Land, Land Everywhere – But What To Do With It?

Introductory Note:

The following is the final post in a three-part series of blogs exploring the State Archives’ recent accession of records concerning the Cross Florida Barge Canal and its eventual conversion into the Cross Florida Greenway. Here are the first and second posts.

Engineers and government officials have been hatching plans to dig a canal connecting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean since the 16th century. The United States government initiated construction on this ambitious project in the 1930s, but it was halted several times over the next three decades before it was shut down entirely in 1971. The land appropriated for the canal was later converted into the Cross Florida Greenway, a series of recreational trails extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River.

The State Archives’ recent accession of records on this topic consists of 167 boxes of material, including administrative files, reports, legal records, land records, Canal Lands Advisory Council records and Cross Florida Greenway records. These documents join five existing series of Cross Florida Barge Canal records accessioned in the 1990s and early 2000s. Taken together, these collections illustrate the creation, progression, decline and eventual transformation of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project into the Cross Florida Greenway.

 

“Land, Land Everywhere… But What Do We Do With It?”

After President Richard Nixon halted the canal project by executive order in 1971, advocates tried unsuccessfully for several years to resuscitate it. Gradually, the focus of state officials and other interested parties turned toward deciding what to do with the large quantity of land that had been accumulated for the canal. The following records document the process of soliciting public input and determining the future of the Cross Florida Barge Canal corridor. All records are open for research.

 

Record Group 540: Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission
Series 2045: Cross Florida Barge Canal Land Use Study Files

This series consists of minutes, studies, reports, correspondence, recommendations, editorials, etc. regarding proposals for use of land acquired for the discontinued Cross Florida Barge Canal project. The files were those of Colonel Bob Butler, retired regional director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The majority of the records are from 1992, but there are some from the late 1980s.

Cover of a proposal for an "Inland Waters Science Museum" to be located along the former canal corridor. This was one of several proposals for using the land reflected in the documents of Series 2045.

Cover of a proposal for an “Inland Waters Science Museum” to be located along the former canal corridor. This was one of several proposals for using the land reflected in the documents of Series 2045. Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2690: Canal Lands Advisory Council Administrative Files

Meeting files make up the majority of the series and include agendas, minutes, notices, photographs and other meeting specific supporting documents.

The administrative files make up the remainder of the series and consist of contracts, reports, maps, usage proposals, financial records, correspondence and various documentation concerning Canal Lands Advisory Committee activities and proposed uses of the former Cross Florida Barge Canal Lands.

It is worth noting University of Florida, Department of Landscape Architecture’s proposal for “Research and Technical Services in support of Alternative Land Use Plans for Canal Authority Properties.” The proposal names expert university faculty who would lead other professionals and graduate students in developing a “comprehensive plan for the design and management of a regionally significant green belt” as a joint project with the State of Florida’s Canal Authority. The proposal includes a contract which describes the precise responsibilities of the University and the Canal Authority, as well as the proposed budgets for each year of the two-year plan.

Transcript of an April 23, 1992 public hearing regarding the future of the Cross Florida Greenway, the new designation for the former Cross Florida Barge Canal corridor (Series 2690, State Archives of Florida).

Transcript of an April 23, 1992 public hearing regarding the future of the Cross Florida Greenway, the new designation for the former Cross Florida Barge Canal corridor (Series 2690, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2688: Cross Florida Greenway Administrative Files

This series documents the administrative functions of the Cross Florida Greenway project. Three main administrative subseries exist within this series: meeting files, correspondence and subject files.

The meeting files include agendas, minutes and meeting specific supporting documents.

The correspondence subseries details general activities, events and issues handled throughout the project. Many of the records document the coordination of the greenway project and meetings internally by Department of Environmental Protection staff and externally with other stake holders. There are also letters from citizens and environmental groups that voice opinions on the future of Rodman Reservoir.

The subject files make up the majority of the series and include records on project committees, cost-benefit studies, implementation plans, liability insurance, grant funding, and site specific issues. Of particular interest are the trail land withdrawals which document the process of reevaluating private and state owned lands involved in the Cross Florida Barge Canal with landowners to determine which parcels would be included in the trail.

Proclamation by Governor Lawton Chiles declaring the Cross Florida Greenway State Recreation & Conservation Area an official Florida Greenway (Series 2688, State Archives of Florida).

Proclamation by Governor Lawton Chiles declaring the Cross Florida Greenway State Recreation & Conservation Area an official Florida Greenway (Series 2688, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Interested in browsing the Cross Florida Barge Canal records in person? Stop by the State Archives of Florida Reference Room between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Check out our website to plan your visit.

If You Build It…

Introductory Note:

The following is the second in a three-part series of blogs exploring the State Archives’ recent accession of records concerning the Cross Florida Barge Canal and its eventual conversion into the Cross Florida Greenway. Here’s the first post from last week.

Engineers and government officials have been hatching plans to dig a canal connecting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean since the 16th century. The United States government initiated construction on this ambitious project in the 1930s, but it was halted several times over the next three decades before it was shut down entirely in 1971. The land appropriated for the canal was later converted into the Cross Florida Greenway, a series of recreational trails extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River.

The State Archives’ recent accession of records on this topic consists of 167 boxes of material, including administrative files, reports, legal records, land records, Canal Lands Advisory Council records and Cross Florida Greenway records. These documents join five existing series of Cross Florida Barge Canal records accessioned in the 1990s and early 2000s. Taken together, these collections illustrate the creation, progression, decline and eventual transformation of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project into the Cross Florida Greenway.

 

“If You Build It…”

In our last post, we explored records documenting how local, state, and federal agencies interacted with the public to obtain the land for building the Cross Florida Barge Canal. As this process was unfolding, government officials, engineers, and contractors were studying how to plan, build, and market the massive waterway. The following groups of records illustrate how these professionals addressed the challenges involved in such a complex project. All records are open for research.

 

Record Group 560: Canal Authority of the State of Florida
Series 1727: Cross Florida Barge Canal Administrative Files

This series contains records from the Canal Authority of the State of Florida primarily documenting the history of the Cross Florida Barge Canal from its beginning to the decision to halt its construction.  Included are court cases, newspaper clippings, minutes, correspondence, audits, administrative files, biographies of board members, and United States Army Corps of Engineer materials.

Of particular interest are the newspaper clipping files which cover three decades.  Initially the newspaper clippings support the building of the canal, but as environmental concerns developed in Florida, the clippings increasingly reflect the opposition that many Floridians felt toward the negative impact the canal would cause to the environment.  After the canal project was halted, public concern shifted toward converting the former canal right-of-way into a greenways and trails system, and restoring parts of the Ocklawaha River back to its original natural condition.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Holiday Inn sign welcoming the Cross Florida Barge Canal - Inglis (1967).

Holiday Inn sign welcoming the Cross Florida Barge Canal – Inglis (1967).

 

Record Group 560: Canal Authority of the State of Florida
Series 2689: Cross Florida Barge Canal Central Program Administrative Files

Seven main administrative subseries exist within this series: meeting files, correspondence, financial records, administrative ledgers, contract files, subject files, and history files.

The meeting files include agendas, minutes and meeting specific supporting documents.

The correspondence subseries details general activities, events and issues handled throughout the project.

The financial records consist of audits, financial statements, accounting books, and other supporting documents. The frequency of audits shows the hands-on management style of the State of Florida in terms of making sure all Cross Florida Barge Canal financial undertakings were justified and accounted for. As a result, the audits act as a well-organized year-in-review summary of the financial activities of the Ship Canal Authority and the Canal Navigation District when available.

The administrative ledgers subseries include data on Canal Authority and Canal Navigation District operations as well as canal specific data logs on Buckman Lock, St. Johns Lock and Rodman Dam.

The contract files provides information on public and private sector involvement with Cross Florida Barge Canal planning and construction beyond the Corps of Engineers, Canal Authority and Canal Navigation District specific undertakings.

The subject files speak to the many issues and challenges of an endeavor as far-reaching as the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Of particular interest are the files on the deauthorization of the project.

The history files are comprised mainly of newspaper and magazine clippings. These files give a good overview of the media and citizen perception of the project from creation and construction to deauthorization.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Florida Secretary of State Tom Adams and Board of Conservation Director Randolph Hodges study a map of the proposed Cross Florida Barge Canal (1961).

Florida Secretary of State Tom Adams and Board of Conservation Director Randolph Hodges study a map of the proposed Cross Florida Barge Canal (1961).

 

Record Group 500: Florida Department of Natural Resources
Series 1968: Cross Florida Barge Canal Field Survey Books

This series of Cross Florida Barge Canal field survey books reflect a variety of different survey methods including auger boring (AB), bench run (BR), core drilling (CD), description (D), horizontal (H), point of curve (PC), point of tangency (PT), x-section (S), section profile (SP) and vertical (V). The land surveyed included areas of Citrus, Levy, Marion and Putnam Counties. Several of the field survey books are specifically titled Rodman Pool and Palatka. Most of the inside pages of the field books list the name of the project and location.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Sample records from Series 1968, State Archives of Florida.

Sample records from Series 1968, State Archives of Florida.

 

Record Group 502: Department of Natural Resources, Division of Resource Management
Series 149: Cross Florida Barge Canal Records

This series contains the Cross Florida Barge Canal records from 1963-1981 maintained by the Division of Resource Management and its predecessor agencies, the Division of Interior Resources and the State Board of Conservation.  It documents the involvement of the Division and the Canal Authority of the State of Florida in the planning and construction phases of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The types of records include general correspondence, reports, financial records, Cabinet items, leases, project maps, surveys, newspaper clippings, and minutes from the meetings of the Board of Directors of the Canal Authority of the State of Florida.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Bird's eye view of construction on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal (circa 1960s).

Bird’s eye view of construction on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal (circa 1960s).

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2685: Cross Florida Barge Canal Reports

The Reports series is comprised entirely of reports written in the course and aftermath of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. The wide variety of topics covered by the series include: project oversight and responsibility; engineering manuals, challenges, inspections and cost estimates; site specific analyses, appraisals, updates and designs; and environmental rehabilitation, restoration and development.

Reports created by the Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, are the most prevalent. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior also feature prominently. Many state agencies completed studies on the canal project, especially the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

 

Cover of a report by the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers (Box 7, folder 24 of Series 2685, State Archives of Florida).

Cover of a report by the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers (Box 7, folder 24 of Series 2685, State Archives of Florida).

Interested in browsing the Cross Florida Barge Canal records in person? Stop by the State Archives of Florida Reference Room between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Check out our website to plan your visit.

That’s it for this post, but come back for our final installment next week, when we’ll look at some of the newly available records documenting how state officials decided to dispose of the land for the canal project after it was halted.

Where There’s a Will…

Introductory Note:

The following is the first in a three-part series of blogs exploring the State Archives’ recent accession of records concerning the Cross Florida Barge Canal and its eventual conversion into the Cross Florida Greenway.

Engineers and government officials have been hatching plans to dig a canal connecting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean since the 16th century. The United States government initiated construction on this ambitious project in the 1930s, but it was halted several times over the next three decades before it was shut down entirely in 1971. The land appropriated for the canal was later converted into the Cross Florida Greenway, a series of recreational trails extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River.

The State Archives’ recent accession of records on this topic consists of 167 boxes of material, including administrative files, reports, legal records, land records, Canal Lands Advisory Council records and Cross Florida Greenway records. These documents join five existing series of Cross Florida Barge Canal records accessioned in the 1990s and early 2000s. Taken together, these collections illustrate the creation, progression, decline and eventual transformation of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project into the Cross Florida Greenway.

 

“Where There’s a Will…”

Before a government agency can begin work on a large construction project like the Cross Florida Barge Canal, it must obtain title to the necessary land. The following records in the State Archives’ recent accession on the canal project document how the State of Florida, the United States government, and a variety of other public and private actors interacted to facilitate this process. All records are open for research.

Record Group 500: Florida Department of Natural Resources
Series 1976: Cross Florida Barge Canal Land Acquisition Records

This series includes appraisal reports, parcel summary worksheets, photographs, maps, sketches, correspondence and other records relating to land acquisition for the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. The land acquired included parts of Citrus, Levy, Marion, and Putnam counties. Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Map of the Cross Florida Barge Canal (1971).

Map of the Cross Florida Barge Canal (1971).

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2686: Cross Florida Barge Canal Legal Records

This series is comprised of records reflecting the legal process of the Canal Authority of the State of Florida acquiring land for the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Three main legal categories exist within this series: condemnation files, court case files, and leases and easement files.

Though early discussions on condemnation began in the 1930s, the bulk of activity occurred in the 1960s. The process of condemning and acquiring the land frequently culminated in Florida Supreme, District and Circuit Court cases. The defendants involved ranged from one private land owner to multiple owners that banded together, as well as Florida-based companies. The size of each case file reflects the scale of the trial and subsequent settlement. While many cases were short-lived, others were extensive, often producing multiple appeals. Canal Authority v. J. G. Perko and Canal Authority v. Harry M. Litzell, et al are examples of more voluminous cases. Document types within the condemnation and court case files include land appraisals, correspondence, and orders of taking, as well as depositions, transcripts of testimony, motions, answers, pleadings and final judgments.

The leases and easement files document the activities of those lands in condemnation under pre-existing leases and those that the Canal Authority chose to lease out after the failure of the canal endeavor. In 1993, after the passage of Florida House Bill 1751, control of all Canal Authority lands and easements were transferred to the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund. Many of the leases and easement files captured within this series reflect this administrative alteration and how it affected pre-existing lessees.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

A deposition taken in the case of Canal Authority v Silver Springs, Inc. in 1969, one of many legal records available as part of Record Series 2686 at the State Archives of Florida.

A deposition taken in the case of Canal Authority v Silver Springs, Inc. in 1969, one of many legal records available as part of Record Series 2686 at the State Archives of Florida. Click the image to enlarge it.

 

Record Group 550: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Series 2687: Cross Florida Barge Canal Land Records

This series includes records pertaining to the land involved in the course and aftermath of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Topics include: land requests; general land information by tract number; right-of-way, road, and railroad relocations; design computations for canal structures; photographs documenting the land in multiple stages of development; maps that show different parcels of land and the proposed canal route; and audio recordings of the canal’s dedication with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

The records document all portions of the canal, but some areas figure more prominently than others because of the amount of work that went into them and their controversial nature due to threats of environmental disturbances on wildlife disruption and declining water quality. Records within this series on the Rodman Reservoir, Ocklawaha River and Inglis Dam areas reflect their complex and contested histories. Of particular note are the maps that show the projected canal path through the Florida peninsula, because of their attention to detail in the route and lock locations as well as their unique design.

Learn more about this record series by viewing its catalog record.

Leaflet on the Cross Florida Barge Canal (circa 1960s), in Box 5, folder 14 of Secretary of State Tom Adams' Subject Files (Series 501), State Archives of Florida.

Leaflet on the Cross Florida Barge Canal (circa 1960s), in Box 5, folder 14 of Secretary of State Tom Adams’ Subject Files (Series 501), State Archives of Florida.

Interested in browsing the Cross Florida Barge Canal records in person? Stop by the State Archives of Florida Reference Room between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Check out our website to plan your visit.

That’s all for today, but look for our next post, which will take a look at some of the records involving the actual design and construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

New Accession: Cross Florida Barge Canal Records

In April, the State Archives of Florida accessioned 163 boxes of material from the Department of Environmental Protection documenting the creation, progression and eventual decline of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Once received, archivists began working their way through the boxes to ready them for public access. The process involved sorting the records to better understand the kinds of information they contain and how researchers might use them. The materials are now divided into six distinct series: reports, land records, legal records, administrative files, Canal Land Advisory Council records and Cross Florida Greenway records.

Archivists examine a map included in the new accession from the Cross Florida Barge Canal records (2014).

Archivists examine a map included in the new accession from the Cross Florida Barge Canal records (2014).

When dealing with a large group of records across multiple series, archivists typically tackle the series that seems the most straightforward first. This allows the processing archivist to become familiar with the methods used by the documents’ creators to generate and organize the material. It also allows the archivist to learn about the history and evolution of the project or agency, especially when records are of a more professionally specialized nature. This is the case with the Cross Florida Barge Canal records, as many were created by engineers, land surveyors and appraisers, legal specialists, and environmental experts. The reports series was the first to be arranged and described because of its clear and consistent structure. Processing efforts are complete and the documents are now open for research at the State Archives of Florida.

Newly boxed and labeled records on the shelf at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Newly boxed and labeled records on the shelf at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

The Reports series (S2685) is comprised entirely of reports written in the course and aftermath of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. The wide variety of topics covered by the series include: project oversight and responsibility; engineering manuals, challenges, inspections and cost estimates; site specific analyses, appraisals, updates and designs; and environmental rehabilitation, restoration and development.

Reports created by the Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, are the most prevalent. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior also feature prominently. Many state agencies completed studies on the canal project, especially the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Cover of a report by the University of Florida's Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers (Box 7, folder 24 of Series 2685, State Archives of Florida).

Cover of a report by the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers (Box 7, folder 24 of Series 2685, State Archives of Florida).

Many times supplemental studies would occur as a result of the release of comprehensive reports. In some cases, studies were contracted out to private companies in order to get additional perspectives on the findings of past reports. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers performed a large scale restudy of the Barge Canal in the mid 1970s. Many Florida agencies and universities built upon the Corps of Engineers restudies, often narrowing their scope to issues such as the environmental effects on wildlife, vegetation and water quality or local economics. The large number of agencies, universities, independent firms, corporations and public organizations that created reports on the project illustrates the significance of the proposed Cross Florida Barge Canal at both the state and national level.

The land records series is next up for processing. Look for a post on those records in the coming months!

 

Florida’s Own Stonehenge

If you travel south from Ocala toward Belleview on U.S. Highway 27/301/441, there’s a place where the northbound and southbound lanes split to go around a tiny patch of thick forest.  There doesn’t appear to be much of a reason for this at first, aside from the small satellite sheriff’s office Marion County has in the median.  There’s more to this than meets the eye, however.

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation map showing U.S. 27/301/441 between Ocala and Belleview. The "Stonehenge" structures are located in the median of this highway where the northbound and southbound lanes bend outward (1977).

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation map showing U.S. 27/301/441 between Ocala and Belleview. The “Stonehenge” structures are located in the median of this highway where the northbound and southbound lanes bend outward (1977).

Hidden among the vines and oak trees in the middle of this busy highway is Florida’s own Stonehenge. Granted, it’s not nearly as old, and its uses aren’t nearly as shrouded in mystery. That being said, it’s still quite a sight to see in person. Four enormous concrete structures rise nearly as high as the trees, covered in vines, moss, and graffiti. They date back to 1936 when construction began on a bridge to cross a section of the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

One of the towering structures located in the median of U.S. 27/301/441 at Santos (2014).

One of the towering structures located in the median of U.S. 27/301/441 at Santos. Photo by the author (2014).

 

Another concrete megalith peeks out from a tangle of vines and overgrowth at Santos (2014).

Another concrete megalith peeks out from a tangle of vines and overgrowth at Santos Photo by the author (2014).

The Franklin D. Roosevelt administration had authorized the canal project as a federal relief program. Camp Roosevelt, located a few miles away, served as housing for the workers. The canal had yet to be built at this point, although government authorities had already condemned a strip of land for it, right through the middle of the community of Santos.

The project was short-lived. In June 1936, after barely six months of work, the federal government halted work on the bridge at Santos. Concerns about the canal project’s impact on tourism and the water supply had aroused concern among the public and Congress, and no additional funding was made available for the span.

Buildings at Camp Roosevelt, originally established in 1935-36 to house laborers working on the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The camp was later used as a vocational education center. The camp no longer exists, but some of the houses still remain, and the neighborhood is still called

Buildings at Camp Roosevelt, originally established in 1935-36 to house laborers working on the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The camp was later used as a vocational education center (1936).

The bridge piers were, however, already built. What could be done with them? They were too heavy to move, and too expensive to simply destroy. Project managers decided to leave them where they stood. Maybe they thought the canal project would resume sometime in the future and the piers could still be used.

The Cross Florida Barge Canal did resurface in later decades, but the Santos Bridge remained untouched. When U.S. 27/301/441 was widened, the road planners simply bypassed the enormous bridge piers and allowed the space they occupied to grow up naturally. The Cross Florida Greenway now passes through the area, and the old bridge piers are a side attraction for visiting hikers and mountain bikers. The nearby trailhead is called Santos in honor of the community that once prospered there.

Graffiti from a number of fraternities marks the remnants of the Santos Bridge project (2014).

Graffiti from a number of fraternities marks the remnants of the Santos Bridge project. Photo by the author (2014).

The Stonehenge-esque structures at Santos are merely one of many mysterious monuments to the past hiding in plain sight in Florida. What mysterious historical structures are located in your community? Search the Florida Photographic Collection to see if we have photos of them, or consider donating a photo by contacting us.

 

 

Camp Roosevelt

Every old house, every river, and every bend in the road in Florida has a story. Some are easy to learn about, others not so much. Understanding the history of a place becomes even more complicated when the place itself changes rapidly over a short period of time. The history of Camp Roosevelt south of Ocala is a case in point. In the space of a single decade, it served as an educational center for at least three separate federal programs, headquarters for workers building the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, and emergency housing for returning World War II veterans and their families.

Map showing the location of Camp Roosevelt just south of Ocala near the convergence of Lake Weir Rd. with U.S. 27/301/441.

Map showing the location of Camp Roosevelt just south of Ocala near the convergence of Lake Weir Rd. with U.S. 27/301/441. The map dates to the 1990s, but the Roosevelt name remains.

The camp originated as a temporary home for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the large labor force it needed to build the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. This project had been a long time in the making. Even as far back as the 16th century when the Spanish had control of Florida, shippers and government officials had wished there was some way to shorten the lengthy and dangerous voyage necessary to sail around the Florida Straits. A number of ideas emerged for digging the canal, but the enormous expense of the project led private and public authorities to shy away from it.

Ironically, the arrival of the Great Depression gave the plan a boost off the drawing board and into action. Local politicians urged the federal government to take on the canal project as a federal relief program through the New Deal.  The Franklin Roosevelt administration allocated funding for the project in September 1935 on this basis, and by the end of the month construction was underway to prepare for workers to arrive. The plans called for what amounted to a small city, complete with medical and recreational facilities, a dining hall, a post office, and headquarters buildings. The Army Corps of Engineers designated the site as “Camp Roosevelt” in honor of the President.

Men's dormitory at Camp Roosevelt, built in 1935 to accommodate workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal (photo circa 1936).

Men’s dormitory at Camp Roosevelt, built in 1935 to accommodate workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal (photo circa 1936).

The camp’s population quickly swelled with workers, but their stay was to be much shorter than planners had expected. Vocal opponents of the project in Central and South Florida argued that digging the deep canal would expose and contaminate the underground aquifer that contained their water supply. Sensing trouble, the Roosevelt administration quietly backed off of the project. Works Progress Administrator Harold Ickes dropped his support, and Congress failed to extend the original 1935 appropriation. In the summer of 1936, with only preliminary work complete in several locations along the proposed route, work came to a halt.

An early view of construction on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, probably around Dunnellon (1936).

An early view of construction on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, probably around Dunnellon (1936).

With no money to continue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepared to close its operations at Camp Roosevelt. With these extensive facilities vacant, the Works Progress Administration sensed an opportunity to take over the site and use it for a good cause. The W.P.A., the University of Florida in Gainesville, and the Army Corps of Engineers reached an agreement whereby the University would operate Camp Roosevelt as a center for adult education. The University would be in charge of the program itself, whereas the W.P.A. would handle the business end of the camp. The Army Corps of Engineers would pay most of the utility bills. Less than three months from the end of the work on the barge canal, the University of Florida’s adult education extension program was up and running at the camp. Major Bert Clair Riley, the university’s dean of extension services, administered the program from Gainesville, while a series of local directors handled the day-to-day business on the ground.

A student feeds a piece of wood through a router as his instructors look on (photo circa 1936).

A student feeds a piece of wood through a router as his instructors look on (photo circa 1936).

At first, the extension program mainly offered short courses in subjects like model design, leathercraft, art appreciation and design, and training for W.P.A. administrators. Program leaders made bold plans to expand their reach to include short courses for civic officials, printers, real estate brokers, toymakers, and aviators. The University also offered more formal courses in subjects like English and History to aid those students who wished to continue their education at the university level.

A list of classes held during one of the first terms conducted by the University of Florida extension program at Camp Roosevelt, fall 1936. This document is part of the records of Camp Roosevelt held by the State Archives of Florida (Series M87-9).

A list of classes held during one of the first terms conducted by the University of Florida extension program at Camp Roosevelt, fall 1936. This document is part of the records of Camp Roosevelt held by the State Archives of Florida (Series M87-9).

Funding for the extension program, as with the canal and so many federal projects at this time, was temporary, and within a year the University of Florida had to decide whether it would continue the work. It did, in a way, but through a new partnership that changed the focus of the camp to more of a relief operation. The National Youth Administration, dreamed up by Eleanor Roosevelt as a way to offer federal relief to young women who could not join the Civilian Conservation Corps, teamed up with the vocational division of the Marion County school system and began running the camp. The camp’s population consisted mainly of women, although men would later be admitted to the camp as well. Participants took classes for half the day, and worked on projects such as sewing, metalwork, or cosmetology for the remainder of the day. Typically, the students had had no more than a year or two of high school before entering Camp Roosevelt. By the time they completed the term, program administrators hoped to place them in their communities as secretaries, stenographers, library assistants, or other skilled workers.

Leatherworking class at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1936).

Leatherworking class at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1936).

As World War II approached, the camp’s classes and activities became geared more toward defense work. Teenage boys too young to enter the military were admitted to the camp, and nursing, welding, woodwork, and signmaking replaced the more domestic skills that had been prevalent in earlier years.

Students practice bandaging in first aid class at Camp Roosevelt (April 4, 1941).

Students practice bandaging in first aid class at Camp Roosevelt (April 4, 1941).

Student flight mechanics at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1940).

Student flight mechanics at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1940).

Whether they came for the federal relief wages or to do defense work, Camp Roosevelt’s residents were living in a difficult time. This did not, however, stop them from making the best of their situation and maintaining a healthy social atmosphere. The camp had a newsletter, the “Roosevelt Roundup,” edited by the faculty and students. It had dances and athletic activities, and recreation leadership training was even offered as a course.

Students put on a show at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

Students put on a show at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

Dance at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

Dance held at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

As the war continued, more and more of Camp Roosevelt’s usual pool of residents became involved in formal defense work, and administrators decided to shut the camp down. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers retained the site and planned to keep it up, as plenty of enthusiasm still remained for resuming the Cross-Florida Barge Canal project. Before that could happen, however, a more pressing problem emerged for the camp to tackle.

As World War II came to a close, the young men and women who had left to join the military or serve in other defense capacities came home, looking to start new lives as adult civilians. This sudden surge triggered a dire shortage of adequate housing. Husbands and wives and sometimes children frequently found themselves living with other family members, not so much for lack of funds but simply for lack of available homes to buy or rent. Civic leaders scrambled for solutions, and in Marion County facilities like the small houses at Camp Roosevelt became an attractive option. The Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce appealed to federal leaders, asking that the buildings at Camp Roosevelt be made available to provide housing for returning veterans. Washington complied, and soon former soldiers and their young families were moving into the buildings once occupied by canal workers and then residents of the W.P.A. and N.Y.A. relief programs. The federal government retained the right to move the new residents should the barge canal project regenerate, but by the time this happened some years later, the Army Corps of Engineers had determined it would not need the complex. It was declared surplus property, and eventually was sold piecemeal to private citizens.

One of over seventy residences at Camp Roosevelt built originally to house workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal project. Many of these homes were later sold to private citizens and became part of the Roosevelt Village neighborhood (photo circa 1936).

One of over seventy residences at Camp Roosevelt built originally to house workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal project. Many of these homes were later sold to private citizens and became part of the Roosevelt Village neighborhood (photo circa 1936).

Looking at this neighborhood, now called Roosevelt Village, its former roles during the Great Depression and World War II are not readily apparent. It just goes to show that no matter which direction you look in Florida, there’s a story to be told.

What buildings or other spaces in your Florida town played a role in the Great Depression or World War II? Share with us by leaving a comment below. And don’t forget that Florida Memory has a large number of photos from World War II-era Florida. Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find these historic images.