In the 1930s, the federal government began construction on one of the grandest public works projects in Florida. More than twice the length of the Suez and four times larger than the Panama Canal, the Atlantic Gulf Ship Canal was "perhaps the most opulent single symbol of the New Deal."1 Yet, despite the labor and massive expenditures on the part of state and federal officials, the project ended within a year of its groundbreaking. Plagued by political controversy from start to finish, the Ship Canal can be seen as a dress-rehearsal for the decades-long debate over the Cross-Florida Barge Canal that followed the Depression-era project. Canal boosters asserted that, because the canal would be part of a regional trade network, the project would expand economic growth and guarantee prosperity for the nation as well as the state. Amid the Depression, that promise seemed at least partially fulfilled with the Ocala construction boom that accompanied the dig. The canal prompted a wave of criticism, however, as opponents tried to block future funding for the project. Nationally, anticanal forces saw the project as one of many examples of New Deal profligacy and government waste. Locally, the canal pitted region against region and interest against interest over the conservation of one of the state's most precious natural resources-Florida's freshwater aquifer. The result was a contentious debate that, while ending the Ship Canal, entrenched interests and produced a bureaucratic inertia that continually pushed for a canal for much of the rest of the twentieth century.
Tegeder, Michael David
"Economic Boom or Political Boondoggle? Florida's Atlantic Gulf Ship Canal in the 1930s,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 83:
1, Article 5.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol83/iss1/5