Memories of Yankeetown: Why The River Is So Deep

A. Frank Knotts

Draftsman45 wrote in with a very good question. He wants to know why the river is so deep and if there was any dredging. Nothing makes me happier than a question to which I know the answer.

We have to go into geologic times to understand the depth of the Withlacoochee. Millions of years ago when the river first carved its channel the Florida peninsula was many feet higher than it is now. The channel was lined with Florida limestone which becomes very hard over time and in the meanwhile the land slowly subsided leaving the river bottom some fifteen or twenty feet down. Since the river flowed rather strongly, it kept the channel fairly well scoured out. Unfortunately, the river flow was reduced by the construction of the Inglis Locks.

The original mouth of the river was somewhere near the present lighthouse as that was then the shoreline. You may have noticed that the marked channel from the present mouth to the lighthouse is crooked. It meanders. That is because when They (whoever "They" were) dredged the channel for serious navigation, they chose to remove the silt from the old hard channel rather than to tackle the rocky bottom on either side. In this case a straight line was not the easiest distance between two points.

There has, indeed, been some more recent dredging. Some time in the thirties a lot of sediment or silt was sucked up from the lower part of the river and pumped through big pipes off to the marsh and riverside tidal swamps. I don't remember too clearly, but I believe that most of it was spread out on the north side. I don't know who did it, maybe the Army Corps of Engineers. I'll bet that there are some old-timers still around who know more about this dredging than I do. Also, there may well have been some more recent clean-ups of the river bottom.

About 1943-44 an Army company of black soldiers (white officers) encamped west of the lodge for several months to do some kind of work on the river and its facilities. I don't know what they did. I wasn't home at the time. My sister told me that they often sang in the evenings and she very much enjoyed hearing it in that quiet time of day.

I do not believe that any barges ever went upriver from Inglis. There was no U.S. 19 at that time, only a dirt road and a somewhat rickety wooden bridge. The present bridge was built in the mid-thirties, I believe by the WPA.

The train actually came from Hernando, though it must have passed through Dunnellon since that was about the only place where it could have crossed the Withlacoochee. It was a standard gauge line named: The Standard Hernando & Inglis Terminal. You can figure out its initials. A lot of people were amused.

The phosphate operation shut down when I was very young, maybe about 1928, but I do have a pretty vivid memory of the train's locomotive on what may have been one of its last runs.

There was what seemed to me a very big building in Inglis called the Commissary. It must have been part of the company town. It stood up on piers about six or seven feet above the ground so that its platform was level with the railroad cars for easy unloading of commodities. The building served as a kind of general store and freight depot as best I recall.

One evening Dad had taken me with him to the store and the train happened to be in. The engine was sitting right there. He scooped me up and asked the engineer if we could come aboard. Before I knew what was happening, Dad stepped across and we were in a very scary place. I remember a wet steel floor, a hot place and lots of hissing banging and clanging. Very loud. Dad had a good grip on me, but still I was scared. The engineer invited me to pull a cord, but I was too scared. So he pulled it and the whistle tooted and, mercifully, Dad stepped off.

Draftsman also asked if the river used to be clear. The river would be relatively clear during the dry season, i.e. the early months of the year. The rest of the time it would be the color of tea and you could usually only see to a depth of three to five feet, more or less. Aside from Blue Springs (now Rainbow Springs) the river is fed from swampy areas and that water picks up a lot of tannin coloration there. If anyone comes along promising to make the river clear, tell that person that you can sell him a famous bridge in New York City.

A. Frank Knotts

Mr. Knotts may be contacted at knotts@yankeetown.com

January 2007

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