Not long ago I met with a local Historian, Betty DeBary. She briefly mentioned something to me about the history of the Cross Florida Barge Canal that was supposed to run through Marion County. She also mentioned that some of the supports for the bridge are still there. They are located in the median right behind the Sherriff’s station on 441 (in the wooded area). I always look when I’m going that way to try to see them through the trees. Sometimes it’s very hard to locate them, and at other times I can see them clearly. They are still there, three in all, as a reminder of what could of been if the project wasn’t stopped. I cannot even image what our county would of been like if they had succeeded.
The Cross Florida Barge Canal was a canal project to connect the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean across Florida for barge traffic. Two sections were built but the project was cancelled, mainly for environmental reasons. It is now a protected green belt corridor, one mile (1.6 km) wide in most places. Named after the leader in the opposition against the canal, Marjorie Harris Carr, it is known as the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.
About 28% of the 107-mile project was built—the cross-country section from the St. Johns River to the Oklawaha River, part of the route along the Oklawaha, and a small section at the Gulf of Mexico end up to the dammed Lake Rousseau.
Photo on right:
One of the two completed sections of the Barge Canal, looking west from the SR 19 bridge south of Palatka.
The idea of such a canal was first proposed by Philip II of Spain in 1567. It was repeatedly considered over the years but found to be economically unviable. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun once again proposed a canal in 1818 in order to solve the losses due to shipwrecks and piracy. The Florida Railroad, finished on March 1, 1861, served a similar purpose, connecting the Atlantic Ocean at Fernandina to the Gulf of Mexico at Cedar Key.
In the 1930s, regional politicians lobbied the federal government to fund canal construction as an economic recovery program, and president Franklin D. Roosevelt allocated emergency funds in 1935. Local opponents of the canal protested that the canal would deplete Florida’s aquifers, and work was stopped a year later.
Work was reauthorized in 1942 as a national defense project, with dams and locks to protect the underground water supply. Support for the project from Washington was sporadic, and funds were never allocated to USACE to actually start construction.
Planning was once again given the go-ahead in 1963 with support from president John F. Kennedy, who allocated one million dollars to the project. The next year, Lyndon Johnson set off the explosives that started construction. It was hoped that the canal, along with the St. Johns-Indian River Barge Canal, would provide a quicker and safer route across Florida by 1971.
Opponents subsequently campaigned against the canal on environmental grounds, and the project stopped again in January 1971. It was officially cancelled in 1991. The right-of-way was turned over to the state and became the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, named in honor of the woman who led opposition to the canal. Carr had died the prior year, age 82.
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This is also where Ocala Waterway got it’s name. Wow! How different things would be if this hugh barge canal ran through our beautiful county. Thank you Marjorie Harris Carr for standing up for what you thought was right in the face of what seemed to be an impossibility.
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