The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was established by the Second Continental Congress June 16, 1775, two days after establishing an Army for the common defense.
In 1821, Florida became part of the United States, the last territory on the Atlantic coast to do so. The Corps played an important role in the state’s early history and settlement. At that time, the Corps’ primary mission in Florida was to construct military fortifications, until a return to river and harbor improvement projects took place in the late 1800s.
Capt. William T. Rossell was the first district engineer stationed in Florida in 1884. In the early 1900s, Congress instructed the Corps to investigate sites for an inland route, which became part of a larger project to provide a protected waterway between Boston and the Rio Grande. Jacksonville District’s recommended route was approved by Congress in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1927. In 1937, a completed Okeechobee Waterway provided an all-water route across Florida, linking the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway. The interior waterway proved valuable during World War II, when German submarines sunk countless merchant ships along the Atlantic coast.
After World War II, east coast waterways were deepened and widened to improve the state’s transportation network. Today, Jacksonville District maintains 17 deep water ports, contributing to national and international commerce. The intracoastal waterways further support the economy by providing a safe, accessible route for short-haul operators to reach deep water seaports.
The Central and South Florida Project, first authorized in 1948, was, at the time, Jacksonville District’s largest civil undertaking. A multi-purpose project that encompassed most of the 18 southern counties in the state, it provided flood risk reduction, water supply and other benefits to the area between Orlando and Florida Bay. Although it performed its intended purposes well, it also contributed to the decline of the south Florida ecosystem, leading Congress to authorize a reevaluation of the project. This “restudy” resulted in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which was approved in 2000 and became the Corps’ single largest ecosystem restoration project.
In the 1950s, the activities of the Panama District, which included Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, were assigned to Jacksonville District. Also in the 1950s, the district was designated as the construction agent for the country’s fledgling missile and space program, and managed the design and construction of facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s.
Jacksonville District’s contributions have been important to the nation and have positively served communities in Florida and the Caribbean since 1884. The district has played, and continues to play, an integral role in the nation’s economy and quality of life.