Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 15, No. 1    January, 1977

The old toll house at Middlesex Village, near the head of the Canal at the Merrimack River.
Given to the town of Chelmsford by the heirs of Judge Samuel P. Hadley,
the toll house now stands on the front lawn of the Chelmsford town hall.


The winter meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association will take place on Sunday afternoon, January 30, 1977 at 2:00 P.M. at the Unitarian Church in Billerica Center (Route 3A).

The speaker will be Mr. Edward E. Wood, Jr., of Dedham, an Operations Planning Analyst for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. He will speak on BRITISH CANALS and will show his collection of slides from his trips to Britain in 1966 and 1972.

Refreshments will be served and all are invited.


A number of weeks ago I saw in the Vox Populi a paper giving some history of the progress of steam navigation on the Merrimack. It was intended to relate only to that portion above Pawtucket Falls. The Merrimack had been navigated by steam, between Haverhill and Newburyport to some extent, before the present enterprise was commenced. I think it must have been as far back as 1814 or '15 that Hon. John L. Sullivan, then agent and superintendent for the Middlesex Canal Company, put a steamer on the river -- the first ever on the Merrimack.

Of course it must be of a size to pass through the locks, say 70 feet long and 9 feet wide. It had four wheels, two on each side connected by a broad belt, or chain, from which stood out at right angles with the belt square places of board which, as the wheels revolved, were carried forward on the top of the wheels till they came to the forward wheel, when they were plunged into the water, and passed back to the hind wheel, when they were carried up over the hind wheel back to the forward wheel again, to plunge into the water and propel the boat. The boat moved slowly, as I will show. As they backed out into the Merrimack, two men with an empty boat started out just before them, and, as they supposed the steamer would be out of sight of them up the river in a short time, they did not hurry, intending to reach home only that afternoon. But the boat moving so slowly, determined them to try their speed, when they passed the steamer and kept ahead until they reached home, five miles above. Mr. Sullivan, being on board the steamer and seeing the two men pole their boat away from his, inquired who they were and how far they could stand it to pole at that rate? He was answered that they would probably go on at that rate to Tyngsborough, as there was where they belonged, and their names were Moses Fletcher and William Wyman.

In one or two years after another boat, different though similar in form, came on the river, which Fletcher and Wyman could not run away from. This boat had a sharp bow, similar to but not so sharp as the steamers at present, and a stern slanting up from the water like the riverboats of the present day, with two paddle-wheels - one on each side. After a year or two more, another boat was put on the river. This was a regular up-river boat on the Boston and Concord Boating Company's line. It was about sixty-five feet long, nine feet wide at the bow and seven feet at the stern. The two boilers were two cylinders, one within the other, about three and one-half feet wide by fifteen feet long. The inner cylinder was only about one-half the diameter of the outer, within which the fire was placed. The engine was of the revolving pattern, and hung on two journals connected with a shaft that ran to the wheel in the stern, bevel gear on that and on the wheel uniting. A part of the bottom in the stern (about eight feet long) was cut out to let the wheel in. This boat, with about fifty pounds of steam, would take two boats of its own size, with a load of twelve or fifteen tons each, one on each side, and propel them at such speed that it was necessary to nail on a board to keep them from going under, from water coming over their bows. The object seemed to be to construct a boat to serve as a tug to tow their canal boats from the Middlesex Canal to Concord, N.H.

In 1834 Joel Stone, who built the brick building, lived in it and kept a West India goods store on the corner of Market and Dutton Streets (now occupied by Jacob Nichols), built a boat on the lowerbank of the Locks and Canal Company's canal, at the head of the canal. The boat was twenty feet wide and ninety feet keel. It was intended she should draw about two and one-half feet of water, but by some mistake, the machinery was set so far back that the stern post indicated four feet, while the bow was almost above the water. I think it was the place where Daniel Gage's lower ice-house now stands, that the boat was drawn out after running a few months. It was cut in two and thirty feet added to its length. Soon after this Mr. Stone sold the boat to Joseph Bradley, who kept a ferry where Central Bridge now stands. Mr. Bradley ran the boat till the Nashua and Lowell Railroad went into operation.

But before this, a boat loaded with wood, coming down the river, met and collided with the steamboat in Wickasee Falls - about a mile above North Chelmsford. The wood boat stove a large hole through the bow of the steamboat, when she wheeled and sunk head down, resting on a rock about twenty feet forward of her stern. After the necessary preparations, she was raised, and as cold weather came on, was frozen in, and a channel was cut through the ice, through which she was taken to her moorings at the head of Pawtucket Falls and repaired.

I think Mr. Bradley ran his boat all the next season, when the Nashua and Lowell Rail-road put a stop to further operations. Of the removal of the machinery and her passage by Pawtucket Falls, on land, and trip down the River to Newburyport, you have given an account already. After running it a time between Newburyport and Boston, carrying both freight and passengers, Mr. Bradley changed the name from "Herald" to "Boston" and took it to New York, and run it on the Hudson River, between New York city and Albany. He subsequently sold out and returned to Lowell.

The next steamboat (making the fifth) was built and owned by A.L. Wright and another, or others. She was about forty-five feet long, seven or eight feet wide, sharp bow and square stern. In the fall, after taking out the engine and securing it for the winter, it was considered safe; but the ice in the Spring tore it away, and it was carried over the falls.

Then, sixth, came Mr. Williams' "Fairy Belle," and the next season the seventh was put on the river at North Chelmsford, owned by George Sheldon; and eighth, at the same place, owned by Ziba Gay, of the firm of Silver & Gay. Since then another small boat (the ninth) has been put on the river by Mr. Williams. During the last fall another (the tenth), purchased of the Government, "the Evangeline," was taken from Salem'round to the Merrimack, through the canal at Lawrence, up over Hunt's Falls, through the canal to the river above Pawtucket Falls, by her own power and without any assistance, engineered by Scott Haynes, engineer at the Wamesit Steam Mills.

The probability is that in coming years there will be more business done in carrying freight on the Merrimack that ever before. It would cost but little to repair the old locks and canals, used by the Merrimack and Boston and Concord Boating Company, and each boat might be so constructed as to carry freight and be its own propeller.


LOWELL, February 23, 1878.

(The foregoing is taken from the Saturday Vox Populi, a newspaper published in Lowell 1878.  Ed.)


Sketch of the Old Middlesex Canal, by one of the Original Company.

The Middlesex Canal was incorporated in 1789, and completed in 1808. It commenced at Boston harbor and passed in a northerly direction through Charlestown, Medford, Woburn, Wilmington, Billerica and Chelmsford to the Merrimack River, a distance of 27 miles, that being the head of upward navigation at the time. The summit level at Billerica was 104 feet above tide water, and 32 feet above the Merrimack River at Chelmsford. The breadth at the surface was 30 feet, at the bottom 20 feet, and the depth 3 feet. Lockage, 136 feet, with 20 locks.

After a few years it was found that the canal did not extend far enough to attract the business from the upper part of New Hampshire and Vermont. Some of the most enterprising of the proprietors of the canal obtained an act of Incorporation for the "Merrimack Boating Company," to transport freight between Boston and Concord, N.H. and intermediate places, through the Middlesex Canal, 27 miles and the Merrimack River, 52 miles: 79 miles.

The first meeting of the Merrimack Boating company was held at the offices of the Middlesex canal, Cornhill square, Friday, January 17, 1812, and John L. Sullivan was chosen agent of the corporation, he having been agent of the canal since 1808. Mr. Sullivan took an active interest in the navigation of the Merrimack river, and it was under his supervision that many of the canals and locks were built.

The first boat reached Concord in the autumn of 1814, but it was not until June, 1815, that they commenced running regularly. Mr. Sullivan conceived the idea of navigating the river by steam. A boat propelled by steam reached Concord, N.H., in 1819, but the enterprise did not prove successful.

June 15, 1816, the following notice was circulated:


By the Merrimack Company's boats is now begun. Two convenient stores are erected in Concord, N.H., one on the west side of the river, near the bridge, the other on the east side, near the upper bridge. A capable, trusty man is employed at each place to take the charge of the goods and deliver them to the order of the owners, and to receive Produce, Merchandise, and Lumber to be sent down, preference to be given to Merchandise. The loading will be delivered in Boston at the landing on the Almshouse wharf, Leverett street, to the order of the owners, settlement being made for the Freight; and Loading to go up is received there every day in the week. The goods first entered and settled for will of course go first. The boats will for the present load every Tuesday and Friday, as heretofore, and when there shall be business enough, every day.

The Company has never made any charge for storage, the whole expense is $13.50 per ton, to the upper landing at the upper bridge in Concord, and 8 1/2 dollars down, 13 dollars per ton to the lower bridge in Concord and 8 dollars down, 12 dollars per ton to Pembroke, 7 1/2 dollars down, 7 dollars per ton to Merrimack, 6 dollars down.

As everything will be done to make this mode of conveyance regular and convenient to gentlemen in the country, we feel confident of giving them satisfaction. When desired, the keeper of the Landing in Boston will procure their goods to be trucked there. Information respecting the boats will also be given at No. 7, India Wharf.

Agent of the Company

June 15, 1815.

In 1816, Rust's wharf, first above Charles River bridge, Boston, was hired for 21 years for a landing. A number of warehouses were erected for the purpose of receiving and delivering freight. Rates were then made to a number of landings on the line, but most of them were discontinued as private boats came into use, as the company's boats ran through to Concord every trip. The main object of the proprietors was to get the business on to the canals.

The following were the names of agents, landings and rates of freight in 1816.


Per Ton

Names of Agents Landing Places Up  Down
Stephen Ambrose,          Concord (upper)                $12.50       $8.50
Samuel Butters, Concord (lower) 12.00 8.00
Caleb Stark, Pembroke 11.50 7.50
Richard H. Ayer, Dunbarton 10.50 7.00
Samuel P. Kidder, Manchester 9.25 6.50
N. Parker, Merrim'k (upper) 8.00 4.50
Adams & Roby, Thornton's 4.50 4.00
James Lund, Litchfield 4.50 4.00
Coburn Blood, Dracutt 4.50 4.00
Levi Foster, Chelmsford 4.50 4.00
Noah Lund, Billerica 3.50 8.00
Jotham Gillis, Woburn 2.50 2.50
William Rogers, Medford 2.00 2.00
Thomas Kettell, Charlestown
David Dodge, Boston

Furniture $24 to $30 per ton, according to weight and room. Empty hhds. from Concord 60, tierces 25, bbls 18, hf. bbls. 11 each. Hhd. staves, $10 per M. Barell Staves, $6 per M.


Concord, N.H., April 20, 1816.

The Merrimack company continued business until 1822. In 1823 the property of the Merrimack Boating company was bought by the Boston & Concord Boating Company, and an act of Incorporation was obtained by William and Richard Sullivan for the Boston & Concord Boating Company, February 11, 1823, to continue so long as the Middlesex canal was kept open and in operation, and no longer.

The first meeting of the Boston & Concord Boating company was held at the office of William Sullivan, School street, Boston, April 1, 1823. The following officers of the corporation were elected for the ensuing year: Reuben B. Sherburne, Secretary; William Sullivan, President; Richard Sullivan, Richard H. Ayer, Directors; Richard Sullivan, Treasurer.

Voted. - That the property be divided into 120 shares.

Voted. - To employ Reuben B. Sherburne as agent at the Boston landing, and to allow him $600 for his services in that place as a secretary of the corporation for that year.

Voted. - To employ Theodore French as agent at the lower landing, Concord, N.H., and to allow him $500 for his services that year.

Sherburne and French had been employed by the Merrimack Boating company since 1816. They were annually reelected so long as the company continued business, - to 1844.

Many changes in the manner of doing the business were made by the new company. Instead of hiring all the boatmen for the season, about one-half were hired for spring and fall. The agent at Concord lower landing hired the boatmen and made up the crews; wages from $15 to $26 per month. The largest number of boats at any one time was 20. There were 3 men to a boat, making 60 men on the route. Capacity of the boats, 15 tons. The most important change made was not to have the boats wait for freight; run light or empty, but always to have something ready to make up full loads, for which purpose such articles as salt, lime and plaster were bought by the cargo and kept at Boston landing by the agent at the place and sold by the agent at Concord lower landing. Wood was bought by the Concord agent and kept on the river bank to make up downward loads and sold at Boston by the Boston agent, the articles bought were on the company's account, and generally would pay cost and freight, except the wood, but as they would run down as quick full loaded as partly loaded, it paid a small freight. There were several changes made, but running with full loads was the greatest improvement. The running light or empty was the great drawback on the profits of all transportation

The time taken by a boat going up was five days, and down four days, making nine days to the trip. This was an average for 20 years. Rate of freight between Boston and lower landing in Concord was, in 1815, $13 up, $8 down; reduced in 1816 to $12 up and $8 down, reduced in 1819 to $10 up and $7 down, in 1823 reduced to $8 to $6 down, in 1825 reduced to $7 up and $5 down, in 1831 reduced to $5 up and $4 down, in 1837 raised to $6 up and $4 down, on account of having to haul by at Bow Canal, in 1838 reduced to $5 up and $4 down, which rates continued until 1842.

Granite was brought from Concord for $3.50 per ton, at the company's convenience. All the granite in the Quincy market, except the basement and the pillars at the ends, was brought from Concord; N.H., by the Boston & Concord Boating company's boats, most of it passed through the "old Mill creek," where the Boston & Maine railroad and Blackstone street now are, and large quantities were shipped to New Orleans and also used in the city. The last boat passed through the Middlesex canal in 1851.

Neither of the boating companies made any dividend until 1827. One was made that year and one every year after as long as they did business. The accounts of the Boston & Concord Boating company were kept at Boston landing by double entry. A set of books for each year and the third year they were closed and all balances carried to a book termed "old accounts," so that after the second year there were three sets of books in use.

The transportation business through the canals and Merrimack river was ruined in consequence of the Concord railroad being opened to Concord, N.H., in 1842. The landings, store-houses, houses, boats and equipments, being all thrown out of business, were sold as soon as they could be and for a very small sum, and April 1, 1844, the final dividend was made.

The amount of business in 1815 was small, and cannot now be had. The amount of business of both companies, extending and including 1816 and 1842, 27 years, was:

Upward freight, $468,756.00
Downward freight, 220,940.00
Amount paid the canal for tolls,    180,611.00
Bad debts, 7,108.51

Considering that the business was done on credit, this is not a very large percentage. very little freight was paid on shipment and only a small proportion on delivery. Mr. French, the agent at Concord, would, as soon as it was good sleighing, take his horse and sleigh and go over northern New Hampshire and Vermont collecting, settle up with the customers, those who could not pay all giving their notes for the balance. These notes were usually paid that winter or spring. He was frequently gone on these trips two weeks. It was considered by most people that freight was a debt of honor, and they would always pay when they were able to.

The teaming rates before the boats began to run between Boston and Concord were $20 per ton. Boating company's rates for a number of years before they were run off were $5 up and $4 down. Reduction made by boating companies, $15, thus reducing transportation three-fourths of its tax per ton. It certainly is desirable that the present rates of freight should be reduced in the same proportion as the boating companies reduced them, but it may be doubtful whether it will be done before some new mode of transportation is discovered.

December 2, 1881. Of all the persons named in this sketch, and of all the stockholders of the Boston & Concord Boating company, but two are now living: Reuben Butterfield Sherburne, of Lexington, Mass., and Joseph Lund, of Concord, N.H.

The idea at the present time appears to be that all the business done sixty or seventy years ago was done in a "dog and walking string" way, without any system, but it is very doubtful whether there is any corporation doing a freighting business from Boston, that has any better system of accounts or manner of conducting its business, than the Boston & Concord Boating company had in 1823 and afterwards, When the great Boston & Worcester railroad began to have freight offered to them for transportation they did not know what to do with it and Mr. John Freeman, their master of transportation, was sent to the boating company's agent at Boston landing who had eighteen years experience in inland transportation, to know how to manage the freighting business and what books and blanks were necessary for the purpose.

Reuben B. Sherburne

(The foregoing is from an 1882 issue of the Lexington Minute Man. The dates in the first line should not be taken too seriously. Ed.)


Massachusetts: 67  Proprietors;  230  Members
New York: 2 " 14 "
New Hampshire:     2 " 6 "
Maine: 4 "
Connecticut: 3 "
Ohio: 1 " 1 "
Virginia: 1 " 1 "
California: 2 "
Rhode Island: 2 "
Colorado: 1 "
Florida: 1 "
West Virginia: 1 "
Quebec: 1 "
Belgium 1 "


During National Transportation Week in September, the 1803 Middlesex Canal Packet Boat, built by the Woburn Historical Commission, was moored in the Charles River at Boston's Museum of Science as an exhibit of an early mode of transportation. The full size replica, the earliest packet boat in the United States, was manned by volunteers of the Middlesex Canal Association by day, and the Woburn Canal Society by night. The vessel was visited by hundreds of interested tourists and was greatly appreciated by all.

At the close of the exhibit, the "Colonel Baldwin" was invited to participate again as a floating exhibition by members of the Greater Lowell Regatta Festival Committee. The Committee had a weekend of activities planned for Lowell to celebrate the nation's 200th birthday, including a parade, fireworks, a series of sailing competitions and concerts by Bob Hope and Arthur Fiedler. The packet boat was invited to play an integral part in the festivities.

On Saturday, October 9, in spite of heavy rain squalls which had forced the postponement of the mammoth parade, the "Colonel" was launched from her custom-built trailer into the Merrimack River at a point not far from where the Middlesex Canal itself once flowed.

Canalers Joe Kopycinski, Len Harmon, Tom Smith and the Woburn Public Works personnel triumphed over extremely harsh weather conditions to launch the craft and tow her to the exhibit area--none the worse for wind and weather.

On Sunday, the "Colonel Baldwin" served as the flagship of the Lowell Regatta fleet which assembled on the Merrimack River and included antique steam-powered launches during the series of sailboat races. In this activity, the canal packet boat drew considerable attention. The vessel was visited by numerous officials and others drawn to her by her size and unique appearance. The Lowell Regatta Committee held their awards ceremonies on board the "Colonel" to add a distinct nautical flair to the proceedings.

Monday was a day of great activity, beginning with the parade in the morning. Following the parade in the afternoon was the dedication of the new Lowell State Heritage Park encompassing the various locks and canals in Lowell. Monday evening was capped by a spectacular Arthur Fiedler concert and fireworks.

Shortly after the close of the Regatta weekend, the 1803 Middlesex Canal Packet Boat was towed along a length of the Merrimack, and withdrawn from the river on her trailer near Pawtucket Falls. This was the final "voyage" for the "Colonel" this season; However, beginning next May, the historic craft will once again ply the old canal in North Woburn from the Baldwin Mansion to Nichol's Bridge and back, giving those aboard a sense of what it was like to travel along the canal over 150 years ago. L.H.H.



At the annual meeting of the Association on April 24, 1976, the following were elected as officers and directors:

President: Lt. Col. Wilbar M. Hoxie
Vice President: Leonard H. Harmon
Recording Secretary: Frances B. Ver Planck
Corresponding Secretary:   Mary Stetson Clarke
Treasurer: Nolan T. Jones*


Malcolm C. Choate*, Edwin L. Clarke, Arthur L. Eno, Jr., Harley P. Holden, Clifford R. Jennings, Joseph V. Kopycinski, Frederick L. Lawson, Jr., Janet Lombard

*Mr. Jones resigned on account of a business transfer to Europe. Malcolm C. Choate was elected to succeed him as treasurer, and W. K. Ver Planck was elected a director to replace Mr. Choate. Mr. Ver Planck has also been appointed Membership Secretary.