Published by the Middlesex Canal Association - Billerica, Massachusetts
Volume 12, No. 1    April, 1974


The annual meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association will take place on Saturday, April 27, 1974, at 2:00 P.M., at the Parish House of the North Congregational Church (the 1790 House) at 827 Main Street, Worth Woburn.

The principal speaker will be Malcolm E. Graf, Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, whose topic will be "Perspectives on an Old Waterway". Representatives from the Historical, Bicentennial and Conservation Commissions of the various towns along the route of the Canal have been invited to participate and discuss briefly their plans and proposals for the Canal.

After the business meeting, there will be a walk along the Middlesex Canal in Wilmington, beginning at the Wilmington Town Park and terminating at the same place. This walk will take not more than one hour.

The 1790 House is the first house north of Route 128, on Route 38, on the right-hand side of the road, going North. It is the next house after the relocated Baldwin Mansion on the same side of the street.


During the business meeting at the annual meeting, in addition to the usual business, including election of officers and directors, a motion will be presented to amend Article II, Section 2, of the by-laws by substituting the words "4" for "2", so as to read: "Any person may become a member of the Association upon the payment of annual dues of $4.00 and complying with all the other requirements for election of Proprietors".


Persons having any suggestions for nominations of officers or directors are requested to communicate the same to the chairman of the nominating committee, Arthur L. Eno, Jr., 875 West Street, Carlisle.


CONCERNING THE CANAL each of us in recent years has most likely read in one place or another, "Today no trace of it remains." Now as we round out the first dozen years of this Association, we observe this same CANAL a feature of major historic interest both locally and throughout the United States. Several books and one Guide have already been written about it, a museum has been started for it. An ancestral house has been moved bodily to its banks, a bridge has been built over it, sections of it are being dredged and one stretch rehabilitated for exhibition. Artifacts associated with it have been found and collected and more will be sought. In fact this "vanished" Canal strip has become an ant-hill of activities concerned with it.

The short-term burst of enthusiasm from Bicentennial years has surely quickened the pace of such progress but it is due and will continue to be due largely to a swelling, national, long-term comfort in that brew from the roots of our past which increasingly proffers a major therapy for ills of our time. This Association, with all its magnificent foundations in technical and humanistic excellence, will continue to ride the crest of this great wave with vigor and enthusiasm, emerging currently into years of its own maturity and major contribution whose full measure and final fruit must presently remain conjectural. The secret lies in the membership, from which must continue to originate and evolve every genus, species or variety of endeavor that is to provide that ultimate measure of success. This Association needs you, but you must come forward.

On Saturday, August 17, 1974, (SAVE THE DATE) there will be a dedication of the rehabilitated section of the CANAL, yes, our CANAL, lying in Wilmington which the Department of Public Works has been able to help us with in conjunction with its relocation of the Route 129 overpass in that town. This is only one example of the broad interests of the DPW, especially as evidenced by the current administration of Commissioner Campbell, whom we hope to have as a speaker at that time. You will surely hear more of this occasion, where we look forward to the presence of the Governor of the Commonwealth and numerous out-of-state Canallers as well.

With respect to the "1790 House" where our meeting of April 27 lies, the North Woburn Congregational Church has graciously permitted us its use; we hope the Reverend Nancy Klassen, Pastor, will be with us. Indicative of interest in the CANAL, Ms. Margaret M. Costello, Middlesex Community College, has written a paper on this House which the Church procured for us and which we hope to repro-duce in major part for the meeting. Pending that event, we present a few remarks on this famous structure taken from, "Historic Sites of Woburn", prepared by the Woburn Historical Commission:-

THE 1790 HOUSE. This magnificent home located on Main Street in North Woburn was originally built in 1790 for a Woburn Lawyer, Joseph Bartlett. Upon completion, however, it was purchased by Baldwin for his friend Rumford who had dreams of returning there. Tho these dreams were never realized, they probably account for the fact that the house was called by some "The Count Rumford House". The noted author Frances Parkinson Keyes, a frequent guest and visitor to the house, refers to it repeatedly in her memoirs "Roses in December", as the "Count Rumford House".

Because of its grand design and pleasant setting it was frequently used for soirees and balls commemorating important events in Woburn. In 1800 it was the scene of a Grand Centennial Hall and in 1803 a gala was held to celebrate the opening of the Middlesex Canal.

Douglas P. Adams


On the microfilm edition of the Adams papers appears another report on the Middlesex Canal by William Sullivan, a director of the corporation, son of Governor Sullivan and brother of John Langdon Sullivan. It is published here through the courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Boston, February 1, 1830

The Board of Directors agreed in July, 1829 to inspect the canals from Concord to Boston, and as many of the Directors as could attend to this duty proceeded to perform it. They met at Concord on the 20th of July and came from that place to Boston in a boat, stopping at all proper places to make the necessary examination and inquiries; and were four days constantly engaged in coming from the place of embarkation to Boston.

A similar inspection took place in the summer of 1824 and some of the Board who were present on both occasions have the pleasure to know that between the two periods very great and lasting improvements have been effected. The committee who acted in the above inspection (in the summer of 1824) made a very full report on the affairs of the Corporation. In consequence of the examination then made, diverse changes in the works and in the management were suggested and these having been carried into full effect, there has been a progressive improvement from that time to the present.

By that report (made in June 1824) it appears that the Middlesex Canal owns in the river canals as follows, viz:

Bow Canal - whole cost originally about $21,000; whole number of shares 157; Middlesex Canal owns 2/3's or 106.

Isle of Hooksett - original cost is about $15,000; whole number of shares 100; Middlesex Canal owns 45.

In June 1824, this Canal was in a state of decay, little or nothing having been done since the original building more than 15 years before. It has since been completely renovated with stone work except the lower lock which will be completed this spring, most of the materials being on the spot and fitted for use. This Canal will not require any further repairs for many years.

In the report alluded to June 1824 The Amoskeag Locks & Canals are particularly described as to their condition - since that time, these have been renewed in part and much improved in all respects. The Middlesex Canal owns nothing in the Amoskeag - the most of the shares are owned by persons who are members of the Middlesex Canal Corporation.

Union Locks & Canals - The Middlesex Canal owns 73 out of 83 shares in these Locks & Canals, the original cost was about $56,772 or $584 a share. The Union Corps. has met with all sorts of disasters: the works have been greatly damaged at different times and it suffered heavily by attempting to raise money by a lottery. It is now free from debt and its works are in good order and not likely to need any repairs to any considerable extent. The Bow and Middlesex Canals will probably pay in the future more than six per cent annually on the original cost. The Amoskeag will probably pay six percent on a capital of $50,000. The Union Canal will do more than maintain itself and may give two or three per cent on the capital.

The Middlesex Canal is divided into 800 shares

The amount paid in assessments is $528,000
Expenditure of all income on the Canal up to the year 1818 was    85,000
If we suppose the Interest on the money invested up to 1818 to be   450,000
It will make the cost of a share $1330 $1063,000

The Dividends from 1818 to 1829 inclusive amount to $143 a share, making an annual average of 12.33 a share. The highest dividend was 20$ a share (in 1821) the lowest $8 (in 1829).

But it is to be remembered that within the last five years very great changes have taken place in the works and most of them have been renewed in a most permanent and substantial manner with stone, so that no repairs will be necessary for many years to come in those places. The Committee refer in particular to the Stone Locks in different places and to the stone aqueduct over Symmes River. The only considerable renewal that remains to be made is at Horn Pond, the Locks here have not been renewed since the beginning which is nearly thirty years - considerable preparation had been made for repairing at this place - which can be gradually effected, and in a permanent manner by doing a part of the work in successive years; and comprising all the work in three or four years. Since the present agent has been employed which is five years, the Canal property has been increased in value far beyond the expectations of the proprietors. Many renewals, repairs and improvements have taken place, in the river works at Billerica - at the Charlestown Landing and at many intermediate places - and all of them effected with proper economy, in the right time and in the right manner -and it may be truly asserted that the property is worth fifty per cent more that it was in June 1824. With respect to the renewal at Horn Pond, the Committee are of the opinion that it would be proper to send the agent to visit the works lately completed in the South, with a view to know whether the substitution of the inclined plane for Locks is practicable and expedient. If this should be found to be so, the savings in expense, and in the time necessary to do the work are very important considerations. If the inclined plane will answer, it is supposed that the Canal itself will furnish the power by which the loads may be made to ascend and descend and much of the work now in being, will be so much done towards an inclined plane, as well as so much towards new locks if the latter should be found most expedient.

The Middlesex Canal is about twenty seven miles in length and commences on the Merrimack about two Miles above the manufacturing establishments at Lowell. The Canal crosses Concord river about six miles from the Merrimack in the town of Billerica. The Concord river feeds the Canal both ways; that is northwardly to the Merrimack and southwardly to the tide waters at Charlestown.

There has been time enough to make a full experiment of the value of water communication; and the experiment seems to have proved that there must be some great object of transportation, both ways to make such establishments productive. Between great manufacturing establishments and the seaboard and between certain descriptions of mines and the seaboard or for hundreds of miles into a populous interior, in which most or all of the usual products of divided industry are in want of a Market; a canal or railroad may answer but if the sole dependence is on the quantity which an agricultural Country spreading extensively on both sides of the artificial way, may want to have carried to market, and may want to bring from the sea board a full interest on the whole cost can hardly be expected, but such property will acquire a fixed value as experiment may justify. The failure of profit does not arise from there not being so many tons weight in the whole Country to be brought down from such an agricultural country - and so many to be carried into it - but from the fact that a portion will be carried in some other mode than by water or on the railway.

In what way, any novelty adapted to alter fixed habits among great numbers and through an extensive country, will operate, cannot be foreseen - for example if it costs a given sum to cart a ton 100 miles, and a new mode of carrying that same ton, from and to the same places, for half the cost of carting is offered, will not the new mode be preferred and carting abandoned? One would answer, yes, and with great certainty. But it is not so. Canal or rail transportation must be paid for in cash; carting is paid for by a long and circuitous process of credit and Barter. Though the Country trader pays nominally double what it costs for canal or rail carriage, yet in fact he pays no more because he pays for the carrying in goods at a saving profit -and to persons from whom he can get nothing but the labour of carrying. What is the consequence? The waggons, the horses and the carriers, and their property and their credit actually disappear in two to four years, and strange as it may seem they are succeeded by others who run the same short and ruinous course. A carrier may perhaps thrive at $12 a ton for a hundred miles paid in cash; but is sure to be ruined if paid in goods even at fair prices - because he must often take what he does not want and cannot sell.

The Middlesex Canal was worth very little until the communication up to Concord N. H. was opened. There it terminates at present.

It was expected that traders at Concord would be furnished with articles from the seaboard and exchange them for country products and send the latter down on their own account; or as agents for the owners. The expectation has been realised to a moderate extent. The gross amount of freight of boat loads to and from Concord annually is a very considerable sum; and Concord is one of the most flourishing interior towns in New England, but the transportation is carried on at great expense and at very moderate profits, compared with wear tear and risk.

But there are many persons who trade to Boston from places northwardly thereof, and on & near Connecticut river, who send their goods down by teams (which come to and pass through Concord and which pass along the banks of the river, oftentimes within sight of the water communication) but these persons rarely avail of the water carriage because of the inconvenience and expense of loading and unloading, and making many operations, when one long continued one will answer all the purpose - and because of the credit and barter traffic aforementioned.

The Committee are of opinion that the traffic between the seaboard and the whole of that rich and flourishing region commonly called the upper valley of the Connecticut (comprising both sides of the dividing line between Vermont and New Hampshire for an extent of eighty or an hundred miles) would naturally and most conveniently center in Boston; and that by this route openings may be made for trade into Canada and into the East side of Vermont and even to Lake Champlain, perhaps to the Eastern lakes, and that there is no obstacle now in the way of effecting such an opening for trading but want of means to make a rail road or canal between Concord and Connecticut River. This intercourse will undoubtedly be opened at some future day. The Banks of the Merrimac and the tributary streams of that river will become the sites of extensive manufacturing establishments, because they will have the facility of water communication and will be in the highway between the seaboard and the extensive, fertile and accessible interior.

The part of the country now alluded to, is free from all rivalry with the City of New York; the distance to that city being double the distance to Boston. There are great quantities of stone, lumber, fuel and other products, that come from this country, and there are some valuable mines - & there will no doubt be an increasing and profitable intercourse when the practicable channels for the exchange of the products of industry are established. That never failing source of wealth, the turning of all sorts of labour into something exchangeable and productive is perhaps, the striking characteristic of the people of New England; and may be much encouraged by cheap modes of communication.

Transportation by Canals or railroads, must be cheap enough to countervail the habits of a people who have no experience but by teaming. The Winter road of New England will be used whenever it can be, and in short, success and profit in all such enterprises must depend on two things, first on there being enough of tons weight to be carried; and on the willingness of those who want them carried, to use in a canal or a rail road in preference to all other modes. It is very clear that the Yankees cannot be made successful and happy against their will.

The income of the Middlesex Canal depends on the toles received for carrying through the Middlesex Canal; and its proportion of the income from the river canals, and its real estate at Charlestown and at Billerica Mills. It has some property which may be valuable at some future time vis. lots in Charlestown, two townships in Maine and it is now free from debt excepting in the sum of $7415.22 due to the Estate of I. C. Jones, Esqr. deceased. It has also a large proportion of all the materials necessary for intended repairs on hand and paid for.

Within about 8 years, the Middlesex Canal has derived some income from the Manufacturing Establishments at Lowell. It appears from the amount of Toles, that about 20 per cent of the whole amount received is derived from this source. It is obvious that canal transportation must have been affected by the general depression. But in addition to this, the river Merrimac has not been so low within human memory as 1829. The rafting of lumber was entirely suspended, and it took much longer time and double labour to carry what there was to carry in boats - and yet the income of the Canal may bear a comparison with any other property in 1829 from which a revenue was expected.

The whole amount of Toles in 1828 was:      $27,453.47
1829  "    21,545.80
deficiency 5,907.67
The amount received on rafts in 1828 5,473.98
1829 2,174.49
deficiency 3,299.49
Whole amount of Tolls received from all
the establishments in Lowell in 1828
1829 3,732.17
difference 585.03

The Committee are inclined to think that the productiveness of the Canal depends principally on the amount of tolls receivable from sources independent of the establishments at Lowell. But that if any facilitated communication should be effected between that place and Boston as to heavy articles, it would not be done or asked for but upon equitable considerations, in which all interests thereby affected would be properly compromised.

The Middlesex Canal has been gradually renovated, and in a most durable manner. The present Agent, Caleb Eddy Esqr. has proved himself to be most acceptably capable and faithful. His scientific and practical operations have been of essential service - and when the renovations at Horn Pond are effected, which may be done gradually in the course of three to six years, this Canal may be considered as a permanent property likely to yield a regular income on a Capital estimating the shares at three hundred dollars each, and of progressive values according to the further extension of means of carrying towards the Connecticut - and the gradual increase of business and population on the river, and above the manufacturing region of Lowell.

The Corporation of the Middlesex Canal do not carry on any business as a Corporation on the Canal. The Boats, their loading and the rafts are private Property. The Corporation is interested in the Toles only - and in keeping the Canal in repair and fit for use.

The undersigned are of opinion that the course of the natural streams and the form of the land, make Boston the sea port of the whole region lying north of it, and that internal commerce with Boston would be more promoted by opening a communication between the Merrimack and the Connecticut than by any other practicable measure, and they therefore recommend that such aid should be sort from the public authority in this behalf as may be desirable; and that this subject be taken under consideration by some Committee specially to be charged with that duty.

Wm Sullivan, for the Committee


The American Canal Society was formed in January of 1972 to encourage the preservation, restoration, interpretation and usage of the numerous canals of the United States, past and present; to cooperate with individual canal societies for action on threatened canals, or in the absence of local canal societies, to act as a focal point for action; and to provide for the exchange of general canal information. It is not our intention to interfere with the autonomy of individual canal associations or societies in the conduct of their own affairs, but simply to fill a gap in providing a clearing house and distribution medium for canal information and activities; we publish an eight-page quarterly Bulletin with international circulation.
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