(4.1) HISTORY - 1891 USACOE Survey of the Ocklawaha River
Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca
US Army Corps of Engineers
Survey of the
Ocklawaha River, Florida
Report of Survey
Prepared 1891 by the
United States Army
Corps of Engineers
An Information, Opinion, Photos, & Sources Report
Compiled by Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca
With the assistance of Captain Erika Ritter
Created: 13 February 2015
Last Revised: 22 April 2019
NOTE: Click-on individual photos / pages to enlarge them!
LEST WE FORGET
Benjamin Harrison was the President of the United States and Francis Fleming was the Governor of Florida. The year was 1891 and the horrible American tragedy of The War Between the States had been over for only about 26 years.
And already some 25 years had passed since Doctor James Parramore and his family from Georgia -- he being the great-great grandfather of Captain Erika Ritter -- settled Camden (a.k.a. Cedar Creek) at Parramore Prairie in 1866 next to the east bank of the Ocklawaha River, Florida in what is today’s Ocala National Forest; very shortly after that wilderness pioneer and good-old country doctor had served his native Southland.
What was Florida’s Ocklawaha River and Silver River system really like back in 1891, 128 years ago, and long before Rodman Dam (1968) and even Moss Bluff Lock and Dam (1925) was ever constructed? Silver Springs was already one of the Sunshine State’s original tourist attractions. The uniquely beautiful Ocklawaha and Silver, quite possibly the only river drainage entirely in the state of Florida that was cool-watered-enough (58-80 degrees F year-long), swift-flowing-enough (current velocity about 1 mph), and long-enough (more than 50 miles free-flowing) to allow the successful spawning of native striped bass, was famed as a sportsman’s paradise because of its awesome fishing and hunting opportunities. It was the steamboat era where the main channels of the Ocklawaha and the Silver were plied by boxed-in stern-wheel steamboats, naphtha launches, small row boats or canoes and downstream floating cypress-log rafts. But the numerous side-creeks of the Ocklawaha offered solitary escape for the truly adventurous outdoorsman seeking its jungle-like, sub-tropical wilderness experience.
And back then in that year of 1891, a team of surveyors was tasked by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) to conduct a reconnaissance of the Ocklawaha River from its mouth at the St. Johns River upstream to Lake Griffin and Leesburg, Florida and to report on it afterwards. Yes, the USACOE recorded for all-time an accurate and detailed 8-page summary of that survey of the Ocklawaha River which had been conducted from February 20, 1891 to April 23, 1891 for the purpose of proposing future projects to enhance commerce and navigation on that waterway. As ordered, “Report of the Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army” (pages 1620-1627) “Appendix O --- Report of Captain Black: Improvement of Ocklawaha River, Florida” was dutifully submitted by the USACOE about 128 years ago. Now in 2019, you can explore online this fascinating account of the 1891 expedition via pontoon upon the Ocklawaha River, Florida.
OH and yes, Silver Springs and/or Silver River (a.k.a. Silver Springs Run) was back then in 1891 as it is still today -- the supreme year-round source-water of the Ocklawaha River!
Bacon, J. H. and W. M. Black. 1891. "Report of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army; Appendix O - Report of Captain Black (page 1620-1627); Improvement of the Ocklawaha River, Florida; Report of Mr. J. H. Bacon, Assistant Engineer, United States Engineer Department, St. Augustine, Fla., May 11, 1891." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Some excerpts from page 1620:
The Ocklawaha River has its source in Lake Apopka, central Florida, flows slightly west of north for about 104 miles, measured along the axis of the channel, then almost due east for 21 miles further when it unites with the St. Johns River. The Ocklawaha River is the principal outlet of a number of large lakes, whose aggregate area is about 175 square miles.
The only important tributary of the Ocklawaha River is the Silver Spring Run, which is 6 miles long, and has an average width of about 50 feet, and a least depth along the axis of the channel of about 9 feet. Being the outlet of the famous Silver Spring, its volume of discharge varies but little.
From Lake Griffin down for a distance of about 28 miles the river flows through a wide savanna, submerged about 1 foot under water and covered with a dense growth of saw grass. On this reach the river averages from 30 to 40 feet in width, and has a least channel depth of about 5 feet. The current is very sluggish.
The impediments to navigation on this portion of the river are the numerous bends, the narrow channel, floating islands, and eel grass.
From the savanna to the mouth, a distance of about 58 miles, the banks are covered with a dense growth of cypress and other timber.
On this reach the river averages from 60 to 70 feet in width, and the least channel depth is 4 feet. The average velocity of the current is considerably greater than on the upper river, being about 1.3 feet per second.
The principal obstructions to navigation are snags and overhanging trees.
By act of Congress approved September 19, 1890, an appropriation of $10,000 was made for "improving Ocklawaha River, Florida to Leesburg, on Lake Griffin."
Some excerpts from page 1621:
The field work of the survey was begun on February 20, 1891, and was completed on April 23, 1891. The surveying party was under the charge of Mr. J. H. Bacon, assistant engineer, to whose appended report I have the honor to invite attention for information concerning the details of the work.
Captain, I have the honor to submit the following report on the survey of the Ocklawaha River, Florida.
On February 4 camp was established near the Palatka Lumber Company’s sawmill on the St. Johns River, and work was begun on the construction of a pontoon to carry the camp outfit.
Some excerpts from page 1622:
The camp outfit was transferred to the pontoon on February 14, and on the following day the party started for the Ocklawaha River, using the naphtha launch Myakka as a tow-boat. The party consisted of myself, Messrs. George Berry, transitman, and C. M. Brown, rodman, 4 laborers, and a cook.
The progress of the survey, especially in the lower river, was necessarily slow, as, owing to the numerous bends and dense growth, the average length of sights was 300 feet.
The velocity of the current was measured at various points on the way down stream by means of loaded rods. The rod in each case was allowed to float free for several miles and the time of passing each station noted. It was necessary to use two rods, owing to the tendency to float against the concave bank and to catch on bushes, eelgrass, snags, etc. Whenever this happened the spare rod was placed in the channel at the proper point and the other rod taken into the boat.
Some excerpts from page 1623:
Total distance by river from Leesburg to St. Johns River…miles..94.00
Total fall of water surface from Leesburg to St. Johns River…feet..55.00
Average fall per mile…do [feet]..0.58
Velocity per hour for lower river…miles..0.90
Velocity per hour for upper river…do [miles]..0.40
Maximum velocity per hour…do [miles]..1.20
Minimum velocity per hour…do [miles]..0.35
Average height of high water above mean stage…feet..4.00
Height of high water of 1870 above mean stage (at Fort Brooke)…do [feet]..10.00
Distances on Ocklawaha River [miles]
St. Johns River…0.0
Silver Spring Run…53.1
Some excerpts from page 1624:
7. Eureka Cut-off, 1.5 miles long, at south end of section. Is very narrow, shallow, full of snags and overhanging trees.
11. From Silver Spring Run south the river is in very bad condition, narrow, shallow, filled with tree tops and snags. Current becomes less rapid south of Silver Spring Run.
18. Lake Griffin, 7.5 miles long; average width, 2 miles.
Some excerpts from page 1625:
The eel-grass offers no obstruction to stern or side wheel boats, but is a serious impediment to propellers. It is a long narrow grass, deriving its name from its appearance. It covers the river bottom, except in spots, throughout the entire length. In shoal places, not constantly traversed by boats, it floats on the surface, and is a source of delay and annoyance. It can be most economically removed by simply running a propeller through it, tearing it out by the roots.
The lower river, like the upper river, is very crooked and can be navigated safely only by stern-wheel boats, having their wheels boxed in on the sides and bottom and their rudders so hung that the water from the wheel is forced against it. This construction is necessary on account of the danger of breaking the wheel by running on snags and into the densely wooded banks, and on account of the difficulty of bringing the boat around the sharp bends.
Some excerpts from page 1626:
Owing to the beauty of its tropical scenery, the river has become a favorite resort for visitors during the winter months.
During the fruit season a line of light-draft boats makes regular trips between Palatka, on the St. Johns River, and Silver Springs, on a branch of the Ocklawaha River. The upper portion of the river, to Leesburg, and also into Lakes Dunn and Griffin, and others, is now completely closed to navigation by the accumulation of saw-grass and “flood trash.”
Some excerpts from page 1627:
The business of this section is growing rapidly and will become enormous in a few years. One acre of orange trees in full bearing will make as much or more freight than 100 acres in cotton.
Distances on Ocklawaha River [miles]
St. Johns River…0.0
Cypress Gate of the Ocklawaha River (actually Eureka Cut) circa 1890.
At less than 24 feet wide, it was the narrowest traverse
of the entire steamboat voyage on the Ocklawaha River.
This view is looking downstream (north).
REFERENCE AS: Nosca, P. 2019. "The 1891 US Army Corps of Engineers USACOE survey of the Ocklawaha River, Florida" webpage report. "Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca reports" website. Paul Nosca, Eureka, FL.