waterway at six different points from Jacksonville to Hallandale. The number and location of the chains depended on the amount of tolls collected from each section. Oftentimes, the State trustees (the Cabinet) would move the toll chain from Dania (Beach) to Hallandale (Beach); at other times, the trustees would suspend collections entirely upon evidence that the tolls collected did not justify maintenance of the chain and the salary of the toll keeper.
As late as 1925, just before the collapse of the real estate market and the Hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, toll collections amounted to an astounding $50,000 in one year.
The construction of the wildly successful Erie Canal in the State of New York set off a new era of canal construction across America. For the first time, an inland waterway provided a connection between New York City on the Atlantic coast and cities along the shores of the Great Lakes like Chicago. The link allowed New York City to surpass Baltimore as the largest city in the United States.
A strict construction of the Constitution rooted in the Constitutional Convention. at Philadelphia limited Congress’s powers to construct “post-roads” and undertake specific tasks set forth with particularity. Federal financing of inland waterways was not one of them. In fact, a bill to engraft the power to build inland waterways failed to pass in Philadelphia. The restraint against federal financing left New Yorkers with little choice but to build the Erie Canal with state and local funding as well as private financing and the implementation of tolls as a means of maintaining the Canal.
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. Gillmore recommended improvements in the old Haulover Cut that Wright had constructed in 1854. But Wright, now Gillmore’s superior and Chief of the Corps of Engineers, turned Gillmore down. The Federal Government remained resistant in spending federal dollars for construction of internal improvements. Construction of waterways was left to the states and to private enterprise for work deemed local in importance. In the relatively new state of Florida, its government after the Civil War was bereft of any cash to pay for public improvements. It was again left to private enterprise to finance canals and railways.
In 1881, four St. Augustine investors led by Dr. John Westcott, who also had been Surveyor General of Florida, formed the Florida canal company that would dredge 268 miles of privately-owned waterway by 1912 and earn the company more than a million acres of valuable east coast land from St. Augustine to the tip of the Florida peninsula as well as the right to collect tolls from waterway traffic. Westcott proved invaluable in heading the company. His knowledge of the choice state land available to pay for the company’s work benefitted the enterprise immensely in the years ahead. In 1929, the State of Florida turned over what been the private Florida East Coast Canal to the Federal Government free of charge for perpetual maintenance and enlargement as the Florida portion of the toll-free Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Courtesy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The listing of tolls to travel along what would become the Intracoastal Waterway between several points along the privately owned Florida East Coast Canal in 1911. During its long history, the “Swan” would carry freight and passengers, and often, passengers and their automobiles. Freight included large cargoes of citrus fruit and pineapples in the late 1890’s. A toll charge of $1 equalled one day’s wages for the average laborer at that time. Courtesy, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.
A narrow steamer carrying tourists in the Jupiter Narrows section of what was then called the Florida East Coast Canal (now, Intracoastal Waterway), as the Indian River narrowed down into Lake Worth. In some stretches of the Narrows, steamers of ordinary width stopped and started their way through a brush-lined privately owned tollway in the early 1900s. Courtesy, State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee, Fla.