Published by the Middlesex Canal Association
Billerica, Massachusetts

Vol. 8, No. 2             April 1970

The old Middlesex Tavern in North Billerica. A rare photograph taken about 1900, showing the tavern with the extension on the left containing Middlesex Hall (the social center for North Billerica) on the second floor, and under it what used to be a shelter for the canal horses. The extension burned down many years ago, but the tavern building still stands at the corner of Elm and Wilson Streets in North Billerica. This photograph is another gift of our benefactor, Mr. Charles T. Sheldon of Milwaukee, to whom the Association is grateful for this and many other much-appreciated gifts.


The ninth annual meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association will take place at 2pm on Saturday, May 2, 1970, in the downstairs lecture hall of the Woburn Public Library. (The easiest access is from the parking area in the rear of the building.) There will he a short business meeting and the election of officers and directors will take place. The main speaker of the afternoon will be Mrs. Julia Broderick O'Brien, formerly the chief planner and project director for the open space and recreation study of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and now a consultant to the Council. She will discuss the proposals and plans for the Middlesex Canal. Since the Canal extends from the Metropolitan Area Council district into the Greater Lowell area, we will also have a representative of the Northern Middlesex Area Commission, who will join in the discussion. Hopefully, with representatives of both planning areas present, a "master plan" covering the whole extent of the Canal can be proposed and agreed upon, so that we will all be able to push a unified project.

by John L. Sullivan
BOSTON: 1813

(This is the conclusion of an article by John L. Sullivan which was commenced in the January issue of Towpath Topics.)

It is ascertained that the town of Boston and the vicinity require annually, at least, ninety thousand cords of wood! about ten thousand of which is supplied from the surrounding country; the rest being brought from the south shore, District of Maine, and from New-Hampshire by the Canal. Wood is known to be getting scarce near the coast, rivers and harbours of Maine; and the supply must be expected to lessen, while fortunately the source of supply by the Canal is just opening. Within three miles of the Merrimack there are vast quantities; in the towns of Chester, Bedford, Manchester, Goffstown, Dunbarton, Pembroke, Bow, Concord, Canterbury, Boscawen, Salisbury, Northfield, and Sanburnton, from whence none has yet been brought. Hitherto it has come only from Wilmington, Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Byngsborough, and a small portion from Litchfield and Merrimack. In 1810, 5266 cords. In 1811, 5089 cords. In 1812, 4105 cords.

It does not seem too much to expect that in a year or two (when the river is opened to the towns above mentioned) one fourth part of the wood consumed in Boston will come down the Canal. Suppose 20,000 cords: This quantity would pay the Canal 23,000 dollars; and should other articles continue to bear the same proportion to wood as hitherto, and even more than this may be expected, the income of the Canal would amount to 45,000 dollars more. Thus it is probable the Canal may give 68,000 dollars a year. Forty thousand dollars would yield a dividend of 6 per cent. on the cost of the Canal, and pay the expenses of management and ordinary repairs; and this is without reckoning the income that may be expected from the Canals round the falls, in which the proprietors of Middlesex Canal are principal owners.

It has been surmised, that the accommodation afforded by the Canal is not on a sufficiently large scale; but this supposition is founded in error. It is abundantly deep, and of sufficient width, and in every respect as well adapted to its purpose, as the Canals in Europe generally are.

The following summary of the principal articles brought down the Canal will shew the nature of the business, without however being considered a rule of calculation in future years, for reasons already given.

In the year

Oak Timber

Pine Timber

Oak Plank

Pine Plank

Cords of Wood

Tons of Stone





































The Canals round the falls of the river will become more productive in proportion to their cost, than the Middlesex. Before they were commenced a calculation, founded on the known quantities of several of the principal articles that passed Amoskeag and Patucket Canal in 1809, was made. The greater part of the rafts that go to Newburyport on the freshets in the spring, as well as those that come to Boston, will pass them.

That calculation was as follows.


rate of

Bow Canal

rate of

Hooksett Can.




34 cts




Oak plank






Shingles 970 m. 4 38,80 2 19,40








Oak Timber







Pine Timber







Hdd. Hoops







Cords Wood

























      $2861,37   $1470,85

It will be apparent to any one who may take the trouble to investigate the subject that the above quantities are small in comparison to the demand in times of peace and commerce, and that no estimate is made of the ascending business: still the above amount of toll gives 15 per cent. on the cost of Bow Canal, and about 10 per cent. on the cost of the Hooksett Canal. However, to make an ample allowance for expenses of management, we will call the one 10, and the other 6 per cent. and a reasonable deduction for what may come from below the Canals. Then let us add the probably increase of business, especially when the boating shall be established, and commerce restored to its wonted channel, and it is believed the toll will amount to double the above estimate. They must therefore become excellent property.

That the unfinished works will be completed up to Concord, seems hardly to admit a doubt. Twelve, fifteen, or even twenty thousand dollars, if so much were necessary, appears too small a sum to be an obstacle to the accomplishment of a purpose so important to the town of Boston, and to the Middlesex Canal proprietors.

To Canal property it has been objected, that its distance renders the care of it inconvenient; but such objections are completely obviated by the system of management actually established for the river Canals, as well as for the Middlesex. The same person may always be agent and treasurer for them respectively. He is appointed annually, and settles his accounts at the close of the year. The toll is collected for the several Canals at the same time at the Canal office in Charlestown; and when rafts are bound to Newburyport, the toll is taken at Blodget's Canal, as well for the others, as for that, the collector there from time to time paying the same to the treasurer. Under this system the proprietors may at any time know the state of the property: Transfers may be made at the agent's office in Boston; and the year after the works are completed dividends may be paid twice a year, in the same manner as on bridge property. But this cannot, like bridge property, be liable to competition from new canals; the grants being all exclusive rights.

Whenever the attention of the public shall be seriously turned to the readiest means of promoting the prosperity, by increasing the natural commerce of this metropolis, inland navigation will be found to deserve peculiar encouragement from government, and be worthy of private enterprize. Then the works already executed win be duty appreciated, and their usefulness experienced. The inquiry may then be, how to extend inland navigation to the lakes of New-Hampshire, to Connecticut River, and thence to Lake Champlain, opening the trade of the opposite shore, which is a very extensive and fertile part of New York? Nor is it too much to expect, that, ultimately, the Mohawk River may be added to this great extent of inland navigation from Boston. It may be enough, however, for the present purpose, that of enabling this town still to advance instead of declining, to contemplate only the junction of the Merrimack and Connecticut. The public spirit of this wealthy metropolis might, without feeling any burden, voluntarily raise a contribution to effect the necessary surveys. The writer of these remarks, though unable, from his engagements, to undertake it himself, could name artists who probably would. Let those who derive pleasure from anticipation of improvements in their country, inspect a map of this section of it. The Author of Nature will appear to have placed a great reservoir of water upon the high lands between the Merrimack and the Connecticut, that may supply Canals instead of alone feeding Sugar River to the west, and (often) the Contoocook to the east; the first discharging into the Connecticut below Windsor, the other into the Merrimack above Concord. Tracing the course of the Connecticut northward, we shall find White River coming from the centre of Vermont, and interlaping its branches with those of Onion River, which discharges into Lake Champlain. The natural obstacles to their union are not to be compared with many that have been overcome in England. We may in a few years, at least see a water communication effectuated with the Connecticut. This town might then have the whole range of that river up as well as down, to the point of communication. We may expect to see Concord, Pembroke, and Salisbury become great manufacturing places; and New-Hampshire not only supplying the timber for our ships, but hemp for their cordage, and canvas for their sails.

When the men who are first in wealth, enterprize and intelligence shall be able to turn from the contemplation of the present disastrous times, to the consideration of the means of future prosperity, we are persuaded the resources of Boston, in the interior country, will not be disregarded.


President: Arthur L. Eno, Jr., West Street, Carlisle
Vice President: Prof. Douglas P. Adams, 6 Bellevue Avenue, Cambridge
Recording Secretary: Harley P. Holden, Shirley, Mass.
Corresponding Secretary: Mrs. Richard T. St. Onge, 51 Boston Road, Westford
Treasurer: Mrs. Frederick L. Lawson, Jr., 187 Concord Road, Billerica
   Mrs. Edwin L. Clarke, 333 W. Emerson Street, Melrose
   Frederick A. Ewell, 18 Grayson Road, Winchester
   Lt. Col. Wilbar M. Hoxie, 10 Jefferson Davis Avenue, Plaistow, N. H.
   Wilfred L. Kelley, Spencer Brook Road, Concord
   Frederick L. Lawson, Jr., 187 Concord Road, Billerica
   John D. Mason, 493 Boston Road, Billerica
   Roland E. Shaine, 37 Tower Road, Lexington
   John R. Snelling, Farrar Road, Lincoln

At the annual meeting the foregoing officers and directors will be placed in nomination for reelection. None of them, however, will feel slighted if other nominations are made from the floor. Under the by-laws, only Proprietors may hold office and vote, but any member may become a Proprietor by paying dues of $10 instead of $2. According to the secretary's records, the following are the currently paid-up Proprietors:

John A. Abbott, M.D., Lincoln
Prof. Douglas P. Adams, Cambridge
Gerald W. Butler, Nahant
A. V. Carbone, Woburn
Malcolm C. Choate, Reading
Mr. & Mrs. Edwin L. Clarke, Melrose
R. Allen Cunningham, Lincoln
David Dettinger, Winchester
Brenton H. Dickson, Weston
Mr. & Mrs. Arthur L. Eno, Jr., Carlisle
John Rogers Flather, Lowell
Kenneth P. Harkins, Lowell
Edmund C. Hession, Dorchester
Harley P. Holden, Shirley
Lt Col Wilbar M. Hoxie, Plaistow, N.H.      

Miss Elizabeth Irish, Lowell
E. Kingsbury, Cambridge
Joseph V. Kopycinski, Lowell
Mr. & Mrs. Frederick L. Lawson, Jr., Billerica
Donald W. Martin, Boxford
Charles E. Mason, Jr., Chestnut Hill
Mrs. Margaret Mills, Chelmsford
Robert A. Pease, Wilmington
Stuart L. Potter, Billerica
Roland E. Shaine, Lexington
John R. Snelling, Lincoln
Robert E. Valyou, Billerica
William Wolfson, Wayland
Richard N. Wright, Syracuse, N. Y.

Hampton, New Hampshire
Lt. Col. Wilbar M. Hoxie

From the earliest settlement of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire, in 1638, the first settlers were accustomed to the sea and its connecting waterways. Their homes were located convenient to the marshes from which the grass was mowed for rowen, and for ready access by the tidal creeks to the sea. Fishing was carried on the year round, using wherries in winter and whale boats the summer and fall. These boats were commended in early navigation reports of the U. S. Government: "They will boat up Boston Bay in a winter nor'wester, when a ship cannot."

The whale boats were 19 feet long, seven feet wide, and three feet deep, pointed at either end, and built of inch boards of pine laid in lap strake. Frames were set six inches apart, of bent oak one inch square. The ceiling (Lining) was also of half-inch pine. Such boats were sailed with two fore-and-aft sails of around 200 square feet each. The wherry was similar, but only sixteen feet long, five feet wide, and two feet deep, intended for rowing but having a single sail to use in a fair wind.

Mills were a neighborhood necessity before roads or vehicles existed. Richard Knight had the first mill grant in town, April 4, 1640, one hundred acres near the Landing: on September 8, 1642 the town granted another, to Henry Sayward for a windmill on the upland. Hampton's first sawmill was on Taylor's River. During the Revolutionary War, Britain's control of the seacoast prevented coastal shipping, except as small craft with their shallow draft were able to carry on limited fishing and trading by dodging among the creeks and marshes.

In 1791, though, according to Dr. Jeremy Belknap, an inland navigation channel was cut from the Blackwater River mouth, through Salisbury about eight miles to Merrimack River. Enlargement and connections of such canals was the substance of Albert Gallatin's 1808 proposal for a protected inland waterway extending from Piscataqua to Savannah. Lack of such a system subjected the coast again to blockade and attack by the British in the War of 1812. This Canal was used by small craft up to the Civil War. Winter fishermen frequently rowed their whaleboats through, inside of Plum Island, down to Ipswich River, where four good men could dig in two low tides seventy of one hundred bushels of clams for bait. By the XXth century the Canal, no longer used, silted in and was overgrown. "The route was surveyed as a part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway before WWII, but was not economically justified, and now it can scarcely be traced.

In the years of peace following the Treaty of Ghent, shipping prospered. Hampton built ships in its own yards, small but sturdy vessels for fishing and trading. The Landing, near Knight's Mill, was at a bend in Taylor's River where it was nearest the Town. A straight cut of about half a mile would save about 2 crooked miles down river to the confluence with Brown's River. David Nudd incorporated in 1823 "The Proprietors of Hampton Canal" to make such a channel, in which he held the controlling interest.

The surface of matted marsh grass was removed by spading. A "dredge" a cylinder with double set of protruding spokes was dragged along to loosen the silt which was shoveled out. As the water was let in, the action of the tide deepened the cut. Legend attributes the cost for the project at a hogshead of rum.

Nudd's Canal was wide and deep enough in a fair wind for any sloop or schooner using Hampton River, and was invaluable to the marsh owners bringing marsh hay from their scattered staddles to the Landing in gundalows. Some of this hay, prized for bedding, was shipped by the Eastern Railroad train for use of the Fire Department horses in Newburyport and Boston. Near the Landing was good clam digging at low tide, and generations of Hampton boys jogged for eels in the water on dark nights, and like the Shaw's, rowed this way to sea to gun for waterfowl. Now silting and pollution have closed the water to all such uses. The last storehouse and pilings at the Landing stood until about forty years ago; a road still leads from the expressway to within a few rods of the Landing, which lies on private property.

History of the Town of Hampton, N. H. from its settlement in 1638 to the autumn of 1892. Joseph Dow; 1893. Salem, Mass. The Salem Press Publishing and Printing Co.


In October, 1971, the Middlesex Canal Association, in cooperation with several other historical societies in the Greater Lowell area, will play host to the Bay State League's Fall meeting. At the moment, Billerica, Chelmsford and Lowell have already agreed to be co-hosts. An ambitious day's program is planned, and there are many jobs available for volunteers. The Association's representative on the Coordinating Committee is Fred Lawson, 187 Concord Road, Billerica, Telephone 667-6181. Please contact him if you can and will help.


A recent newspaper map of the proposed new bridge over the Merrimack River in Lowell shows that the location of the bridge is almost exactly over the entrance of the Canal from the Merrimack. It is the universal opinion of those who have discussed the matter that the entrance locks there (well made of granite) were never removed when the railroad built its track for the Lowell to Nashua line. If, as believed, the locks are still there, there is an exciting possibility that they might be excavated as part of the building of the bridge. In any event, it is likely that they will be on State property, and so preserved, unless they happen to be right under the pilings of the bridge.


Collected Works of Count Rumford provide a unique portrait of the scientific, political, and social conditions of the turbulent early years of the Industrial Revolution. The editor is Sanborn C. Brown, Professor of Physics and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The first three volumes have already been published, and here comes Volume 4: Light and Armament (Belknap Press, $10.00). The papers include: "Intensity of Light;" "Coloured Shadows;" "Harmony of Colours;" "Chemical Properties of Light;" "Management of Light;" "Description of a New Lamp; " "Experiments upon Gunpowder;" "Force of Fired Gunpowder;" and "Experiments with Cannon." Some of those last were pretty hairy.     Harvard Press, March 1970