Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  7 (1883–84), 598–605.

The Drainage of the Everglades

Will Wallace Harney



Relevant illustrations:

map [7]


Mapping, Engineering, Physical Geography, Climatology, Engineers, Race, Natural Economy, Geology, Stratigraphy

Institutions mentioned:

United States Corps of Topographical Engineers

    Reports that after 'Indian hostilities delayed active operations for ten years, and the outbreak of the civil war remanded the enterprise to the study of theorists', engineers have at last begun to tackle the 'problem' of how to 'relieve [the] vast territory' of Southern Florida of the 'surplus water of the rainy season' (598–99). The 'cause of this superficial accumulation [of rain water] lies in the physics and topography of South Florida, and complicates the engineering problem' (599), because in this region the 'terrace form of the topography' is a 'general characteristic'. When, however, 'the dynamics of this system of terraces is understood, it becomes a key to the solution of the problem of drainage', as the engineer must 'proceed from terrace to terrace [...] step by step' digging drainage canals 'by successive descent' (600), and the 'practicability of drainage by parts becomes easy and simple in solution' (599). The machinery used to dig these canals works on the 'continuous ladder principle', and is a 'huge iron and steel megatherium'. Notes that 'Only white labor is employed' on the drainage project (601), but also observes that a 'more vigorous race' than the indolent white farmers who currently inhabit the region [i.e. native Americans] 'held these watery fastnesses for forty years against the combined army and navy'. Claims that it 'would require too much space to distinguish the botanical characters of vegetation' in the area, but notes nevertheless that the 'economy of nature is exhibited in the increase of leaf surface by atmospheric nutrition' (603). Also observes that the digging of canals has revealed a 'stratification' of 'clay and marl [...] overlaid by a deep bed of muck', and asserts that it 'needs no scientific acumen to discover that the successful drainage of such a deposit will develop an area of fertility unrivalled even by the loamy bottoms of the Mississippi'. Concludes that 'in the soft marl or loam are exhibited everywhere the escarpments seen in the harsher features of parallel roads in the geology of more northern latitudes'. (604)

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