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Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 31, No. 2    March, 1993


SUNDAY, MAY 2, 1993 at 2 P.M.
At the Wilmington Arts Center
219 Middlesex Ave. (Rte. 62), Wilmington

Speaker: Bill Shank, PE
Topic: Those Amazing Pennsylvania Canals

By the mid 1850's, Pennsylvanians and their cargos could ship between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh and Erie, and Baltimore and Elmira, NY, as well as many other places, all by canal boat. Canals transported coal from the mines in NE Pennsylvania to markets in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania itself. Though the canals of New York State may be better known, Pennsylvania had many more miles of canals than any other state in the Union, and employed some ingenious means to overcome the mountains in the center of the state.

The fifth generation of his family to have a direct link to the canals of Pennsylvania, Bill Shank is the Editor of American Canals, the quarterly newsletter of the American Canal Society. He is also past President of the American Canal Society and past Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Canal Society.

The talk will be preceded by a short annual business meeting of the MCA. The meeting and talk are open to the public. Please bring your friends and plan to stay after the program for refreshments and socializing.

DIRECTIONS: The Wilmington Arts Center is on Rte. 62, one mile east of the junction of Rtes. 38 & 62. It is directly across from the Congregational Church, a large white building with tall spire.

From Rte. 128, take exit 35. Go north on Rte. 38 towards Wilmington for 3.6 mi. to Rte. 62. Turn right and go 1 mile. The Arts Center is on your right.

From Rte. 93, take exit 40 to Rte. 62. Go 1.3 mi. west on Rte. 62 to the Arts Center, which is on your left.


Sunday, May 23 at 2:00 P.M.

Meet at the Hajjar School, Call and Rogers Streets, Billerica, MA, by 2 p.m.

Join MCA Directors and AMC members Dave Barber and Bill Gerber for a 4 to 5 mile hike along some of the significant remains of the Middlesex Canal. From the towpath, can you visualize canal boats drawn by horses along some of the still watered sections? We will walk from the Hajjar School to the Concord River mill pond, site of the famous floating towpath and the Merrimack Branch Guard Lock. From there we move along the canal, passing the Rogers House (thought to be the Toothaker Tavern), along the "Deep Cut," and through several woodland sections. There will be stops for historical commentary and many opportunities for taking pictures.

DIRECTIONS: Through Billerica Center on 3-A North, at bottom of hill bear right at the traffic lights onto Pollard Street (avoid sharp right onto Route 129). Continue straight for mile, turning right at liquor store onto High Street. After crossing railroad tracks, take first left onto Rogers Street. After passing over a second set of tracks, watch for Hajjar School on left (one-tenth mile from tracks) at corner of Rogers and Call Streets. For more information, call Bill Gerber at (508) 251-4971.


We have tried, particularly over the last year or two, to encourage participation by our membership in activities and projects of the Association. I am pleased to report that several volunteers already have stepped forward. One of our proprietors, Bob Rauseo of Tewksbury, who is an Outdoor Education Coordinator, has offered to have his group of teenage boys clear brush and clean-up debris from our Middlesex Canal Association properties. Another proprietor, John Michallyszyn of Chelmsford, in response to a request in Towpath Topics, has furnished us with ideas on how to go about applying for the issuing of a special postage stamp to commemorate the Middlesex Canal bicentennial. He has offered to lead the effort if a decision is made to go ahead. Still another proprietor (and former director), Ed Wood of Scituate, has submitted an article for inclusion in Towpath Topics. Also, a number of others have offered helpful comments and suggestions. It is gratifying to have such support from our membership and we hope that it will continue. This gives strength and vitality to our organization.

I am also pleased with the unusual amount of publicity the Middlesex Canal and our Association has received over the past six months. Thanks to Carl Seaburg, the Boston Globe and several local newspapers came out with excellent articles (with photos) about the canal and the Association on the occasion of the kick-off of the Bicentennial Poster sales in November. We also received much publicity from TV Channel 5's Chronicle program on January 7 (described elsewhere in this issue of Towpath Topics).

I note an interesting trend in the composition of our membership. Traditionally over the years, about 1 /3 of the membership were proprietors and 2/3 were members. More recently there has been a gradual increase in the number of proprietors as compared to members. Three years ago, the ratio was 50-50, and today 57% are proprietors and only 43% are members. This shift on the part of the membership voluntarily to double their dues from member at $5 to proprietor at $10 is an indication of increased support. This, too, is very gratifying to me and to our board of directors.

On a different subject, I believe you will like our colorful Bicentennial Poster, described elsewhere in this issue of Towpath Topics. Be sure to buy one for yourself or as a gift to someone else. Also, if you can suggest specific bookstores or other potential outlets for selling the posters, please let me know.

Burt VerPlanck, President


The "Colonel Baldwin" has a new home in North Woburn's Kiwanis Park directly across the Middlesex Canal from Loammi Baldwin's former home, now Baldwin's Restaurant. This 40 ft. 3 in. long boat is a replica of an 1803 Middlesex Canal packet boat.

The boat was built by Woburn Historical Commission members Len Harmon, Tom Smith, Niles Blackburn, and other dedicated canal enthusiasts and launched in 1976. On weekends for several summers the "Colonel Baldwin," drawn by a horse, took passengers along the restored section of canal from Baldwin's almost to School Street, about 1-1/4 mi. round trip. What an exhilarating experience it was to move along seemingly fast in complete silence.

For over 10 years, the boat was stored outside at the pumping station at the south end of Horn Pond. There she was safe from vandals but suffered from lack of maintenance. Many passing walkers and joggers admired her and some had nostalgic memories of those summer afternoons on the Middlesex.

Last fall, members of the Woburn Lions Breakfast Club refurbished the top sides, inside and out; and, mounted on a flatbed trailer, the "Colonel Baldwin" was a star in Woburn's 350th anniversary parade.

We understand that care and maintenance of the boat will be a continuing project of the Lions and, in the spring, construction of a proper supporting base is planned. We are grateful to the Lions for their hard work in refurbishing this important adjunct to the Middlesex Canal, thus saving her from further deterioration. However, we are concerned about security and hope that adequate consideration is being given to her protection.

The Colonel Baldwin

contributed by Betty Bigwood

A combination of good publicity touting the fall walk and a beautiful, crisp fall day prompted a record turnout for the Canal walk on Saturday, October 17, at 2 p.m. The Wilmington Town Park parking lot was overflowing to areas across the street. Fran and Burt VerPlanck arrived with their trunk full of books, maps, and, of course, application cards for new members. Wil Hoxie and Fran VerPlanck gave interesting commentaries about the history of the Canal prior to starting the hike.

We walked around the famous oxbow turn to the Maple Meadow aqueduct. The Maple Meadow Brook had a low water table that allowed us to walk across with the help of a pole and a strategically placed board. We went as far as Patches Pond, which at one time was a canal boat turning and resting area. Then we retraced our steps back to the Town Park.

We added a second leg to the trip for the hardy, and were delighted that about twenty members and friends drove to Wedgewood Lane and walked to the Lubbers Brook aqueduct. This is an especially interesting section as it has a widened area to allow boats to gather while waiting their turn to pass through Lubbers Brook aqueduct. Of course, this area was once called the "Sinking Meadow" aqueduct, as so much fill was required to build it. The workers would return each morning to find all their efforts - that is, fill brought by horse and buggy and wheelbarrow the previous day - had sunk into the swamp. This was disheartening, and the area certainly deserved its nickname!

A good time was had by all the walkers.


A Guide to the Lehigh Canal by MCA director David G. Barber is now available. This 136-page paperback guide covers the Canal's Lower Division, from Easton, PA to Jim Thorpe, PA and its Upper Division, from Jim Thorpe to White Haven. Also included are chapters on the Ashley Planes, the Penn Haven Planes, and the Switchback Railroad. The guide includes numerous historic and recent photographs as well as detailed maps.

The guide has been published by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Copies are available for $10.00 plus $1.50 shipping from David G. Barber, 16 Ballou Road, Hopedale, MA 01747-1833.


On Sunday, November 15, members and guests of the Middlesex Canal Association met at the Chelmsford Unitarian/Universalist Church. Following a brief meeting, Nolan Jones gave a fascinating slide show featuring the Middlesex Canal by air. He has flown over the Canal as a passenger in a Piper Cub four times, and he showed slides shot from the air interspersed with slides taken at ground level. The aerial photography provides a new perspective on the Canal - for example, in some swampy areas the Canal route is not accessible on land, and the view from the air shows the Canal distinctly.


In the last issue of Towpath Topics (September 1992), plans for our bicentennial reenactment were announced. It will take place in Medford on the afternoon of October 17, 1993. Costumed players will assume the roles of some of the original participants in a reenactment of an early organizational meeting of the Canal Corporation that took place 200 years ago this coming October.

Vice-President David Dettinger and his committee have been busy for months researching records of the 1793 early organizational meetings, identifying the participants, determining what decisions were made, what were the conditions of the times, and what probably were the feelings of the men involved.

The committee also has been attending to details such as the location for the event. It will take place at the Medford Senior Center, close to the site of the Blanchard Tavern where the original meeting was held. The committee is also making decisions on a suitable platform for the theater-in-the-round performance, procurement of costumes, lighting requirements, furnishings, and "props." The majority of the parts have already been cast and the script is nearing completion. The best news of all is that barber shop quartet singer Dave Dettinger has written a canal song especially for the occasion.

We will keep you posted, but meanwhile, be sure to mark your calendars. The big day is October 17.


Tom Brock, British Waterways manager of the Stratford and Grand Union Canals, paid us a visit last October 7. He was over here on a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship "to examine the leisure and tourism use of canals in Canada and the U.S., in particular to look at leisure boating (hire boats, water buses, etc.), pedestrian use of towpaths (especially disabled use), canal tourist attractions and visitor facilities." Fran and Burt VerPlanck escorted him on a short tour of the Middlesex Canal, stopping briefly at Horn Pond, Maple Meadow Brook Aqueduct, Shawsheen Aqueduct, and the Concord River mill pond in Billerica.

by Burt VerPlanck

There recently has been discussion amongst some of our members as to whether the famous floating towpath that crossed the Concord River in Billerica was actually used by horses in pulling canal boats across the river. It was argued that horses could not be made to cross such an unstable pontoon bridge, and that men had to pull the boats across while the horses were led around by road. It may be of interest to canal buffs to know that those who argue that horses did use the floating towpath and those who believe that horses did not are both correct. We quote from Lewis M. Lawrence's well documented 1942 manuscript "The Middlesex Canal":

The original floating towing path was not built strong enough to support horses, so they had to be driven around the pond to the opposite side, while the boatmen towed the boats across. In 1809 this floating bridge was almost renewed, another range of logs was added, and it was planked wide enough so that thereafter the boats could be drawn all the way by horses. The bridge was arranged so that a part of it could occasionally be drawn up to let logs, timber and driftwood pass through. The rock and iron ring to which the bridge was fastened still remains on the west shore.


The Middlesex Canal Association, together with the Medford Historical Society, have produced a poster to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Middlesex Canal's charter by John Hancock in 1793. The poster, measuring 17" x 22", is brightly colored and is from a charming primitive ca. 1835 painting entitled "A View From Medford."

The small black-and-white figure on the facing page shows the general scene, but, of course, gives no idea of the bright colors of the full sized poster; and much of the detail is lost without the color.

The following descriptive information appears at the bottom of the poster:

This composite representation of the Middlesex Canal is by an unknown American artist circa 1835. It brings together three kinds of transportation: the hot air balloon, the early railway, and a horse-drawn packet boat traveling up the Middlesex Canal. The boat is approaching the aqueduct carrying the canal over the Mystic River in Medford, Massachusetts. Just beyond can be seen Gilson's Lock. Nearby is the locktender's house and tavern. The picture is oil on board and is from a private collection. The Middlesex Canal, which ceased operations in 1853, is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and was one of the earliest overland transportation canals in the Western Hemisphere.

Posters will be available for purchase at $10 each at Middlesex Canal Association meetings, or may be ordered by mail for $12.50 by using the order sheet included in this issue of Towpath Topics. Proceeds from poster sales will go towards financing the publication of a pictorial history of the canal to be written by Carl Seaburg, a Proprietor of our Association and a member of the Medford Historical Society, and his brother Alan Seaburg.

Bicentennial Poster


Name and Address: ___________________________________________
I wish to order:



"The Old Middlesex Canal" by Mary S. Clarke
@ $9.95 + 1.55 shipping = $11.50 ea.


Bicentennial Poster
No. @ $10.00 + 2.50 shipping= $12.50 ea.

  Total = $_____
Please make check payable to Middlesex Canal Association and mail to:

W. K. VerPlanck
37 Calumet Road
Winchester, MA 01890



On Sunday, January 31, the Middlesex Canal Association held its winter meeting at the Winchester Unitarian Church. After a short business meeting, MCA director David Barber presented a slide talk on the Lehigh Canal in Pennsylvania. The canal was built between Easton, PA and White Haven, PA, to transport anthracite coal. Dave's talk covered the history of this very successful, 71-mile long canal and its associated early railroads. His slides showed the current condition of the canal and railroad grades, including many structures in excellent condition.

[Proprietor Ed Wood has called our attention to the following article that appeared in the journal Civil Engineering Practice, Vol 7, No. 2, Fall 1992. It is reproduced here with permission from Mr. Holly, and from Civil Engineering Practice.]

by H. Hobart Holly

The Middlesex Canal was Massachusetts' first National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (NHCEL). It was so designated in 1967, one of the first four NHCELs in the country. The other three were the Erie Canal and two bridges.

In addition to its importance as a pioneering engineering achievement, the Middlesex Canal has special significance to the engineering historian because the engineering papers of Loammi Baldwin (1745-1807), its builder, have survived. These records are part of the Baldwin Papers, a collection, or really three collections, that is included in the Inventory of Collections of Plans and Other Engineering Material of Historical Interest at The Engineering Center in Boston. These records give us a better understanding and appreciation of this great achievement and other notable projects of the Baldwins.

While Benjamin Wright, the engineer for the Erie Canal and later canals, has been called the "Father of American Civil Engineering," Massachusetts' Loammi Baldwin must be ranked high among the pioneers of our profession. The Middlesex Canal was his greatest achievement.

The Middlesex Canal was not the first extensive system of canal and river navigation works undertaken in the United States. This distinction belongs to the Potowmack Canal and Locks in Virginia. That canal was started in 1785 and completed in 1802. Surveys for the project were initiated by George Washington in 1749. However, it was the Middlesex Canal that proved, through low freight rates and expanded traffic, that canal transportation in the United States was practical and economical. With many pioneering features, it served as a precedent for many engineering aspects of the Erie Canal.

It was in 1793 that a group of Boston business leaders sought to improve the transportation of goods from the Merrimack River to Boston. At that time, goods were brought down the Merrimack from New Hampshire on river craft and then transferred to wagons or seagoing craft for the remainder of the trip to Boston. This mode of transportation was costly in time and money. The idea of a canal is believed to have originated with James Sullivan, a prominent Bostonian who later became Governor of the Commonwealth. The Middlesex Canal Company was chartered in 1793 with Sullivan as President. Chosen as superintendent of the canal project was Loammi Baldwin, of Woburn, Massachusetts. This self-educated surveyor and engineer also is known for developing a variety of apple - the Baldwin apple.

When he was selected to head the project, Loammi Baldwin had little knowledge of canal construction and lock operation. He studied what books on the subject were available in the Harvard College library. He had his first view of locks in 1794 when he visited the Potowmack Canal, which was then under construction. Baldwin knew his limitations and insisted that the directors of the canal company provide for the assistance that he needed.

It was with the help of the directors of the company and Samuel Thompson, of Woburn, that Baldwin began the survey for the selection of the canal route. The crude instruments available at that time for surveying resulted in such a high rate of error that Baldwin was convinced that the services of a qualified engineer were required. Sullivan and the company directors authorized Baldwin to seek the services of William Weston, the only person in the country qualified to undertake a reasonably accurate survey. Weston had recently arrived from England and was then engaged in work in Philadelphia. Responding to a lucrative offer, Weston agreed to work on the survey with Baldwin for three weeks. When in Philadelphia, Baldwin acquired an early form of the Wye level, the first accurate telescopic leveling instrument to be used in America. On the second of August 1794, Weston submitted his survey that consisted of two routes. One route was selected for the canal; the other was later selected for the route of the Boston and Lowell Railroad. From that point on, Baldwin was on his own.

Canal Design
The canal bed was 20 feet wide at the bottom and 30.5 feet wide at the waterline with banks sloping 33 degrees. The design depth was 3.5 feet, but silting reduced it to about three feet. Between the locks it was graded for a steady flow of water. The banks extended one foot above the waterline with a ten-foot wide tow path on one side and a three-foot berm on the other where needed. Small brooks were carried under the canal bed in brick culverts; larger streams were carried over the canal by timber aqueducts. The largest of the eight aqueducts spanned the Shawsheen River. This structure was 188 feet long and was over 30 feet above the river. Visitors from afar came to view this impressive structure. In all, there were over fifty bridges across the canal. Many of them carried roads, while others were used by farmers whose property had been divided by the canal. An ingenious feature was the floating tow path that spanned the Billerica mill pond.

Construction was planned to start at the highest elevation along the canal route in Billerica. At that point, the canal was to cross, and be fed by, the Concord River. From the mill pond that was fed by the river, one flow of the canal would be directed northwest to the Merrimack River with a drop of 27 feet through three locks. The second flow would be to the southeast 21.5 miles to the Charles River in Charlestown, with a drop of more than 100 feet through thirteen locks. The total length of the canal was 27 miles and four more locks were required at the Merrimack, Concord, Charles and Mystic Rivers.

Canal Construction
While Sullivan and the company's board of directors were much involved and actively cooperative in the project, Baldwin was responsible for it down to the smallest detail. The hydraulic design was Baldwin's. He was the engineer for the design and construction of all canal structures including locks, aqueducts and bridges. For much of this work, he had little precedent to guide him.

In carrying the construction project through to completion, Baldwin exhibited a genius for meeting every challenge that confronted him. Few engineers have had to undertake some of the tasks that fell to him. One of these tasks entailed responsibility for operating a mill that the company had acquired along with the Billerica mill pond and land for the canal.

After Weston left, Baldwin completed what remained to be done with the surveying. The project started immediately after the survey with the purchase of land, the contracting for the work to be done and the gathering of materials. Much of the digging was done by small landowners whose property adjoined the canal route when manpower could be spared from farm work. The digging took place in many locations simultaneously under Baldwin's supervision.

Other work on the canal was contracted out. At times, Baldwin had 500 persons working on the project. Some of the laborers were housed in barracks provided by the company. Baldwin was responsible for providing fodder for several hundred horses and mules. In Billerica, the company operated a blacksmith shop with Baldwin in charge. All the tools and equipment needed for the project - from shovels to wheel barrows - were manufactured at this shop. Also at this shop, Sullivan and Baldwin invented the dump cart. It was Sullivan's idea, and Baldwin built several prototype models before settling on one that became standard.

In common with all early canals, obtaining water-tightness of the earth banks and bottom was a problem. Baldwin experimented with many methods of puddling, tamping and consolidating with reasonable, but not complete success.

The design and construction of the locks was a major engineering endeavor. The fine quality of the granite block stonework is proved by the fact that some of the stone structures are still standing.

Obtaining a good hydraulic cement that would harden under water was a real problem for Baldwin. At that time, hydraulic cement was made from granite dust and trass, a volcanic substance that had to be imported at great expense. In seeking a substitute, Baldwin learned of a volcanic ash that was used in the West Indies. The company immediately hired a sloop that brought back 40 tons of this new trass, along with instructions on how to mix it. Baldwin altered this procedure in a way that had a permanent influence on commercial cement manufacture in this country.

All of the locks on the canal were 12 feet wide and over 75 feet long. Canal boats were flat-bottomed, measured nine to 9.5 feet wide, were 40 to 75

feet long and had a capacity up to about 25 tons. Passenger canal boats also became very popular. In 1812, the company experimented with a steam engine in a canal boat - the first such endeavor in this country. However, the experiment was not a success that time.

After ten years in building, the completed Middlesex Canal was opened on December 31, 1803. It provided a cheaper means of transportation than had been known before. It justified the vision of James Sullivan and the other members of the Middlesex Canal Company, and established Loammi Baldwin as one of the great pioneer engineers in this country.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS - This article was drawn heavily on the excellent detailed account of the Middlesex Canal in Landmarks in American Civil Engineering by Daniel L. Schodek, published by MIT Press in 1987.


The following have joined the MCA as New Members and Proprietors since October 1, 1992:

New Members  
Elizabeth Adam No. Billerica
Virginia Miller Medford
Mrs. Charles Bradshaw Brookline
Art Donahoe Franklin
David C. Grise Wilmington
Diane Giamberadino Wilmington
Miss Helen Eaton Woburn
Peter Schoonmaker Woburn
Paula Robbins Concord
Robert Karpawich Chelmsford
Gene Reid Framingham
Irene Griffin-Willis Milford
Francis Winiarz Salem, NH
New Proprietors  
Ermelinde Raske Burlington
Roger Hagopian Lexington
Anthony Giamberadino Wilmington
David J. Sabeny Chelmsford
Jennifer J. Roberts No. Chelmsford
Richard Waldman Sharon
Eloise Smith Woburn
The following Members have upgraded to Proprietor:
Anthony Mulone
Edith Hoxie
Marjorie Butterfield
Will Finch


We were pleased to see the Middlesex Canal included on the Channel 5 evening Chronicle program at 7:30 p.m. on January 7. Also included were the Blackstone Canal, which ran from Worcester to Providence, and the Farmington Canal, which connected Northampton, Massachusetts, to New Haven, Connecticut.

Producer Art Donahue, who is a new member of our Association, did an excellent job digesting the large amount of information available on these canals and putting it together in a program that was both interesting and informative, despite a very limited time allotment.

This program spawned nearly 50 letters requesting information about the Middlesex Canal and the Association.


Note from the editor: The masters for this issue of Towpath Topics were run off on a new printer to which your editor has access. This, combined with the wonderful new photocopying machine recently installed by our printer, Kwik Kopy of Arlington, MA, should make for much easier reading and for much better appearance of the half-tone figures. Your comments, as always, are most welcome. And remember that we always welcome submissions of articles by our readers.

Martha Hazen
15 Chilton Street
Belmont, MA 02178

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