Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Intra.... what??

Intracoastal at Jupiter Bridge Looking North 2012
Have you ever been stuck when a drawbridge went up so a tall sailboat could pass by?

If you were in eastern Florida at the time, you were likely waiting at a bridge crossing the Intracoastal.
Running inside the East coast of Florida is something at various times called, “the innercoastal,” “the intercoastal” and even the “entercoastal” once. It’s actually the Intracoastal Waterway and any time someone heads to the beach on the east coast of the entire state of Florida, he’ll pass over it.

When I was a child sailing up and down the Intracoastal in my dad’s boat, I thought nothing of it. It appeared to be just a river to me. When I spent the summer at Camp Welaka in Tequesta and the Girl Scouts paddled canoes down a branch of the Loxahatchee River to connect the Intracoastal, it never occurred to me that the sides were awfully straight in some places. (Frankly, by the time we hit the Intracoastal from the Loxahatchee, we were just grateful we had almost reached a landing point again. That river is long!) It’s kind of close to the ocean, but a river nevertheless. I was right and I was wrong.

The Intracoastal Waterway does have several natural rivers and inlets along it, but they are connected by man-made, dredged thoroughfares of water.
Intracoastal Looking South from the Jupiter Bridge
For anyone who takes the time to look at the river banks, it becomes obvious that the sides are too straight in some locations to be natural. Started in 1883 by the Coast Line Canal & Transportation Company, in cahoots with the State of Florida, it was completed from Jacksonville to Miami in 1912.  The man most hold responsible for the development of the East Coast of Florida, Henry Flagler, became associated with the company in 1895. He apparently viewed it as a vehicle to help extend his railway down the state.
Before the completion of the Intracoastal Waterway, traveling south in Florida wasn’t easy. You could  sail and hope you didn’t get seasick or run into a hurricane or,  by 1895, you could take one of Henry Flagler’s trains. By then, he had managed to extend service all the way to West Palm Beach.  A year later Flagler had the railroad extended to Miami. No interstate highways, though. No turnpike. Not even Military Trail, which is an interesting story for another day.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway runs 1,095 miles from Norfolk, Virginia to Miami where it meets the Miami River.  It may have been completed in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until 1944 that Congress agreed to provide the funding to dredge the Jacksonville-to-Miami segment the same twelve foot depth as the more northern segment and to deepen the already existing waterway from Miami to Key West.
Why did it become important in 1944? Seems it became rather urgent when the Germans decided to run their “Operation Drumbeat” along the entire US eastern seaboard. Ships were being blown up from New York to Key West. With the dredging, smaller boats were able to move to the Intracoastal Waterway where they were safe despite the German U-boats hunting off the coast.

So, the next time you head to one of those wonderful waterfront restaurants we have all over South Florida and sit under an umbrella gazing out over the very straight Intracoastal Waterway, you now know a few bits of history to astound and amaze your dinner companions.

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