Ironic Insights ~The Dream of Florida’s Cross-State Canal, by Edwin A Menninger, Stuart Daily News 1937

Stuart Daily News, special  edition, 1937, courtesy of Knight A. Kiplinger.

The year was 1937 and it was a special day…

The opening of the Stuart, Lake Okeechobee, Ft Meyers, Cross-State Canal…

The first sentence of this historic special edition newspaper reads: “Completion of Florida’s one-and-only cross State canal marks the realization of a dream.”

Yes a dream.

Since the other function of the cross-state canal is drainage of Lake Okeechobee, today many of us associate this cross-state canal with a toxic-algae nightmare more than with a “dream come true.” It’s funny how things change over time…

In any case, this rare document gives perspective and insight and is a tremendous history lesson of South Florida development south of Orlando, along the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee, and our sister city, Ft Meyers.

Thank you to family friend, Mr Knight Kiplinger, (https://www.kiplinger.com/fronts/archive/bios/index.html?bylineID=9)
of Washington D.C and Sewall’s Point, who shared this remarkable document with me. It is an incredible read!  So rare! Even my mother, local historian, Sandy Thurlow, had never seen it. And in the following weeks, I will be sharing it with you – transcribing and viewing  its 37 giant pages of aerials, ads, and writings.

Today I will begin with the fairly long, but extremely interesting article gracing front and back, written by famed newspaper publisher, and Stuart flowering tree man, Dr. Edwin A. Menninger (https://www.kshs.org/index.php?url=archives/225898).

Enjoy. Think. Regroup. The best is yet to come!

Jacqui

Completion of Florida’s one and only cross state canal marks the realization of dream. The idea of such a channel to link three great natural waterways ~ the St. Lucie River on the East Coast, the vast expanse of Lake Okeechobee (or Myakka, as it was known half a century ago), and the sweeping Caloosahatchee on the Gulf coast  ~ goes back to the days when white men first settled the south half of the peninsula. But problems that early thinkers never dreamed of, arose to puzzle the empire builders, and the formal dedication in March 1937 of the waterway from Stuart to Fort Myers signalizes in reality the culmination of achievements  stretching over almost fifty years.

It was back in the days of Governor Napoleon B. Broward that first steps were taken to reclaim the Everglades. It was in this years that Isham Randolph was called to make the survey that guided the Glades reclamation project of the next quarter century, and although Broward and Randolph are all but forgotten, their two names stand out as the farsighted leader who started what the rest of us are finishing.

Actually, neither Broward nor Randolph ever gave much thought to the possibilities of cross-state navigation. They were interested in controlling a gigantic lake that has no natural outlet to the sea, and by exercising such control through a series of great canals, they hoped to throw open to cultivation the richest farming land in the United States – the muck lands of the Everglades. The dream of those pioneers was rudely shattered by circumstances far beyond their conception or control, and but for the terrible hurricane of 1928 that drowned 3000 hapless residents of the Glades by literally dumping Lake Okeechobee in their laps the Everglades might conceivably have gone back to the Indians. 

But it was this same great misfortune of danger and death, that focused national attention of the Everglades, put $20,000,000 of federal government funds into the picture to prevent future disasters, and opened the navigable waterways from Stuart to Fort Myers that is to be formally declared in March. With a flourish, Uncle Sam has completed an 8-foot channel, from 80 to 200 feet wide, across Florida from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Dyke protection of the Everglades, plus water control by new methods, may make possible the solution of the State’s reclamation problem, but that is another story. Certainly the Glades have staged a marvelous comeback since Uncle Sam’s intervention, and new leaders are arriving to carry on the traditions of Conners, Bryant & Greenwood, Dahlberg, Sherman and a thousand others who have dreamed of empire.

Construction of the St Lucie Canal began in 1921 when the fact dawned on the Everglades pioneers that canals through muck lands were useless  – they refused to carry water out of the lake. Four of them had been dug, and were utterly worthless. The St Lucie was completed in 1924 and for 13 years has been the only functioning outlet from Lake Okeechobee to the sea.

The Caloosahatchee River was connected to Lake Okeechobee by two linking canals fifteen years ago, but these proved inadequate to discharge water, and the Caloosahatchee itself was so crooked that it held the water back instead of discharging it. Tedious progress was made in boom days by the Everglades Drainage District, tying to open some tiny ghost of a channel into the Gulf outlet, but when taxes ceased to be paid in the first depression years, the efforts collapsed.

In 1930 Congress was induced to cooperate in a flood control program, and it was contemplated that $3,000,000 of federal funds would be spent. Before folks really understood what was happening, the government had tackled the problem, had achieved as much for the cause of navigation as for the cause of flood control, and had spent more than six times the originally contemplated budget.

The end is not yet. Improvement of the harbor facilities at both ends of this gigantic waterway are inevitable corollaries of the farsighted improvement program that has been car-

ried forward to today. Tomorrow’s projects will include the St Lucie inlet (at Stuart) and Fort Myers harbor improvement on far-reaching-scales. This great cross-state waterway that is a reality, not a dream or a blueprint, crosses the East Coast canal at the St Lucie inlet, and this cross-roads is destined to be a focal point in the future development of Florida’s East Coast.

A thousand men have had a part in the promotion of the canal project between Stuart and Fort Myers, over a period of many years. Thousands will cheer next month as this waterway is opened to craft of all kinds drawing up to 6 feet, with a two-day celebration that will carry a watercade from Stuart to Clewiston and then on to Fort Myers.

Yer standing out, head and shoulders above all the others who have given part of their lives to the realization of this waterway dream, stand two great figures in the daily life of South Florida. The “Stuart Daily News” pays tribute of admiration and respect to these two pioneers-

Commodore Stanley Kitching of Stuart.

Honorable W. P. Franklin of Fort Myers.

Those two men symbolize the cross-Florida canal achievement, and today’s special issue of this newspaper is dedicated to them, in recognition of loyal and untiring service to the terminal cities they call home. Hats off to both of you!

Today’s issue of the “Stuart Daily News” presents a panorama of this magnificent waterway, following a geographical sequence from the Atlantic to the Gulf.  An airplane photographer has captured for you a series of  pictures that starts at Stuart, carries you 150 miles through the Everglades communities, and on to Fort Myers. Such a graphic portrayal to the canal permits the reader to understand what this waterway is, what it means, what it does. Copies of this book go to every member of Congress, to yachtsman everywhere who are interested in this aid to navigation, and to others who see in this canal another great forward step for Florida.  And if this book carries to these readers a message of progress, it has served its purpose.

I am particularly indebted to my faithful assistant, Ernest Lyons, and to an understanding photographer, Lowell Hill, for the effectiveness of the edition.

To be continued….

22 thoughts on “Ironic Insights ~The Dream of Florida’s Cross-State Canal, by Edwin A Menninger, Stuart Daily News 1937

  1. Your Mom will remember a fuss in the 1960’s about another cross state canal proposed and got started a little bit. It was supposed to go from Palatka across the State between Ocala and Gainsville coming out into the Gulf at Yankeetown. It would have been another environmental disaster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The “Cross Florida Barge Canal” project was far more that a project that “got started a little bit”. This project was also one based on the publics expression of a perceived “need” and the governments response to that expression of need.

      At the time that the project was cancelled it was approximately 60% COMPLETE. All lands and been acquired and much of the canal work and lock and dam work had been completed at both the West (Inglis Lock and Dam) and East (Rodman Lock and Dam) ends. Essentially what remained was the canalization project from Dunellon on the West end to Lake Ocklawaha on the East End.

      This abandoned project is now – The Cross Florida Greenway, a hiking and biking trail, and can easily be identified and followed on Google Earth.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, it was President Nixon who was in office at the time this project was halted. He signed that order on January 19, 1971. Wikipedia has a good “write up” about the project, and perhaps you’ll forgive my overestimation of it’s completion status (~30% rather than 60%, and ~ $74 million spent at it’s cut-off.) This project was being handled out of a different Corps Area Office, but I did visit it once early in my assignment to the Clewiston AO and passed by it’s uncompleted remains for years and years in travels back and forth between Alabama (work) and Florida (family homes).

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Jacqui – this is an absolutely incredible and valuable “find”. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your even handed, open minded, and so very extensive and heart felt efforts.

    To read this contemporary account of the culmination of “THIS” 50+/- year long effort, along with the “whys” and “wherefores” of it coming to being and realizing that this cross Florida navigation project was but a part of what would be a nearly 100 year long effort to drain the EAA and create this richest farming land in the U.S.A. is almost mind boggling.

    To put this effort in perspective, one must realize that these absolutely massive public works projects are the result of “the public’s” outcry / their identification of a “need” (i.e. the need to develop the Everglades Area for agricultural purpose, the need for improved navigation between Lake Okeechobee and the Kississimmee Chain of Lakes) and then “government’s response” to that perceived “need”.

    The public’s desires and their perception of “needs” change. Government responds to those changes.

    What is absolutely wrong, IMHO, is the Demonization of The Farmers (whether that is the two MAJOR farming companies, the many smaller land owning farmers who have joined together as the Glades Co-op, or the few remaining small individual and independent farmers. It is also wrong, IMHO, to demonize the public’s sponsoring agency (The Central and Southern Flood Control District now known as The South Florida Water Management District) or that agencies Federal Government’s “partner agency” for design and construction, The U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers (Civil Works).

    Name calling and finger pointing do nothing in furtherance of our now perceived – needs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rick good morning. A bit more time to reply to you today. I appreciate, always, your insights and comments. As far as a “public need…” I do think ideas of “public need” are often linked to the underlying wants of our government to drive the economy and that often the government uses a “need” to put gasoline in the engine of their wish with out thinking it all through.

      For instance, certainly there was “need” to create a stable food sources/and sugar production for “National Security” post Depression and WWI and II. However, to do so by covering the entirety of a river’s bed, a flood-zone, and tearing out the entire pond apple forest and sawgrass stabilizing this area (and then over the years subsidizing —putting people in this dangerous zone —eventually completely destroying an gigantic and important ecosystem that is connected to all South Florida— seems a bit extreme.

      I suppose one could argue a similar situation occurred on Florida’s coastal estuaries but not exactly…

      Also, I agree with you and do not “blame” the farmers and as you may know, my grandfather, J. Russell Henderson, of UF, authored “Soils of Florida” in the 1930s that helped determine draining patterns and crops to be planted by the US and State governments. He spent countless hours at the Belle Glade Experiment Station “helping people” as he was proud to say. I am part of this history too…this building up and this ecological destruction….

      Nonetheless, I cannot accept that a “need” by the people was the entire spark for developing and ravishing the EAA. I think it went further than expected. Money and politics not just needs fed the dragon.

      Things morphed over time…as many small farmers were supplanted by corporate farming and then over time corporate farming blended with the government itself through monies, influence, etc…what has happened to the that original “need” ? The corporations are only doing was business does. Making business decisions. That is what they need to do. I do not blame them.

      Still—

      Today, South Florida is in a different place and the state has different “needs.”

      I so appreciate where you are coming from and your own family history!

      And yes we must be reasonable, swinging pendelums destroy, and demonizing does no good–but we need to look at today’s “needs” and respond by thinking it through for the long, run… eye on the horizon….

      For me, and this is just me, I would like to restore the Everglades and the River of Grass that is now the EAA as much as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jacqui – I thoroughly enjoyed your reply and comments concerning the concept of “need” and “response”. The way “the system” is intended to work this is the process ideal, and the way I like to stress that it’s “supposed to work”. Actually there are several instances and examples (in the recent history) of this actually being the process as it has worked. With the redefinition of need expressed by “the loudest of the public”.

        Government… going off on their own… using the wants of government to drive the economy… to throw “gasoline” in the engine of their own wants… to enflame and drive the definition of “wishes”… money and politics fed the dragon…

        Oh my gosh – what a thought, what a concept, that government would do such a nefarious thing…

        Liked by 2 people

  3. It is the history of unintended consequences. All this intended good has poisoned our River and endangered the Lake itself. The Lake was never intended to flow into the St. Lucie River, and it has destroyed what used to be an incredible fishery and food source. It needs to stop, and enough the natural southerly flow needs to be restored so that the discharges into the St. Lucie are permanently stopped. The Caloosahatchee needs some of the fresh water, but the St. Lucie needs none. If the SFWMD and Corps aren’t willing to restore enough southerly flow to stop the discharges, they could just take out the locks and stop keeping the Lake artificially high for irrigation. A gradual flow of water east and west depending on the amount of rainfall would not shock our estuary like the billions of gallons a day of water and muck which is the result of opening the locks, and the muck would settle out before it got very far out of the lake. The hardening of the dike by injecting concrete 20 feet deep below the earthen dike stops the natural “seepage” of the ground water south and makes the lake fill up even faster; not to mention depriving the farmland south of the dike from receiving this fresh groundwater; this causes ancient salt water to rise and kill the plants. Everything the Corps does makes things worse. We need to stop “managing” the water and let it flow naturally. Modern farming will require a lot less land to produce more. They want to keep the land which used to be the Everglades to develop it; not just farm it. The amazing muck has just about been all used up. They could come get the muck they have already dumped into the St. Lucie. That would be a good thing; maybe the seagrass could start coming back then and the oysters wouldn’t all die. We know better. It is time to stop the discharges once and for all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excuse me – but I feel the need to inject a few engineering truths in to your “finger pointing” remarks. Historically, Lake Okeechobee’s overflow elevation was beween elev 23′ and 24′ prior to it’s periodic, not constant, overflow and start of the historic flow through “The River of Grass” to the South and West with a few minor outlet streams to the East – the origin points of the Palm Beach Canal, the Hillsboro Canal, and the North New River Canal.

      The Current, and historic up until the late 1960’s, controlled Lake Okeechobee Elevation range is 13.5′ to 15.5′. The Herbert Hoover Dike was designed as a “run-up” protective dike. It was never intended to be a Dam.

      In the early ’70’s, essentially with the completion of the Flood Control Works, and in conjunction with the new and revised mission(s) of the, now designated, South Florida Water Management District, an “experimental” raising of the Lake O control elevation up to a range of 19.5′ to 21.5′ was attempted. This prompted the conversion of the hurricane gate structures at Okeechobee, Port Mayaka, and Clewiston into lock structures and significantly expanding the dam and spillway structures at Moore Haven, Port Mayaka, and Stuart.

      This “experiment” aimed at vastly increasing Lake Okeechobee’s Storage Capacity – at that point in time – was a failure BECAUSE of through the dike seepage (not “exactly” under the dike seepage / or aquifer recharge from Lake O.)

      The currently ongoing project aimed at cutting off this through the dike and under dike seepage at Lake O elevations much higher than originally intended involves the construction of a slurry cut-off wall. This was initially intended for the most vulnerable reach of the dike (what was the deepest of the muck upon which the dike was raised) from South of Port Myaka to just West of Belle Glade. As a result of the post Katrina analysis of the entire Hoover Dike as a Dam Structure, it was decided to extend this retrofit to include all of the Southern portion of the Hoover Dike all the way West to The Fisheating Creek inlet to Lake O.

      Excuse me, but “everything The Corps does” does NOT make things worse. Everything The Corps does is, and has been. “the best”, the most reasonable, the most practical, and most economical answer and solution to the perceived needs of “the public”.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jacqui – you wrote as a lead in commentary to this “find”:

    “Yes a dream.
    Since the other function of the cross-state canal is drainage of Lake Okeechobee, today many of us associate this cross-state canal with a toxic-algae nightmare more than with a “dream come true.” It’s funny how things change over time…”

    I don’t say this is necessarily a “wrong” lead in take on the matter… but it is historically flawed and totally “colored” by the goals and desires of TODAY’S “public”. I DO NOT say that this is a bad thing!

    I’m also a part of “today’s public”, an ageing part perhaps, but still a part. I have deep, and perhaps conflicted, roots to both Florida’s East Coast and The Glades region. I grew up in the Palm Beaches and graduated from Riviera Beach HS in ’63. I worked extensively in The Glades with both The Central and Southern Flood Control District and at The Corps of Engineers (Civil Works) Construction Office in Clewiston throughout the balance of the ’60’s and while there met my wife – whose family history in The Glades stretches back to the 19 teens.

    I’ve studied the amazingly complex and vastly successful (for it’s original purpose) Civil Engineering project that IS – the controlled drainage of ALL of South Florida to make it useful for man’s purposes… and, I believe, do largely understand the how and why of the way it works. I also understand that projects resultant – “unintended consequences” – and the changing public perception of “needs”.

    I would point out that as stated by Mr. Menninger, the primary purpose of both the East flowing connection to the St. Lucie River and the West flowing connection to the Caloosahatchee River was RELIABLE DRAINAGE from Lake Okeechobee and thus it’s lowering and the resultant lowering, by about 10′ +/-, of the Northern and Northeastern Everglades in order to make it arable and productive crops land. This East and West connection to existing rivers was AFTER the canalization for navigation and drainage purposes of the Palm Beach Canal, the Hillsboro Canal, and the North New River Canal. These succeeded in one goal – providing transportation to “The Glades” but failed in their primary goal of providing adequate and reliable drainage of the Everglades for man’s agricultural purpose. Cross state navigation was “merely” a by-product, and the locks to the South Eastern outlets and development of these multiple South Eastward flowing outlets have long been (essentially) abandoned.

    “… Actually, neither Broward nor Randolph ever gave much thought to the possibilities of cross-state navigation. They were interested in controlling a gigantic lake that has no natural outlet to the sea, and by exercising such control through a series of great canals, they hoped to throw open to cultivation the richest farming land in the United States – the muck lands of the Everglades.

    Construction of the St Lucie Canal began in 1921 when the fact dawned on the Everglades pioneers that canals through muck lands were useless – they refused to carry water out of the lake. Four of them had been dug, and were utterly worthless. The St Lucie was completed in 1924 and for 13 years has been the only functioning outlet from Lake Okeechobee to the sea.

    The Caloosahatchee River was connected to Lake Okeechobee by two linking canals fifteen years ago, but these proved inadequate to discharge water, and the Caloosahatchee itself was so crooked that it held the water back instead of discharging it. Tedious progress was made in boom days by the Everglades Drainage District, tying to open some tiny ghost of a channel into the Gulf outlet, but when taxes ceased to be paid in the first depression years, the efforts collapsed.”

    The Canalization of the Caloosahatchee River and it’s three lock and Dam structures basically followed the success of the St. Lucie River connection for it’s primary purpose – the lowering of Lake O’s Elevation and the resultant drainage of the Northern and Eastern Everglades for development as crop lands.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am too Jacqui. I’ve always enjoyed corresponding with you and corresponding and spending some very enjoyable times visiting with your mom and talking about our common love of South Florida’s History.

        I “need” to name the forth of the early navigation canals thru the muck that failed in their early dual mission to provide drainage paths from the Everglades to the lower Florida East Coast’s NATURAL high water overflow outlets. I failed to mention the one “closest to my heart” if you will indulge me that term – it’s adjacent to where Linda grew up in Lake Harbor … The Miami Canal is the forth of the “muck canals”.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I never understood that those canals did not drain the water. The first time this was shared me me was only a few years ago. It is interesting how Dr Menninger writes of this also. Endless things to learn! I would love to see Lake Harbor one day. I have seen the Miami Canal from the road and air but that is really all. I guess the people used to canoe to and from Ft Lauderdale in them?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Actually these were dug/dredged canals with locks. When completed they did serve there transportation purpose between the “fast selling” Glades lands (primarily by Diston) and the developing Glades region and the South East Florida Coast. Steam boats and launches were the primary craft used for coastal transport… didn’t “need” to travel to the Everglades by canoe any more.

            I’d love to meet you in Canal Point at the Historic lock in the Palm Beach Canal there one day and ride around to my Sister-in-Laws place in Lake Harbor adjacent to the Historic Lock in the Miami Canal — and stop briefly for photos at the historic locks in the Hillsboro Canal at Pahokee and the North New River Canal at South Bay.

            Liked by 2 people

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