History of the Intracoastal Waterway - Part 1

Have you ever wondered the history behind the popular Intracoastal Waterway that you are always boating on? It has a unique history, unsurprisingly with its long stretch in size along the country, and is used today as a great route alongside the states without the hazards of open ocean travel.

It’s a popular choice for Floridians to get out on the water, but it actually stretches along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico from Boston all of the way to our very own south Florida and continuing to Brownsville, TX. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about what this space has been used for in the past and how it came to be, check out parts 1 and 2 of the history of the ICW for the story.

The early history behind the ICW

The 3,000-mile inland waterway of today was originally the solution to shipping hazards that were created by travel on the Atlantic coast. When the US had first become independent, it was a time when the commercial and military use of the Atlantic coast had become very important.

The Intracoastal needed to be developed from the erosion and sedimentary deposition caused by the Atlantic currents, and it was the best option for transportation without governmental control like there was so much of on the coastline. Inland transport wasn’t taking place yet, and the river systems became the solution to a free transportation policy.

Today, you may have heard of the Great Loop, the improved ICW that allows for a circumnavigation of the water in the eastern continental US without much ocean travel involved.

By Tony Santana, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [Public domain], via  Wikimedia Commons

By Tony Santana, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The struggle to get development

With natural transportation route improvement becoming a hot topic around the country at this time, issues began to come up about how the improvements could be made. There was much division among the people about who should be paying for such improvements and even, who should be doing the work. Finally, in the early 1800’s, the first plan was presented by the government, which included ideas for where transportation could take place and where it already was.

When a plan was presented by Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin to the Senate regarding future transportation development including east to west improvements and north to south improvements, it did not get approved at the time. He had included all of the details from construction crews to costs, as well as benefits for the country and international markets, the $20 million plan, was turned down.

Ironically, it was implemented anyways just after the War of 1812 when it was realized that something like this was so badly needed. Gallatin’s ideas were translated by taking the known advantage points and making navigational improvements through state-built improvements under the General Survey Act.

Now that at this time people were finally taking Gallatin’s Intracoastal plan seriously, things were improving thanks to the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Check out part 2 in an upcoming post to find out how things developed from there, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries.