A Photo History of Florida Steamboats and Water Hyacinth Management

Photo History of Florida Steamboats and Water Hyacinth Management

The history of water hyacinth management in Florida is inextricably connected to steamboat traffic on the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers, and other inland navigable waters of Florida.

Water hyacinth was reportedly introduced into the St. Johns River near Palatka in the 1880s, and by the turn of the century was interfering with steamboat traffic. Dense hyacinth mats prevented steamers from accessing the docks at Palatka and drifting mats were reported to push steamers off course as they traversed Lake George.

Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin removing water hyacinth obstructions from southeastern waters in 1899. By the 1920s, railroads replaced steamboats as the primary mode of transportation in Florida, bringing the age of steamboat transportation to an abrupt end: however, the legacy of water hyacinth grows on in Florida navigable rivers and public lakes.

The following images were assembled from the Florida Library and Information Services (http://www.floridamemory.com/photographiccollection), the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They provide a view of early water transportation in Florida and some sense of the problems associated with water hyacinth and initial management efforts to cope with this invasive plant in Florida.