The Cross-Florida Barge Canal was perhaps the most grandiose example of the determination of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accomplish any task that the U.S. government could envision. The idea for a canal stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico tantalized the British and Spanish long before laborers broke ground on the canal during the Great Depression in 1935. King Phillip II of Spain originally heard rumors of a waterway spanning the state in 1567 from Jean Ribault, who had commanded the ill-fated French Huguenots at Fort Caroline. Governor James Grant of East Florida in 1765 went one step further. He believed that a canal could be built with fifty slave laborers in less than a year. John Calhoun and Daniel Webster petitioned the U.S. Congress in 1826 to appropriate funds for the first survey of a possible canal route. Congress allocated six more surveys from 1829 to 1911 and all of them labeled the canal to be unfeasible or not economical viable. In the 1930s President Roosevelt pushed for the canal to put men to work but the project ran out of funds within three years. Armed with data indicating the number of ships sunk by U-Boats during World War II around the Florida coast, Cold War hawks lauded the canal as a defensive mechanism with great economic benefits in the early 1960s. The canal construction resumed in 1964. In 1971, President Nixon reacted to the outcry from environmentalists and local residents by shutting down work on the project. Efforts to resume construction continued into the late 1970s, but the dream of Florida’s “big ditch” came to an end in 1990 when the U.S. Congress officially killed the project. The straightening of the Ocklawaha River, the construction of Rodman Dam, and the imposing locks along the Withlacoochee are all painful reminders of the environmental costs of the project and the audacity of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which tried and failed to control nature.
Read more: Inadequate Economic Justification