From its earliest recorded history, the New River has been a center of boating and boat building. Among south Florida's earliest human artifacts are dugout canoes crafted from pine logs by the Tequesta Indians who inhabited the area before European contact. Settling on the river by the early nineteenth century, the Seminoles constructed their dugouts from sturdier cypress using them to navigate the river, adjoining waterways, and even sailing their larger canoes into the open ocean.
Seminole Indians in their traditional dugout canoes were favorite subjects for early photographers. This view on the New River (below) is from the first decade of the twentieth century. For the most part, life for the Seminoles on the river had not yet changed.
The first non-Native settlers on the river, Bahamians and Americans who arrived between the 1790s and the 1830s, constructed vessels of various kinds for fishing, salvaging shipwrecks, and hauling crops. The Rigby family, for example, reportedly built their schooner, the Florida, from oaks which grew plentifully along the river. Richard Fitzpatrick, owner of large tracts on both the New and Miami rivers, harvested timber along New River for his shipbuilding enterprises.
The first known photographs of New River, taken in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, show its unspoiled, natural state.