53D CONGRESS, 3d Session.


Ex. Doc. No. 83.


LETTER FROM THE SECRETARY OF WAR, TRANSMITTING, With letter of the Chief of Engineers, a report of a preliminnary examination of a waterway from Franklin City southward to Cape Charles, Virginia.

DECEMBER 7, 1894. -- Referred to the Committee on Rivers and Harbors and ordered to be printed.


December 4, 1894.

SIR: I have the honor to inclose herewith a letter from the Chief of Engineers, dated December 1, 1894, together with a copy of a report from William F. Smith, United States agent, Corps of Engineers, dated October 29, 1894, of a preliminary examination, made by him, in compliance with the provisions of the river and harbor act of August 17, 1894, of waterway from Franklin City southward to Cape Charles, Virginia.

Very respectfully,



Washington, D.C., December 1, 1894.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the accompanying copy of report of October 29, 1894, by William F. Smith, United States agent, major of engineers, United States Army, retired, giving results of the preliminary examination "for internal waterway, extending from Franklin City southward to Cape Charles," etc., all in the State of Virginia, as provided for in the river and harbor act of August 17, 1894.

Major Smith does not think that the present commerce is sufficient to warrant the Government in undertaking this work.

In the judgment of Col. William P. Craighill, Corps of Engineers, the division engineer, this waterway is not worthy of improvement by the General Government, and in this opinion I concur.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant

Brig. Gen., Chief of Engineers.

Secretary of War.



Wilmington, Del., October 29, 1894.

GENERAL: I have the honor to report that in compliance with your instructions of August 20, 1894, I have had a preliminary examination made by my assistant, Mr. A. Stierle, assistant engineer, "for internal waterway, extending from Franklin City southward to Cape Charles, Virginia. The chief obstructions exist in what are known as Boggs Bay, Cat Creek, Kegotank Bay, Weir Passage, and Burton's Bay."

I inclose the report of Mr. Stierle. This sets forth in detail the advantages to be expected from creating a permanent waterway from Franklin City to Smith's Island, at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. It also gives a general idea of the work to be done in making such a channel. I do not think the commerce at present would justify the required expenditure, nor do I think the commerce arising from a channel 6 feet in depth to Chincoteague Bay, or even into Delaware Bay, would be sufficient to warrant the Government in undertaking the work. I am, however, of the opinion that a detailed survey with estimates for a deeper channel should be made -- a channel capable of allowing a larger class of vessels to go from the sounds of North Carolina through into the waters of Delaware Bay without being obliged to go out into the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Charles or Cape Henlopen, and I therefore recommend such a survey in the interests of commerce and navigation.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

United States Agent.

Brig. Gen. THOS. L. CASEY,
Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.

(Through Wm. P. Craighill, Corps of Engineers, Division Engineer, Southeast Division.)


[First indorsement.]

Baltimore, Md., October 31, 1894.

Respectfully submitted to the Chief of Engineers.

In view of the "facts and reasons" set forth in the reports of the local engineer and his assistant, which give the only information I have relative to this proposed internal waterway, I am unable to see that "the present and prospective demands of commerce" justify the expenditure of public funds to make the waterway at this time, and therefore report, using the language of the law, that it is not "worthy of improvement by the General Government."

WM. P. CRAIGHILL, Colonel, Corps of Engineers.




Wilmington, Del., October 27, 1894.

SIR: In compliance with your instructions, I have the honor to submit herewith a report upon the preliminary examination of an "Internal waterway, extending from Franklin City, Va., southward to Cape Charles, the chief obstructions to which exist in Boggs Bay, Cat Creek, Kegotank Bay, Weir Passage, and Burtons Bay."

The examination was made between October 10 and 15, during the prevalence of stormy, disagreeable weather, in a small, sloop-rigged, flat-bottomed boat, chartered for the purpose and worked by two men thoroughly acquainted with the numerous intricate channels winding through these bays. The route followed is that generally used by all boats trading in these waters. High tides and stormy weather, however, often permit, and even compel, a detour from the common course, which always results in shortening the distance between two objective points, but no attempt to do so was made during the progress of the examination, as it was the plan to examine all the known obstructions at or near the stage of low water.

The distance between Franklin City, Va., and Cape Charles in an air line is 68 miles; the distance between the same points measured on the Coast-Survey charts along the deepest and most direct channels within the marshes and interior bays skirting the counties of Accomac and Northampton on the ocean side, is about 90 miles. The latter distance could be shortened probably 10 miles by a judicious system of cut-offs connecting the principal channels.

Franklin City is a small town in Accomac County, and is the southern terminus of the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Railroad; as such it is the only place on Chincoteague Bay from which oysters, fish, clams, and sweet potatoes, the staple articles of commerce in this locality, are shipped in large quantities. The town is of comparatively recent origin, and is situated on the western shore about 4 miles above the lower end of the bay. Extensive wharves have been built, and in connection with the railroad a steamer, carrying freight and passengers, makes daily trips across the bay to Chincoteague Island.

South of Franklin City the deepest water, or rather a slight, not well-defined depression in the bottom, extends diagonally across Chincoteague Bay in a due southerly direction, leading into the main outlet of the bay -- Chincoteague Channel. The average depth is about 5 feet, with a short bar near the lower end with only 4 feet upon it at ordinary water level. There are several other subsidiary outlets of the bay which further down join the principal one before passing into the ocean through Chincoteague Inlet, and which throughout possess great depth of water. The water in the bay, however, is quite shoal near their entrances and, in consequence, only the smallest class of sailboats pass through them under the most favorable conditions. But for these obstructions the most westerly outlet of the bay, named Cockle Creek, would form a much more direct link with the waters further south than Chincoteague Channel does. At the head of the last-named-channel is the principal landing place on Chincoteague Island, forming the business center for the population, which is said to number about 3,000, whose chief occupation is fishing and oystering. The distance from Franklin City to Chincoteague Landing is about 5 miles.

From Chincoteague southward the route follows Chincoteague Channel to and across the inner base of Chincoteague Inlet into Ballas Narrows to the Four Mouths, and down the most easterly one of these four narrows to Boggs (Bogues) Bay, where the first formidable obstruction is met. The depth of water in the channels just cited varies between 10 and 28 feet, except across a narrow middle ground in Chincoteague Inlet, where it is only 5 feet at low tide. The depth of water in Boggs Bay is 10 inches on the average at low water, the shoal beginning about 600 feet north of the entrance into the bay. The bottom is sticky blue mud.

Cat Creek is the only water course opening southward from Boggs Bay. It is about 2 miles long, of which the upper mile is from 35 to 60 feet in width and the depth about 1 foot on an average; both width and depth increase gradually within the lower mile from 60 to 100 feet and from 5 to 8 feet respectively.

From Cat Creek, via Hog Creek, which flows into Assawaman Inlet, Assawaman Creek, the Cut-Off and Northern Narrows, to Kegotank Bay, no depth under 8 feet at low tide is found. The depth of water within the latter bay averages 1 1/2 feet, and is greater at the northern side, varying between 2 and 7 feet, than on the southern, where it does not exceed 1 foot. The bottom is sticky blue mud.

The route continues through North Gargathy Creek
, passing inside of Gargathy Inlet and down South Gargathy Creek to Matomkin Bay. Within these water courses the channel is over 8 feet deep, except at a shoal just inside the inlet, where the depth is about 6 feet, the obstruction being a bar of live sand washed in by storm tides. The upper half of Matomkin Bay is quite shoal, the average depth being about 2 feet, and the least depth 18 inches at low tide. From Weir Rock, which is an oyster bank extending from the eastward halfway across the bay to the lower edge of the bay near Matomkin Inlet, the depth gradually increases from 5 to 18 feet. The depth just inside of Matomkin Inlet, and throughout the following water course, Longboat Creek, is nowhere less than 10 feet. The headwaters of the latter creek begin in a small shoal bay, called Cross Broad Water, in which only 18 inches of water was found, the depth increasing slightly near the upper and lower outlets.

A short drain or ditch, from 15 to 18 feet deep, connects Cross Broad Water with Floyds or Burtons Bay. The upper portion of this bay, for about 2 1/2 miles, has a depth of 1 foot at low tide. The depth then gradually increases, and within the next half mile reaches 21 feet, this depth and over prevailing also within the following channels of the route, viz: Hummock Channel, Black Rock Reach, Wachapreague Inlet, Horseshoe Lead, and Drawing Channel.

The latter channel extends across Swash Bay; its head, however, is quite shoal near the lower end of the bay, and for a distance of about one-fourth of a mile the depth of water is 1 foot and less.

In passing out of Swash Bay the route makes a short detour to the westward and follows a creek called Trippings Mop, in which, for a very short distance, a middle ground, over which there is 2 feet of water at low tide, interrupts the otherwise deep channel.

Ample depth was found in Little Sloop Channel, in crossing Sandy Island Channel, and in Sloop Channel, south of the latter, the minimum depth, 8 feet, being at the junction of Sloop Channel and Cunjer Channel, the width between the banks there being quite narrow, not over 20 feet.

About one mile north of this junction the route enters the largest expanse of water on the whole line, Hog Island Bay. The channels, Cunjer Channel, North Channel, Great Machipongo River, and The Deeps, winding across the bay in a zigzag direction, are, however, quite deep, the shoalest place, 7 feet at low water, existing on a small lump in North Channel.

In following The Deeps the route makes a decided turn to the westward and thence follows the bays and channels that approach closest to the mainland. At the head waters of The Deeps and after the course has assumed a more southerly direction the heretofore wide channel becomes considerably narrower and divides into many smaller winding channels, whose ramifications have given this locality the very appropriate name of The Buckhorn. As these small drains are situated within a wide bay and their direction and location is by no means defined by any visible mark above the water level, except by an occasional bush placed by fishermen, it has become quite a question of skill and judgment to navigate safely through this passage. The least depth of water found here is about 5 1/2 feet, the channel being very narrow for a distance of about 1,200 feet.

The Buckhorn is the last of the obstructions on the route, and thence on to Smiths Island, for 20 miles and in an almost due southerly direction, the depth of water in the channels of the Thoroughfares and in Magothy Bay varies from 11 to 45 feet at common low water.

The extreme southern embouchure into the ocean of this chain of inland waters takes place between Cape Charles on the west and Smiths Island on the east, the mouth, which is nearly 3 miles wide, being somewhat protected near the cape by two outlying islands, The Isaacs and Fisherman's Island. The main channel from Magothy Bay divides at the promontory of Smiths Island into two very narrow channels, one going across the bar close under the island, the other passing out about 1 mile southwest of the former. The least depth of water at the bar in the first is 7 feet; on the second, 9 feet at mean low water. From Smiths Island channel across to Cape Charles the remainder of the mouth consists of flats over a mile wide, over which there is 1 foot of water at low tide.

The rise and fall of the tide at and near some of the most important points along the route examined is, according to the latest data, as follows:

At Franklin City, 0.8 feet, at Chincoteague Island, 1.7 feet; in Chincoteague Inlet, 3.4 feet; in Matomkin Inlet, 3.5 feet; in Wachapreague Inlet, 4.3 feet; at Hog Island, 4.1 feet; in Machipongo Inlet, 4.1 feet; in Ship Shoal Inlet, 3.7 feet; and at Cape Charles, 2.8 feet. It is safe to assume that the rise of the tide is nearly the same upon the bays and creeks lying immediately back of the points just named, and as the principal obstructions described above are nearly bare at low water it can be readily seen that the class of boats frequenting these waters generally do not draw more than 3 feet of water. The channels south of Hog Island Bay being much deeper and broader than those to the north of it are used more generally by boats of greater draft and larger tonnage. If any need arises for these vessels to go further north they pass out to sea through the many inlets which can be conveniently reached and lie not many miles apart. It is different with the boats trading north of Hog Island Bay. These are all flat-bottom boats and of much smaller capacity, and only during exceptionally fair weather go outside to avoid the shoals along the inner route; generally they work across the latter on the high water, and the time consumed in doing so reduces their earnings in no small degree.

There is at present, in consequence of these obstructions, very little, if any, through traffic. The majority of the boats are registered and owned at Chincoteague Island, and are engaged in carrying fish, oysters, and particularly sweet potatoes, from the different landings and farms along the route to Franklin City and Chincoteague, and, as said before, these boats seldom go below Hog Island Bay. Many boats are owned at several small settlements at and above Cape Charles engaged in the same trade, and I have been told, and could myself observe, that a large number of boats hailing from Norfolk, and other points across Chesapeake Bay, visit the lower bays regularly during the fall and winter to take up and carry away the fine oysters which grow there in abundance.

The deputy collector of customs at Onancock, Va., Mr. N. W. Nock, has kindly furnished me the following commercial statistics relative to the present trade through the inland waters from Chincoteague to Cape Charles. The statement, he says, is based somewhat upon his own knowledge, but mainly upon information derived from parties who are in positions to know.

Estimated present trade per annum.

Sailing vessels, decked, of all classes (300) tonnage -- 5,000
Steamers, steam yachts, etc. (7) ....... total tonnage -- 150
Oysters, exported -- 400,000 bushels
Clams -- 300,000 bushels
Potatoes, sweet -- 250,000 bushels
Potatoes, round -- 100,000 bushels
Cord wood -- 3,000 cords
Lumber -- 150,000 feet
Coal -- 500 tons
Fish -- 6,000,000 pounds
Grain and feed -- 40,000 bushels
General merchandise to the value of $400,000
Guano and fertilizers -- 1,000 tons
Passengers carried -- 6,000

Calculating the above shipments at their weight and at their present market prices, the trade amounts to 58,005 tons and represents a value of $1,568,000, which Mr. Nock estimates would increase to more than double that amount the third year after the obstructions to navigation have been removed. Mr. Nock very pertinently expresses his own and the opinion of several prominent people about the contemplated improvement. He says:

" * * * The present tedious and uncertain method of transporting the products of the contiguous waters and fields to both northern and southern markets will be succeeded when the improvements are completed by swift and certain conveyances.

"* * * Thousands of acres of good oyster bottoms are now idle and unprofitable from lack of quick and easy transportation of their possible products. The development of the great trucking industry upon lands bordering upon this waterway is now greatly retarded and restricted by the uncertain methods of transportation now in vogue, together with their great distance from railroads and steamboats located in other sections of the peninsula. * * * In boisterous weather a safe and easy passage, north or south, would be afforded vessels of a draft suited to its capacity."

It is thought that a channel from 50 to 100 feet wide and from 4 to 6 feet deep at low water, dredged across the shoals in the bays or in the creeks and thoroughfares connecting the latter, would meet the present requirements of commerce, and would answer the demands of the class of vessels that would likely use this waterway. The points that would require dredging to make a depth of 6 feet at mean low water are as follows, beginning at Franklin City and going south:

(1) In Chincoteague Bay, between Franklin City and Killick Shoal Light.

(2) In Boggs (Bogues) Bay.

3) In Cat Creek.

(4) In Kegotank Bay.

(5) In Matomkin Bay.

(6) In Cross Broad Water.

(7) In Burtons (Floyds) Bay.

(8) In Swash Bay.

(9) In Trippings Mop.

(10) In The Buckhorn.

Roughly estimated, these obstructions cover about 10 miles of length of the whole route. Exact dimensions and quantities, however, can be given only if accurate survey of the points named is made. The cost of such a survey is estimated at $1,200.

Very respectfully,

A. STIERLE, Assistant Engineer.

Gen. WM. F. SMITH, United States Agent.

Washington, DC
December 7, 1894