Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 17, No. 1    February, 1979


(If snow is inadequate for skis and snowshoes, come anyway with walking boots. Also, if no snow, skating may be possible and fun on the 2/3 mile stretch of canal which is still water filled. Total length of hike, 2 miles.)

MEET at 1:00 P.M. February 10th at the WILMINGTON TOWN PARK Parking lot off Route 38 on left going N. from Route 128. Brewster's Lumber yard is on the right hand side going N.

Bring your family and friends!

Board Member, Mr. Stanley Webber, who has maintained this best preserved portion of the canal has given us a most cordial go ahead. Besides the lovely wooded section on Webber land, which ends by a canal passing pond, we will see the Ox-bow, with its fascinating rope grooves carved by 50 years of towrope wear on the bedrock at the sharp bend and the remains of Maple Meadow Brook Aqueduct.

Hot cocoa and coffee back at the parking lot. A tailgate social.


For the information of inquirers we would state that there is an interesting account of a trip to Lowell by the old Middlesex Canal, taken from the experience of a lady, and copied from the True Flag into the WOBURN JOURNAL for August 18, 1855.

At the period spoken of the canal was in its prime, and the lady in question had frequently made the trip between Boston and Lowell by canal boat. Lowell, then called Chelmsford (popularly pronounced Chumpsfud), was reached by the public mode of conveyance only by the stage and the canal. The massive stone locks, as they were called, at Horn Pond and at Lowell were objects of interest to the architect and engineer, as well as the curious public.

The passenger boats were small and not particularly clean, and the society aboard of an extremely mixed character. The captain was often a jolly good natured inland mariner, and was perfectly willing to sheer his craft at any time alongside the towpath, and allow such of his passengers as desired it, to land and pick the luscious blackberries which hung in masses along the goodly part of the route. If these fruit pickers were out-traveled by their boat, the accommodating captain would pass the word to the mounted driver when the team would be stopped, and the boat hove to, till the stragglers came up.

There was an air of quiet enjoyment about the passengers on a canal boat in those days, when all excited bustle was absent. Take it easy, and plenty of time to get it in, was the motto. As the boat slide along the tranquil channel, under luxuriant trees, and by charming little nooks and corners of the country the passengers, reclining or sitting in groups about the deck, amused themselves with pleasant conversation and the interchange of little tokens of friendship. In those days punch and piety were plenty in the land, and the lady abovesaid, in relating some incidents of a particular trip, told of one balmy-visaged old gentleman, who after they had been some hours en route, produced a jolly brown jug and a tumbler whose capacity seemed equal to a modern quart bottle; with the assistance of a lemon and a little sugar he soon brewed a stiff tumbler of drink - regular ladies grog, as the sailors say, namely strong, sweet and plenty of it. This refreshing draught he proffered to a lady near him, who as well as the others of her sex on board, respectfully declined; but not at all offended, mark you, by the well meant, and customary compliment. His application to a male passenger of eager and thirsty mein, resulted rather fatally to his tipple, and after two or three others had particularly demonstrated their readiness to accept of a drink, the capacious tumbler was dry. The balmy visage of the old gentleman beamed with good nature, as he proceeded to brew another quart of the beverage, which the captain and another individual disposed of in a twinkling. "And now," he cheerily cried "as the ladies and all the gentlemen are served, I'll endeavor with your permission to mix a little for myself!" Which he did forthwith, merely exciting surprise by the liberal ideas he entertained of the quantity described by the title of little.

About noontime the board would arrive at Horn Pond, at Woburn Centre. Here the horses were furled, to use a nautical term, and the boat "snubbed to," allowing the passengers to disembark and partake of a good, solid, substantial dinner-plenty of game and milk and eggs, and abundance of trout, which fish abounded in the vicinity at that time.

The horses were changed and when all hands were perfectly ready and unanimously agreed on the propriety of starting, an embarkation took place; the captain leaned against the long wooden tiller, gave the word to the boy driver, and off the barge glided with its freight of careless passengers.

Then the "locking up" and "locking down" were always productive of interest. As the water came boiling into the lock under the boat while locking up, and as the boat oscillated and jarred with the commotion, it was a grand time for the gallant travelling youth of those days to gently support the timid travelling maiden, and assure her there was no danger.

Sometimes little boys would accidentally tumble overboard forward, and come up astern of the boat, where they were quickly rescued by the timely application of a boathook to the seat of their trousers.

Chelmsford would be reached about five in the afternoon, and all would be delighted with the trip. This good sailing time would be conditional on everything working in a satisfactory manner, and without accident, at a speed of three miles an hour, stops included.



Woburn, August 11, 1840

Brother Moody,

Having got through the common labors of the day with a little strength left, I will try to put down a few things on paper for your perusal. I am quite well as usual, perhaps a little better fitted to my business if nothing else.

Since I came out of school this afternoon I have been down to Horn Pond and about. It is a most delightful place, but like all other good things of Creation of Providence, much abused by man. A pond of 12 or 15 acres, (for a rough guess) surrounded on all sides, except a part of it toward my window with verdant groves, a fine place for bathing, fishing, and sailing. Close along side of it are four locks of the Middlesex Canal, one of which built of hammered stone is the fairest stone work I ever saw. There is a tavern with a thousand accommodations, conveniences and entertainments to allure the city-killed gentry. The summer house and bathing house, the boats for sculling and the shady walk, the ropes for swinging and the alley for bowling, at which last a large business is carried on.

I saw a few weeks ago in the hottest weather, Boston ladies rolling or attempting to roll lignum vitae balls 5 or 6 inches in diameter, the thermometer probably at 95! Thousands of people visit here every year by individuals, families, military companies, religious societies and Indian tribes. A tribe of Penobscots was here a few days ago. They bro't their birch bark canoes and stayed several days, the squaws making baskets and selling them.
. . . . .

This is all there is on Woburn and Horn Pond for G. Cheney who was employed as a Woburn School teacher. He ends the letter in a page of chat about Byfield by saying "I have been eating some whortleberry pie for dinner which makes me think of Long Hill (I presume in Byfield) and its blackberries. The bell rang for school and I must seal up this and put it in the bag to go at 3 o'clock this afternoon. G. Cheney."

Submitted by Paul Staples


Now that the Holidays are over it still seems to take quite a while to get our breath and renew our efforts for the grand old canal. At Lowell University, the Lydon Library Archives, which has been carefully storing and cataloguing our artifacts is moving to the fourth floor to make more space for the collections. We empathize as we know how long it takes to reorganize. I'm sure our V.P., Joe Kopycinski will welcome the help of members skilled in library and cataloguing.

The Transportation Museum, which will be newly established on Boston Harbor still plans a canal exhibit and input from model making members will be most welcomed.
Board Member Paul Staples is still working on a slide tape presentation, which includes the Middlesex Canal weaving its influence into the economic growth of Boston.
The Middlesex Canal Commission will be starting its new plans. The most helpful Office of State Planning has been phased out. Our gratitude to Mr. David Carter and his fine staff. The M.A.P.C. and the Northern Middlesex Area Commission will take this project on.

Board Member Ed Wood sent the following vignette from the London Illustrated News: A CANAL DOWN THE DRAIN -

Workmen dredging the Chesterfield Canal at Retford, Nottinghamshire, who unwittingly hauled from the 10 foot deep water a large wooden plug attached to a strong iron chain, found 1½ miles of canal disappearing before their eyes as the water drained into the River Idle nearby. The plug, belonging to the sluice gate, and probably part of the original canal built in 1777 was not known to exist. Within 24 hours, it had been replaced and the canal refilled.

Hope to see you all on the February 10 Snowshoe-Ski Hike!

Your President,

Fran VerPlanck


Leonard Harmon, a Director of the Middlesex Canal Association and Chairman of the Middlesex Canal Commission was one of the recipients of a 1978 Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History for outstanding work in building the packet boat replica, restoring a section of the Canal, Baldwin Mansion, Rumford House and Thompson Library. Congratulations, Len!

by Dirk J. Struik
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

It may interest the readers of Towpath Topics that more than a decade before the Middlesex Canal was started some canals with locks were built around the rapids of the St. Lawrence River west of Montreal. This happened in the years 1779-83 under the auspices of the Royal Corps of Engineers.

At that time Frederick Haldimand, a Swiss born soldier in British service with an open eye for improvements, was governor of Canada, newly conquered by Great Britain from France. Already in French days there had been talk about bypassing the fearful rapids by means of a canal, but' nothing came of it. Now Haldimand ordered Captain Samuel Twiss, commanding officer of the Royal Engineers, to build canals around rapids above the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. They were to serve primarily for facilitating the transport of military stores and munitions, but also to assist mercantile traffic to and from the upper St. Lawrence, where settlement had begun, with Loyalists fleeing from the rebellious colonies.

Twiss supervised the works. This extract from one of his letters to Haldimand, dated 5 June 1780, throws some light on his activities.

Writing from Côteau du Lac, where the largest canal was under construction, he says:

"I am in hope to complete the locks for passing bateaux by the end of September. The work already done has enabled me to judge far more correctly of this situation than formerly, and has induced me to change the plan of workmanship, and instead of having the sides of timber to build of masonry..."

In other letters he writes of Cornish miners used on one of the spots, who by their "great abilities and industry" would open a channel through the rocks close to the river. By 1783 the canals were ready. They were not long; in a report of 1804 their length was given as 400, 200, 200 and 900 feet, the last one being the canal at Côteau du Lac, where the width of the lock was 7 feet. There were three locks. The locks in the other canals were 6 ft., the depth in all of them only 2½ ft. They were designed for the passage of boats capable of carrying from 30 to 40 barrels of flour. Improvements were made in 1804-05 on the recommendation of Colonel Gother Mann, also of the Royal Engineers.

There were tolls. In a letter of August 22, 1783 Twiss reported that during the year at the several locks £173.15.0 was collected, of which £127.0.0 at Côteau du Lac.

What happened to the canals in the following decades I have not found out, but the passage across the rapids was fundamentally changed when in 1842-45 the 11½ mile long Beauharnois Canal was built. Reconstructed in 1932 it is still serving, and is a source of hydroelectric power.

It would be interesting to know more about Samuel Twiss, this early American-British canal builder.

The data on these Canadian canals are taken from Douglas Brynner, "Report on Canadian archives 1886" (Ottawa, 1887), brought to my attention by Dr. Lewis Pyerson of the Institut d'histoire et de sociopolitique des sciences of the University of Montreal. Brynner also mentions an early canal built under the auspices of Lord Selkirk on the Canadian side of the Sault St. Marie in 1797-98.


The following is the final draft of the project for the $20,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

A. General Purpose

The Middlesex Canal is an important element in the history of industrial development in eastern Massachusetts and the nation. Many portions of the canal are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The entire length of the canal, however, has not been fully assessed as to its present value as a historic and/or recreation facility; nor has a recent survey been prepared detailing the canal's location and condition.

The purpose of the proposed study is to carefully locate the entire length of the canal, study its present condition and to determine the feasibility of restoration for historic preservation purposes.

B. Objectives

C. Required Techniques and Resources

D. Products

  1. Report is to include a bibliography of all written and graphic material concerning the canal.

  2. Report shall include all information assembled regarding structures associated with the canal.

  3. Indicate the methodologies utilized in the preparation of the report.

E. Resources to be Provided by the Regional Planning Agencies and Middlesex Canal Commission (RPA's)

F. Funding Sources

G. Time Frame