Enter J. Francis LeBaron. If the name sounds familiar it’s because in later years he would plat much of northern Brevard County. Still later, he’s credited with the discovery of phosphate in central Florida.
But this was in 1869 and LeBaron arrived at the Haulover Canal to collect natural history specimens for Harvard University. His notes observe that a small boat could pass through the canal only with great difficulty.
Nine years later, on another collecting expedition, he found private interests had cleaned the cut of the canal so boats with a beam of 11 feet and a draft of 1 ½ feet could pass through. He also recorded that the Indian River was two to three feet above the Mosquito Lagoon for several months a year causing a current severely testing and the seaworthiness of vessels heading west through the canal.
Three years later, in 1881, LeBaron returned in his new capacity as assistant engineer with the Corps of Engineers to survey the Haulover area. He chartered a 3-ton sloop in Titusville for his crew, and while he was at the Haulover, a northeaster struck which caused the waters in Mosquito Lagoon to rise 20 inches higher than the Indian River. The result was a current of 2.8 miles per hour flowing west through the cut, making it almost impossible for LeBaron’s sloop to stem the current. This flow condition to the west was not normal. The reverse was generally true, because the Indian River had a greater surface, a smaller outlet to the sea, and a longer reach from the ocean to the headwaters.
LeBaron’s written reports were more than dry civil engineering jottings. Interspersed among the numbers and diagrams were gems of the insights into the daily life of the tiny community of Allenhurst, as the area had become known. Take these homespun examples from the archives:
By 1887, a private company, the Florida Coast Line Canal and Transportation Company (also known as the Florida East Coast Canal Company), responsible for construction of an intercoastal waterway running from Jacksonville to Miami, took over operation of the Haulover and cut a new, deeper canal less than one mile from the original cut.
- J. Sykes and his three children had lived there (south of the canal on the Indian River side and had raised sweet potatoes for market. LeBaron’s survey locates his house, garden patches, and grove.
- At the time of LeBaron’s survey, the interior of Ft Ann was occupied by the house of William E. Futch, with his well, orange grove and banana patch. The south line of the southeast section is located 114 feet from the edge of the Old Haulover Canal.
Before long, several steamboat lines operated in the Indian River with light-draft steamboats making scheduled runs with passengers and cargo from Daytona and New Smyrna through the canal to Titusville and south the Rockledge.
The marine traffic thrived briefly until brought to an abrupt halt by Flagler’s railroad. The fatal blow, for Florida’s east coast steamers anyway, struck in 1892 when rail service was extended to Titusville. By the turn of the century, the romance of the steamboat had been replaced by the romance of the rails.
The canal company operated the Haulover until the firm went into receivership in 1923. A few years later, to control coastal navigation, the “Florida Legislature created the Florida Inland Navigation District (1927) as a special taxing district consisting of the eleven east coast counties from Duval to Dade,” says the Corps of Engineers. That same year, the Intercoastal Waterway, incorporating the Haulover Canal, was adopted as a federal project with the Florida section constructed and maintained by the United States Army Engineer District, in cooperation with Florida Navigation District.
Aside from some cosmetic changes – the eventual widening of the canal to 125 feet, dredging to a depth of 12 feet, a new bridge and the creation of a basin on the southwest bank for launching boats - remained pretty much the same for 60 years.
Allenhurst grew – reluctantly; its 50 residents in 1939 were mostly fisherfolk. But what the area lacked in settlers it made up for in reputation as a prime fishing site. A popular fishing camp prospered until the 1950s.
The advent of the space program in the mid-to-late 50s brought the legendary influx of people to Brevard; a few discovered the defiant simplicity of Allenhurst and a handful of modest homes sprung up among the undergrowth. It was not to last.
In 1963 Kennedy Space Center gobbled up north Merritt Island, Allenhurst included, and the little settlement became a ghost town.
Today the original canal is barely visible and Fort Ann are a few mounds of dirt. Both are more vivid in memory than in reality.