Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Middlesex Canal – one of the oldest canals in the U.S.

The Middlesex Canal was a 27-mile canal connecting the Charles River with the Port of Boston with the Merrimack River flowing into the Atlantic Ocean at Newburyport, Mass., a center of shipbuilding and great wealth during the Industrial Revolution. The canal revolution began in America as a result of poor roads and the high cost of bringing goods to market.

The Middlesex Corporation was chartered by the Massachusetts state government in 1793. Many of the leading businessmen and politicians were behind the project , including Governor John Hancock, John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

The Project Engineer was Loammi Baldwin, who became one of the leading authorities on the design of canals and canal locks in America. Baldwin in turn consulted with British engineer William Weston. By 1802 the canal was in operation. The canal was thirty feet wide and three feet deep. The locks were 80 feet long and 10 feet wide. One of the canal proprietors was an ancestor to one of the leading investors behind the Florida canal company that later built the Florida portion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

Celebrating Thanksgiving Aboard Union Ironclads, James River, 1864

Irish in the American Civil War

In November 1864 a number of Union Ironclads were to be found on the James River in Virginia, supporting Federal ground operations there.A large number of the men on board the vessels of the James River Flotilla were Irish; indeed they made up an estimated 20% of all Union sailors. How did they and their comrades celebrate Thanksgiving 150 years ago?

Officers on the deck of the U.S.S. Onondaga. The identity of the Irish correspondent, 'Garryowen', has not been established (National Archives) Officers on the deck of the U.S.S. Onondaga with their dogs. The identity of the Irish correspondent, ‘Garryowen’, has not been established (National Archives).

We are fortunate that one of them has left us an account. He was a sailor on the U.S.S. Onondaga, one of the Union monitors on the James. Corresponding under the pen-name ‘Garryowen’, he wrote frequently to the New York Irish-American newspaper, who regularly published his letters. His account tells how the ‘sturdy sons of Neptune’ began their day by dispatching some unfortunate…

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Santee-Cooper River Locks (South Carolina) three (3) – minute video

These modern locks service the transition from the Santee River to the Cooper River for recreational boating in South Carolina.

Completed in 1800, the 22-mile long Santee Canal, with three wooden locks, was the first canal built in America. Lifting boats to the Cooper River, the canal locks served commercial vessels in the transit of rice, cotton, dye, and other agricultural goods to Charleston, South Carolina, for shipment to all parts of the New World, England, and Europe. In the 1850’s, the canal fell into disuse as a result of persistent drought.

Private plantation owners financed these locks in the absence of local government support. Under the new U. S. Constitution, Congress lacked the express power to build inland waterways and locks at federal taxpayer expense. Moreover, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, delegates voted down investing in Congress the power to construct canals. It would be decades before Congress would support inland waterways, using the Commerce Clause as its rationale.

Eighty-seven-year-old Trent-Severn Inland Canal (Peterborough lock)


Once used for industrial and transportation purposes, the nearly one hundred year old Canadian canal is now used exclusively for recreational purposes. The Waterway connects the Great Lakes Ontario and Huron. The route essentially follows the waters from Georgian Bay to the Bay of Quinte, which Samuel Champlain used to travel with the Indians as early as 1615.

Logging interests, which dominated the use of this connection of rivers, delayed the start of the construction of a series of locks until 1833. It took 87 years to complete the new inland waterway and lock system. One of the more interesting features is the Lift lock system at Peterborough shown in this video graph.

When your author was perusing the Hall papers at Trent University for the book, “Florida’s Big Dig,” he came across a color map of eastern Florida ca. 1892 showing the lands reserved by the State for the canal company dredging what would become the Intracoastal Waterway. The color map, reproduced in three sections for the book, was so large, there wasn’t a scanner anywhere in Peterborough or Trent University large enough to scan the 15″ x 25″ map in one scan. It took three scans. It is shown in my book in black and white.

The Rideau Canal of Canada (1832)

Built in 1832, the Rideau Canal links the city of Ottawa on the Ottawa River to the city of Kingston, Ontario, on Lake Ontario, a distance of over 126 miles. Designed by architect John By, the Canal was constructed in the event of war with the United States.

Here, a short film of the stretch through the capital city of Ottawa depicts the several locks necessary to make easy the transit of canal boats over various changes in elevation, and over hills and down along valleys out in the countryside. The “Rideau” means “curtain” in French, describing thr the curtain–like appearance if the twin waterfalls where they join the Ottawa River. The canal system uses several rivers and lakes to operate the 45 locks system.

Originally the Canal was used for commercial uses. Today, the canal is used largely by tourists for recreations.

The Falkirk Wheel of Central Scotland: reconnecting Glasgow and Edinburgh

Designed by Scottish architect Tony Kettle, the Falkirkwheel is one of the most unusually designed rotating boat lifts and systems in the world. Employing Archimedes principle and a 22-horsepower motor, the wheel lifts narrow or canal boats a distance of 79 feet from the Forth and Clyde Canal to the Union Canal. Opening in 2002,the project reconnected Glasgow with Edinburgh for the first time since the 1930s. In the 1930s, the two canals were connected by 11 locks.

It is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world. Design of the wheel began in 1999; construction ended in 2002–two years after the Millennium Commission had set its goal for completion of the project.

5 minute time lapse video of a 61 foot yacht locking in and out on the Erie Canal

Built between 1817 and 1825, the Erie Canal was a wildly successful financial event, setting off the first “Canal Era” in the United States. Canals like the Chesapeake and Ohio, the Dismal Swamp, and Chesapeake and Delaware Canals followed, hoping to duplicate the Erie Canal’s success.

To some degree each man-made canal did but each were not nearly as successful in the long run. Again, Constitutional constraints prohibited Congress from directly subsidizing all of the early canals. A combination of state, local and private financial assistance made the Erie possible. The Erie Canal opened up an important route allowing passengers and freight to reach the Great Lakes and the cities surrounding them like Chicago and Detroit with return access to New York City and the Atlantic Ocean. Almost overnight New York City surpassed Baltimore as America’s largest city.

Florida, however, would not become a state until 1845, and large federal land grants to Florida decades later, would not give the Sunshine State the ability to build a transportation infrastructure in Central and Southern Florida long the east coast until 1881.