Marjorie Harris Carr: A Champion of Florida’s Natural Resources

Long renowned for its natural beauty, Florida remains a popular destination for tourists and nature lovers seeking pristine beaches, lush forests, winding rivers and an abundance of flora and fauna.  Brought up in this environment, young Marjorie Harris (later Carr), was to become a relentless defender of Florida’s natural resources through her groundbreaking scientific research and activism. Carr is best known for her initiative to preserve Paynes Prairie and for her opposition to the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal Project.

Portrait of Marjorie Harris Carr.

Marjorie Harris was born in 1915 to Clara Louise (Haynes) Harris and Charles Ellesworth Harris in Boston, Massachusetts. The family moved to Bonita Springs, Florida, in 1918, where they resided on a plot of land with an orange grove near the Imperial River. Raised by two naturalists, Harris gained an early appreciation and knowledge of Florida’s plant and animal life. In 1932, she entered the Florida State College for Women (FSCW; now Florida State University). During summer breaks, Harris worked for the National Youth Administration (a New Deal agency). She designed and implemented a naturalist education program for Lee County youth in exchange for financial assistance with tuition, room and board at FSCW.

View of the Welaka National Fish Hatchery, Welaka, Florida, 1960.

Though a passionate and excellent student, Harris would face many obstacles in the professional sphere due to gender bias against female scientists. Harris graduated from FSCW with a B.S. in zoology in 1936. Despite membership in various honor societies and the Florida Academy of Sciences, her applications to graduate programs in ornithology at both Cornell University and the University of South Carolina were rejected on the basis of her gender. Undeterred, Harris found work as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery, near the St. Johns River in North Central Florida, becoming the first female federal wildlife technician. It was in this position that she developed an intimate understanding of the ecosystems of the Ocklawaha River, a tributary of the St. Johns River that would become a main focus of her environmental activism decades later.

Scenic view of boat on the Ocklawaha River, Ocala, Florida, 1965.

Through her work at the hatchery, Harris met her future husband, herpetologist Archie Fairly Carr, Jr. During their courtship, the couple had some concern that marriage would destroy Harris’ professional career as a scientist. Section 213 of the Economy Act of 1932 enacted workforce reductions of married persons (typically wives)—undermining married women’s tenure in the workplace. After the pair married in 1937, she began a new position as a laboratory technician and field collector at the Bass Zoological Research Laboratory in Englewood, Florida—during which time she concealed her marriage in order to continue her work.

In the fall of 1937, Marjorie Harris Carr entered the graduate biology program at the then all-male University of Florida (UF). She graduated from UF in 1942 and published her master’s thesis, “The Breeding Habits, Embryology and Larval Development of the Large-Mouthed Black Bass of Florida,” in the Proceedings of the New England Zoology Club. In 1945, following the birth of their first two children, the Carr family moved to Honduras. While Archie Carr taught biology at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana, Marjorie took daily excursions into the rainforest to conduct research on local bird life.

During the years that the Carr family spent in Honduras, Marjorie Harris Carr  published several notable ornithological studies. Upon the Carr family’s return to Florida in 1949, Marjorie Carr entrenched herself in community involvement, volunteering as a girl scout leader in Gainesville, then joining the Board of Associates of the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF. While serving on the Board, Carr donated thousands of the specimen skins she had collected in Honduras, greatly enriching the museum’s tropical ornithology collection. Carr’s community involvement served as an entry point into conservation work—first as an officer and board member of the Gainesville Garden Club, and later as a co-founder of the Alachua County Chapter of the Florida Audubon Society in 1960. Within these civil societies, her scientific training and knowledge made her well-positioned to collaborate with University of Florida faculty and government officials on a variety of conservation projects.

View of water hyacinths at Paynes Prairie, Alachua County, Florida, 1970.

Sign for Paynes Prairie wildlife sanctuary, Alachua County, Florida, 1969.

In 1957, as her first major project with Gainesville Garden Club, Carr spearheaded the preservation of Paynes Prairie, a 20,000-acre prairie made famous through the writings of naturalist William Bartram in the late 1700s. As the land was being rented by private owners to cattle ranchers as grazing lands, and having been drained in the 1930s for development purposes, Carr perceived a need to protect the sensitive prairie ecosystem from further damage. Capitalizing on the Department of Transportation’s program to set aside roadsides as preserves, Carr and the Gainesville Garden Club set aside roadside of U.S. 441 through the prairie as a preserve. In 1970, the Florida Department of the Environment bought the rest of the Prairie, establishing it as Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Using Bartram’s writings as a guide, the State proceeded with restoration efforts to revive the prairie’s native species, including the reintroduction of bison to the area by 1975.

Buffalo gathered around a windmill at Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida, 1976.

By far, the longest fought battle of Marjorie Harris Carr’s career was her campaign to stop the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A project designed to connect the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean through mainland Florida for barge traffic, the idea of such a canal had been proposed and rejected repeatedly throughout the years—in the 1930s, as part of an economic recovery program and again in 1942, as a national defense project. The project was finally granted funding in 1963 as a project under John F. Kennedy and was to be completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Construction of the barge was planned along a section of the Ocklawaha River—near where Carr had cut her teeth as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery. Concerned about the potential environment impacts of the canal, Carr penned “The Ocklawaha Wilderness,” an essay published in a 1965 issue of Florida Naturalist, articulating the damage that the Canal would cause to the Ocklawaha ecosystem.

Forest debris from the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, 1969.

In 1969, Carr and members of the Alachua Audobon Society formed Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE). The organization, composed of hydrologists, geologists, economists, zoologists and activists wrote a scientific report entitled “The Environmental Impact of the Cross Florida Barge Canal With Special Emphasis on the Ocklawaha River System.” The environmental impact statement of the report was influential in the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970. The NEPA required all federal public works projects to evaluate potential environmental impacts before initiating such projects. Finding that the construction of the canal would threaten Florida’s water quality, FDE entered a suit with the Environmental Defense Fund against the Army Corps of Engineers, with the aim of ending construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A federal judge issued an injunction halting construction on the project, and on January 19, 1971, President Richard Nixon issued a statement against the construction of the canal, citing potential serious environmental damage.

Governor Claude Kirk presenting award to Marjorie Carr for her environmental efforts as head of Florida Defenders of the Environment, 1970. Her husband, prominent herpetologist Archie Carr at right.

In 1976, Carr and her colleagues spoke before Governor Askew and his cabinet. Following two days of testimony, Askew and his cabinet voted to ask Congress to completely deauthorize the canal. The canal was not fully deauthorized until George H. W. Bush signed SB2740 into law, officiating the demise of the canal project and repurposing the lands comprising the canal’s route to conservation and recreation.

Governor Askew accepting jawbone during club meeting at the Silver Slipper restaurant in Tallahassee, 1971. The gift is for Lt. Governor Tom Adams as part of the S.T.A.B. movement (Send Tom A Bone) by a conservationist who reacted to Adams comment that stopping the Cross Florida Barge Canal was just “throwing a bone to the conservationists.”

Marjorie Harris Carr passed away in 1997 at the age of 82. A year after her death, the Cross Florida Greenway was renamed the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. A 110-mile corridor encompassing lands formerly occupied by the Cross Florida Barge Canal project, the Greenway provides sanctuary for diverse plant and animal life, and offers a myriad of bicycle and hiking trails to Floridians. Carr’s 27-year battle against the Cross Florida Barge Canal project illustrates individuals’ power to safeguard natural beauty and maintain clean and balanced ecosystems. Through hard work and dedication, Paynes Prairies and the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway stand for future generations to enjoy not simply on Earth Day, but every day of the year.

For further information, interested persons can peruse The State Archives’ record groups on Cross Florida Barge Canal Project and contemporaneous efforts to preserve Florida’s public lands. Check out our research guide in the form of a three-part blog: If You Build It…; Where There’s a Will…; and Land, Land, Everywhere – But What to Do With It?

External Sources:

Bull, R. (January 19, 2001). Failed barge canal project leads to Cross Florida Greenway. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/011901/ent_barge.html#.WPk7FmnysuU

Florida Division of Recreation and Parks. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from https://www.floridastateparks.org/trail/Cross-Florida

Macdonald, M. F. (2010). “Our Lady of the Rivers”: Marjorie Harris Carr, science, gender, and environmental activism (Doctoral dissertation).

Marjorie Harris Carr. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from http: //fladefenders.org/histroy/marjorie-harris-carr/

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.