Beginning with the Spanish explorers in the 16th century, the English Colonist, and the early American settlers, these men all dreamed of a cross Florida canal from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. It was not until 1932 that concrete plans were developed for this canal. In March of 1826, Congress authorized $20,000 for a preliminary survey of canal routes by the Army Corps of Engineers. From the 1840’s until 1932, the Army Corp of Engineers considered 28 routes for the canal. They drafted plans for a 30 foot deep waterway for large vessels to cross the state along a circuitous route from Jacksonville to Yankeetown. The route began at Jacksonville and followed the Saint John River to Potlaka and then along the Ocklawaha River to Silver Springs then westward across land below Ocala to Dunnellon and finally along the course of the Withlacoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1935 during the Roosevelt administration, construction began on the canal. The justification was that it would be a job creator. The construction only continued for a year. In 1942, Congress passed a bill authorization a canal along the 1932 route.
However, money for the project was not appropriated. The proposed canal was modified from the original plan. It would be a barge canal 12 feet deep and there would be locks and dams. Nothing was done on the project until 1964. Funding was authorized during the Lyndon Johnson administration. This was touted as a national defense project. The construction continued for 7 years. Approximately 1/3 of the 200 mile project was finished during this time period.
Conservatives and conservationists mobilised to block the project. They were able to convince the courts and President Nixon to halt the project on January, 1971. These activist were not content with their successes. They also sought to have existing canal structures in the Ocklawa River removed. These consisted of the Rodman Dam and adjacent reservoir without success.