Florida's Canal Main Street


Interest in constructing a water route across the Florida peninsula goes back to the colonial rule of the Spanish and the British and continued when Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821. The earliest American surveys for a possible canal in Florida were undertaken in the wake of excitement surrounding the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the first significant work on a cross-Florida canal as part of New Deal public works programs in Florida. After much debate, construction on route 13-B, of 28 suggested routes, began in 1935. Canal supporters welcomed the jobs and the commercial prospects associated with the canal, but opponents feared that the project would cost too much, damage the underground aquifer, and have a detrimental effect on agriculture in central and southern Florida. Because of widespread opposition, progress on the canal came to a halt in June 1936. In 1962, the U.S. Congress reauthorized construction. The Army Corps of Engineers planned what was called the Cross Florida Barge Canal. It was to be 12 feet (3.66 meters) deep and wide enough for two vessels to pass along the route begun in the 1930s. The planned course entered the Saint Johns River near Jacksonville, crossed into the Ocklawaha south of Palatka, traversed the Central Florida ridge between Silver Springs and Dunnellon, and then merged with the Withlacoochee River before reaching the Gulf of Mexico near Yankeetown. President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at the ground-breaking ceremony and, at the conclusion of his remarks, set off the project’s first dynamite charges. By 1968, significant progress was evident in the eastern portion of the canal. The film presented here offers a positive portrayal of the canal in the early stages of construction. Governor Haydon Burns introduces the film by describing the reasons for building, the location, and other details of the canal. Also shown are illustrations of the proposed design, testimony by a geologist, sequences of Florida industry, footage of flooding in March 1960, an enemy submarine threat sequence, and President Johnson setting off the charges that marked the start of the work. Fierce opposition to the canal soon arose, however, primarily on environmental grounds, and construction was halted in 1971.

Last updated: January 8, 2016