Tag Archives: Waterway history

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.

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

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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.

Bucket dredge in the Matanzas and Halifax rivers Cut, ca. 1893

Bucket dredge in the Matanzas -Halifax rivers Cut south of St. Augustine ca. 1893. Large steel buckets attached to a continuous heavy chain scooped up sand, clay, and rocks, and then dumped the material on either side of the Cut via conveyor belts. Among the earliest of the dredges employed, the bucket dredge soon fell into disuse as chains often broke under the strain of conveying heavy spoil. Eighty to a hundred men with picks and shovels opened up ditches where little or no water existed. Courtesy. St. Augustine Historical Society.

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.

Lt. Horatio G. Wright, Florida’s first chief of engineers

Lt. Horatio G. Wright

Lt. Horatio G. Wright

Horatio G. Wright was the first Florida chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1852-1854). Wright superintended the first cut in what would become the Florida section of the Intracoastal Waterway, joining the Matanzas and Halifax rivers at Titusville, Fla. After years of wrangling over Congress’s constitutional powers, Congress authorized a mere pittance of $1,200 to dredge a short cut two feet deep and ten feet wide to join the waterways for military defensive purposes.

At the country’s founding, Thomas Jefferson had fought for a military with limited powers to survey the internal improvements of the Nation but not to spend a dime’s worth of taxpayer dollars for construction of roads, waterways, and bridges.  Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists pursued an expansive view of the military to fund inland waterways at taxpayer expense.  The small waterway at Titusville represented a grudging nod to a burgeoning nation with the need to transport commerce and defend the Nation. Courtesy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Original incorporator and director of the Florida canal company, James Colee (pronounced, ‘Coolee’) served as an engineer in the dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway until his death in 1912. Colee also served as state representative and county commissioner for St. Johns County and was a stockholder in the First National Bank of St. Augustine. In Fort Lauderdale, a bend in the New River is known as Colee Hammock and Colee is pronounced there as ‘Ko-lee’ Hammock. Colee is a French Huguenot name and pronounced throughout St. Johns County (St. Augustine) as ‘Coolee’. There is much confusion in Fort Lauderdale between William Cooley, justice of the peace in the New River area and whose family was massacred by the Seminoles in 1836 and James Colee who camped in the hammock there during his survey work for the waterway in 1893. Perhaps the difference in pronunciation led to the confusion between the two names. Courtesy, Donn R. Colee (an eighth generation native Floridian).