Middlesex Canal Association
P.O. Box 333, Billerica MA 01821

Volume 39 No. 2
March 2001

Middlesex Canal Association Spring Walk 
Middlesex Canal Association Annual Meeting, Spring 2001 
Further Notes on the Canal Seal - from Howard Winkler 
President's Message - by Nolan Jones 
The MCA-AMC Fall Walk 2000 
Bicentennial Lecture - Boston's Forgotten Canal 
American Who Spied for Redcoats Lauded - by Roger Hagopian 
Surveying the Middlesex Canal - by Thomas Raphael 
Locks and Canal of the Merrimack River - by Bill Gerber 
Comments from William Gerber, 22 October 2000 
Opening of the Faulkner Mills Visitors Center and Museum - by Thomas Dahill 


Date: Saturday, April 21, 2001
Time: 1:30 pm
Place: Woburn

Members and guests of the Middlesex Canal Association will join the Appalachian Mountain Club again this spring for a walk along the Woburn section of the Canal from School Street to Winn Street. Meet at 1:30 pm. Directions: take Route 38 south from Route 128, turn right into Middlesex Canal Drive, go past the Ramada Inn to the southeast corner of the parking lot behind the Woburn Cinemas.

Leaders: Bill Gerber (978-251-4971)
Roger Hagopian (781-861-7868)



As of publication time, the date and location for the annual meeting of the MCA has not been settled. There will be the usual annual meeting, including reports from the officers, and proprietors will vote for officers and board for the coming year. Following the formal meeting, there will be a program of interest to members and guests.

Details will be sent in a separate mailing to all members and proprietors of the MCA at a future date.


from Howard Winkler

In the September 2000 issue of Towpath Topics, the Middlesex Canal Company motto that appeared on the banner of its seal


was translated as

"Neptune, The God of the Sea Helping Ceres, the Goddess of Grain".

Thomas Raphael, one of our directors and the Chairman of the Middlesex Canal Commission, suggested the following two poetical translations:

The fertile fields, to the ocean, are joined
Bringing the produce of the land to the ocean

Our readers who are familiar with Latin are requested to furnish their translations to the Editor for possible publication. (Ed. Note: Martha Hazen can be reached by email <mhazen@cfa.harvard.edu> or by snail mail at 15 Chilton Street, Belmont, MA 02478.)



I often wonder if anyone reads this message. In two paragraphs in the last Towpath Topics I asked people to let me know if they were interested. I heard from nobody. I did not give my phone number, however, so that may have been an impediment. Many of you know that I live in New Hampshire now, phone is (603) 672-7051.

One of the paragraphs mentioned the possibility of excursions. We are pursuing single day trips to the Blackstone and Farmington canals. In fact one of the historical societies astride the Farmington is planning a day trip for May 5. I will be happy to share the details with anyone as soon as I get it.

The Baldwin house restaurant has new owners. The first report is that they have delicious food.

We have heard from the Lowell National Historical Park people and their Canal Days will be August 11 and 12 this year.

The spring walk is announced in an article elsewhere in this issue. Since it will be in the vicinity of the Baldwin house that would be a fine opportunity to try out the restaurant for lunch before or dinner after the walk.

Our annual meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 20. That is the Sunday after the World Canals Conference in Ireland so Joan and I will be on a canal boat on one of the Irish canals on that date. We sometimes have trouble choosing dates that suit most people. We will be sending out a special notice about that meeting when it settles down.

I try to respond positively when we get invitations to give talks or programs. We have two requests on hand right now, April 9 for a garden club in Winchester and a Whistler Museum in Lawrence, no date set. If your group would like a slide tour of the Middlesex Canal or other canal related topic please let me know. I gave a talk to the MIT Club of New Hampshire a few years ago on "The Canal Building Frenzy of the early 1800s". In 1840 there were 4400 miles of canals in the USA.

Nolan T. Jones


Contributed by William Gerber

The joint Middlesex Canal Association and Appalachian Mountain Club Fall Canal Walk was held on October 14th, and rarely have we had a better turnout. The day was bright, sunny and comfortably warm, and though the fall foliage had just passed its prime, it was still quite spectacular. Adding to this, Edith Choate’s advertising must have reached interested people; many "Appys" (AMC members) came, and on top of that, the Billerica Girl Scouts were having some sort of scavenger hunt that day and so the canal Visitors Center was also open. Somehow the Lowell Sun had heard of the walk and so a reporter/photographer/Billerica TV person was also present to cover the event.

Bill Gerber and Roger Hagopian co-led the walk, ably and enthusiastically assisted by Nolan Jones, President of the Middlesex Canal Association, and Tom Raphael, Chairman of the Middlesex Canal Commission. Carolyn Osterberg set up the shop at the beginning of the walk to sell books and maps to all that were interested. The new Middlesex Canal Visitors Center was also open to help provide the walkers with some historical background, as well as in support of the girl scout activity.

We did not count noses, but it appeared that there were about 50 people on the walk. Actually, it would have been difficult to do a count. The group of people who came specifically for the walk were joined by others from the girl scout activity, but the latter only walked part way. On the walk, we kept forming into "clusters," each of which proceeded at its own pace. Organizing this group would have been a bit like herding cats. But then, who can get lost on a towpath that runs almost straight as an arrow?

We gathered in the parking lot that serves the Cambridge Tool Company, the current occupants of the Talbot Mill. We began by pointing out the peninsula on the far side of the river and, on the near side, the heavy boulder with the iron rings. Together, these points once anchored the two ends of the Middlesex Canal’s famous floating towpath. (The scene on the front cover of the MCA brochure is of this very site, with the floating towpath being the most prominent feature in the sketch.) Apparently one of a very few that have ever been used on a canal, the floating towpath allowed draft animals to tow their boats and cargos across the Concord River without having to unhitch or even change their pace. But this particular floating towpath also presents a mystery. The historical record indicates that it could, by some means, be breached to allow the passage of boats navigating on the Concord River. How was this done? And where are the remains of whatever mechanism was used to create the gap through which boats could pass? Does anyone know? (I don’t.)

Next, we proceeded along the section of the canal from the North Billerica Mill Pond, on the Concord River, north and west toward Middlesex Village. This section starts along a section of the canal that has, for the most part, been filled in by the Talbot Mill and, farther on, by the town of Billerica for a fire station. However, as one comes away from the Concord, there is still a short open section of the canal that extends as far as Old Elm Street; and beyond the road, the upstream end of a Guard-Lock can be seen inside the iron fence and just under an edge of the Talbot Mills parking lot. This is a stone structure with recesses to accommodate the mitre-gates that were once mounted here, and iron strapping to restrain the quoin-post hinges of those gates.

Farther on, between the mill and the fire station, a portion of the canal basin that served the red-oak lock can been seen. Essentially, this basin served a side canal, running at a right angle to the main Middlesex channel; it allowed boats navigating the Concord River to bypass the mill pond dam. But today, a healthy crop of poison ivy tends to constrain exploration at this point, and the fire station is built on another filled-in portion of the basin.

Continuing on, Lowell Street was built on or immediately adjacent to the old towpath and so it parallels canal remains as far as Boston Road (Route 3A). This stretch of canal bed contains the remains of a culvert, which enabled the canal to traverse a brook or stream. Continuing on, there is a small strip mall on the west side of Boston Road, and beyond this the towpath again becomes recognizable. It soon continues along a watered section through wooded area that extends all the way to Brick Kiln Road in Chelmsford.

Crossing Brick Kiln Road, the towpath widens and soon passes into a newly formed marsh, apparently created by the coordinated efforts of Route 3 highway engineers and a few industrious beavers. This is the location of a pond that was incorporated into the canal. The shore served as a towpath and the opposite bank, the berm, was built into the pond. Bird watching opportunities along this stretch should be superb; it seems not unreasonable to expect to see Rails here, if the eye is sufficiently quick! Herons and Egrets also frequent the marsh, along with ubiquitous ducks of various species and the occasional hawk. All the while, there is a succession of watered canal sections, interrupted by several causeways, in the immediate proximity. The underbrush has been cleared at several points on both sides of the towpath to improve visibility of the canal and of the birds that frequent the marsh.

For political reasons, we did not proceed through to Riverneck Road. Instead, we retraced our steps back to the Talbot Mill parking lot, from which the walk had formed up a few hours earlier. At this point, in about mid-afternoon, we ended the walk. We think that a good time was had by all.

A few days later, the front page of an inner section of the Lowell Sun displayed a big picture of me pointing out the guard-lock under the Talbot mill parking lot. How come that reporter got my name wrong??



A stormy day did not deter forty canal enthusiasts from attending the eighth event in the series celebrating the Bicentennial Decade of the Middlesex Canal at the Boston Historical Park Navy Yard in Charlestown on November 5, 2000. The Hull Room of Building 5, overlooking the U.S.S. Constitution riding at anchor in the bay outside, made a perfect setting for Dave Dettinger’s account of the almost forgotten canal that bisected the Shawmut Peninsula and connected the Middlesex Canal with the Boston waterfront.

Dave outlined the four segments of the route, which included the Charlestown Millpond, where the Middlesex Canal terminated; the Charles River crossing, accomplished with the aid of a naval cable system; the 1000 foot canal built across the Bulfinch Triangle; and finally Mill Creek, which led to the waterfront itself. Constructed soon after the completion of the Middlesex Canal to capitalize on its access to the resources of New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts, this extension contributed materially to the growth of Boston as an industrial hub.

Only a few street names remain as reminders of this one-time strategic connector: Causeway Street, where the Boston Canal began; Haymarket Street at its central terminal; and Canal Street, its towpath. It is expected that the canal’s notable features will be commemorated with suitable signage as work in the Big Dig comes to an end, such that the public will become aware of this important transportation facility of the period 1804-1844.


by Roger Hagopian

An American inventor who spied for the British during the Revolutionary War was honored by his adopted country last October. Sir Benjamin Thompson, who died in 1814, was recognized with a blue plaque on the house where he had lived in Knightsbridge, London. Thompson, a physicist who studied heart and friction, invented the double boiler and a drip coffee pot, among other things. He was born in Woburn, MA, in 1753, and later lived in what is now Concord, NH. He remained loyal to Britain after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and served as a spy before fleeing to London in 1776. He was knighted by King George III in 1784. Thompson later worked in the Bavarian civil service as grand chamberlain to the elector of Bavaria.


by Thomas Raphael

I have often wondered at the difficult process it must have been to lay out the route of the canal, and to conduct the surveying with primitive tools over rugged hills and through thick forests.

A recent book titled "Thoreau’s Country, Journey Through a Transformed Landscape" by Howard Foster, Director of the Harvard Forest, presents a reasonable insight and clearer answer. An illustration in the book, showing the vast, very cleared, rolling farmland of Massachusetts of Thoreau’s era, adds vision to the answer.

Foster writes that when Henry David Thoreau, Harvard AB 1837, decided to go back to nature, build a hut and live in the woods, it was not easy to find a suitable place. He finally found one of the few forests remaining in the area, in the Concord Woods.

For the 200 years from the landing of the Pilgrims, the New England landscape had been systematically and substantially cleared of trees and stones to create the farm and pasture needed to provide the essentials for the flourishing agrarian domestic life.

As a consequence, and as the wood-cut illustration by Abigail Rorer from "Thoreau Country" clearly depicts, it would have been a relatively clear line of sight over the hills and through the sparse tree lines. Laying out the best route and completing the survey thus becomes a less difficult task even with the early surveying equipment. There was still the problem of weaving a level path between the hills on the one side and the meadows and wetlands on the other.

Digging the canal, constructing the locks and aqueducts, was nonetheless an awesome undertaking, and the extended region resulting from it provided the wealth and opportunities to attract emigration and ultimately the movement inland.

As transportation improved, mainly the railroads, canals and roads, the population moved to the lush green pastures of the Midwest, and their plentiful food supply provided the competition that caused the local farmers to abandon their fields. Thus the land has evolved back to the relatively wild forests we see now, albeit more heavily dominated by the pine trees rather than the hardwoods.


by Bill Gerber
(continued from Volume 39, No. 1)

[Editor’s note: this is the conclusion of an article started in the last issue. If you wish to refer to the first part, it can be found on the Middlesex Canal Association’s web page at www.middlesexcanal.org.]

John L. Sullivan and his associates were incorporated as the Merrimack Boating Company (MBC) on June 21, 1911, by the General Court of Massachusetts, and by a similar act in New Hampshire on June 18, 1812. The first MBC boat reached Concord on the autumn of 1814, and regular service was initiated the following year. The notice circulated to announce regular service stated: "Two convenient stores are erected in Concord NH, 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 charge of the goods and deliver them to the order of the owners, and to receive Produce, Merchandise and Lumber to be sent down …. The loading will be delivered in Boston at the landing on the Almshouse Wharf, … 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 boats will for the present load every Tuesday and Friday, … and when there shall be business enough, every day."

Sullivan explained the method by which the canal companies collected their tolls: "When a raft is passing Bow Canal, while locking it through, the intendant enters a description of it in his book and receives from the owner the best report he can get. The same is done at Hookset, six miles lower down the river. At Amoskeig, while passing, the intendant there goes onto the raft, examines, counts and measures it as accurately as is practicable. This survey is entered in his book, the tolls calculated for each of the canals, and for such of the Union Locks as the kind of raft and the state of the river make it necessary to use. If the raft is bound for Newburyport, the toll is paid in cash. If to Charlestown, a note is taken and the property pledged as collateral security. On reaching Middlesex, a passport is given, descriptive of the raft, and attached to the manifest from Amoskeig. At the office in Charlestown the settlement of the toll is made. If the owner does not sell immediately, he deposits his property in the booms. If it is partially taken out, the tolls of the upper canals are paid first, and as much towards the Middlesex as amply covers the part removed. Then the agent has it in his power to trace the progress of the business and to see that all is finally collected as he settles accounts periodically.

"Boats ascending or descending have their loading ascertained at the entrance, and at each canal as occasion may require. Each one carries a passport, to be produced at each lock, and penalties are annexed to the breach of the regulations. The refusal of a passport, and the prompt institution of a suit before a magistrate when necessary gives sufficient control over the minds of those who use the canal."

The MBC did what they could to facilitate shipping on the canal. Warehouses, barns, tenements, workshops and landings were erected in many of the towns en route, and agents were hired to manage the passage of goods through them. Other services were also provided. In 1818, Sullivan wrote: "If the owner of cattle wishes to make the profits himself, on barreling his beef he finds a slaughter house, butcher and packers and salt at the landing. The farmer who wishes to send his hay to the Boston market, finds the apparatus for [securing] it at the company’s Barn. If it is desirable to make a deposit of salt for winter trade, there is storeroom. There is a depository of lime and plaster for all that portion of our country …. It is sold in considerable quantities or exchanged for staves and other loading."

In the early days, boats carried up to fifteen tons, mostly stone, wood and lumber to provision Boston with fuel and building and packing materials, and for export. The boats loaded back with anything that was available, but often returned empty. In later years, when company boats ran through between Boston and Concord (the transshipment point for goods destined to and from the backcountry of Vermont and New Hampshire), the company left most of the intermediate point business to the transients.

In November 1819, a committee that inspected the Middlesex Canal reported: "The day the committee went up, twenty-four loaded boats were on the canal coming to Boston. Twenty of these had come up through the stone-locks from the Merrimack River. They were mostly loaded with wood; some of them had various descriptions of casks. There was some agricultural produce. The boats that were going up had almost every article which is vended in country commerce. No rafts of timber or wood were seen."

In a report of July, 1822, James F. Baldwin, then Superintendent of the Middlesex, Bow and Union Canals stated that, in a busy season, about 50 boats were employed, exclusive of the Merrimack company’s boats, 5 or 6 running pretty constantly to and from Nashua, Merrimack and Bedford. The MBC had 8 boats running in the spring of 1822, but only 4 in July. Loading averaged about 10 tons per boat up and down the river, and when there was no other freight, they made out a load of 14 or 15 tons with stone from the State Prison at Concord.

Catastrophic loss avoidance was a very important consideration of the MBC. Sullivan noted: "Men were chosen with great caution, paid and rewarded suitably to their merit and their occasional great exertions." There was much concern expressed when, in about 1820, a Concord Company boat was wrecked through "pilot error." At that time, Sullivan stated, "we must regret that the probable consequence of it will be to lessen the confidence of the country in the safety of navigation."

The assets of the Merrimack Boating Company were purchased by the Boston and Concord Boating Company in 1823, and subsequently incorporated by both the Massachusetts and New Hampshire legislatures. The new company soon introduced additional operating efficiencies. Two of these were most important. First, instead of hiring all the boatmen for the season, about half were hired for only the spring and fall. And second, recognizing that the securing of full loads in both directions was an ever-present problem, steps were taken to prevent boats from waiting for freight, while insuring that all boats ran with full loads. For this purpose, salt, lime and plaster were bought by the cargo and kept at the Boston landing by the agent there, and sold by the agent at Concord lower landing. Wood was bought by the Concord agent and kept on the riverbank to make up downward loads; the Boston agent sold this. Granite was brought from Concord at a reduced rate at the company’s convenience; almost all of the granite used to build Quincy market, Boston, was brought from Concord by company boats.

The MBC did not lack for innovation. In 1810, Sullivan contrived means to use human or animal power to drive paddle wheels in a boat that, in turn, was used to tow other boats. This arrangement failed to deliver adequate power. However, the following year, Sullivan pursued both a "chain-of-floats" drive mechanism and a steam engine to power it. This particular experiment was not successful due to the implementation of the "chain-of-floats" drive in a trunk in the center of the boat and location of the steam engine too far to the stern. But a different configuration was tried out in the fall of the year that arranged the "chain-of-floats" on the outside of the boat in recesses under the wales. This allowed the engine to be placed amidships, which was significantly more successful. This craft moved at seven miles per hour (mph) on the Merrimack and four mph on the canal. During 1813, on the open river, she hauled canal boats up the Merrimack at speeds up to four mph. Furthermore, by means of a windlass, which the whole power of the engine could be directed to turn, the tug warped herself up rapids drawing other boats after her.

The early tugboat on the Middlesex Canal and the adjacent river was succeeded in 1818 by the Merrimack, a tug containing a Morey engine. This tug may have been a side-wheeler, with single paddle wheels located on either side of the hull. In his report for the year 1819, the superintendent reported: "In the freshets and generally, the steam towing boat has been very useful, being able to take two loaded boats against the current when otherwise they could not have moved at all – at other times carrying them in half a day as far as they could have gone in two by the ordinary means."

One researcher claims that other factors prevailed, however, and the MBC abandoned towing by steam in 1820. That the traffic was not sufficiently regular, delays at the locks were too long, the reaches between the locks were not long enough, and the threat of bank erosion constrained the speed at which the boats could operate, all contributed to restrain the profitable employment of steam tugs by the MBC. But this seems to have been speculation on the part of another researcher and apparently was not the end of it. Recall that the Merrimack Boating Company was sold in 1823 and its successor, the Boston and Concord Boating Company launched a stern-wheeled tug in about 1823. Another, named Herald and probably the fourth steam-tug to be produced, was launched in 1834. Still more were launched in subsequent years, so that by 1838 there may have been as many as 10 steam-tugs operating on the Merrimack River. Several of these appear to have been privately owned and at least one seems to have been operated by the Wamesit Steam Mills.

There was almost constant competition for business, first between the canals and the teamsters and later between both of these and the railroads. That the canals could carry much greater loads at lower costs than the teamsters, typically at half the cost, did not always carry the decision. Other issues – such as the shipper’s proximity to a canal transfer point, the cost of truckage between the source or destination point and the canal, the problems of timing to meet up with a boat departure or arrival, accountability for breakage in the intermodal shifting of goods, and arrangements for payment – often influenced shippers to use wagons in favor of the canals. Adding to this were actions by mill-owners that some years caused their goods to be hauled by wagon apparently for the sole purpose of driving down the costs of shipping on the canals.

For the most part, the canals and shipping companies fought back with adequate success. Freight rates were gradually reduced throughout the life of the canal. In 1815, the MBC charges $13 per ton for upward bound cargoes, and $8 per ton down. By 1831, this rate had been reduced to $5 up and $4 down. The canal absorbed some of this; an 1843 report stated: "For a number of years past a discount of 30 per cent has been made to the Boston and Concord Boating Company from established rates." In the year 1827, all raw materials from Boston came to the mills in Lowell be canal, but the down freight of finished goods was, in large part, teamed to Boston. In response, the canal toll committee created a new freight classification which they designated "Factory Cotton Cloth" which they billed at half the rate of Merchandise. Creation of this category succeeded in wresting the shipping of all output of the Lowell mills by canal; little more was heard of land carriage competition thereafter. Other shippers followed suit. Had the railroads not come along only a few years later, canal prosperity might have continued for a very long time thereafter.

The commercial canal transportation business was ruined when the Concord and Nashua Railroad opened in 1842. The landings, storehouses, boats and equipment were sold, and for a very small sum.

Archaeological Remains

Considering that the Wicasee Canal was inundated before it was abandoned, it is conceivable that remains of the Wicasee canal and lock might be found well below the surface of the lake behind the Pawtucket Dam. Certainly there is some sort of timber structure that can be seen immediately below the vehicle bridge that serves the Vesper Country Club. However, it is more likely that the lock was located farther downstream, probably near or under the footbridge that serves the 4th and 14th fairways, farther downstream. (Some water trap! Are the golfers slowly filling the lock with golf balls?)

In 1974, Alden Gould, a Nashua resident and member of the American Canal Society, did a survey of many of the Merrimack River Canals. The following comments are extracted from his reports; it seems reasonable to expect that his observations should remain essentially true into the current time. In almost all cases, Gould suggested the use of a canoe to access the lock sites.

Gould notes that the city of Nashua has built a park around the millpond created by the Mill Falls dam that remains watered to this day. This site is near to the Nashua High School, immediately to the north. Gould doesn’t mention any old lock remains, but some badly deteriorated stone structures that probably were once part of a lock were observed by several of us during a Merrimack River Watershed Council (MRWC) sponsored canoe trip, in the early 1990s.

At Cromwell’s Falls, there is a well-preserved lock and a wing-dam that can be viewed from just south of the present-day Budwiser Plant in Merrimack, NH. Some of the participants of the MRWC canoe trip, noted above, passed through this lock. Relatively speaking, it is very well preserved.

There appear to be remnants of the walls of one or more of the locks that operated at Moor’s Falls.

It is not clear if any of the structure of the lock and dam at Coos Falls remain; however, since the lock was built of granite that was attached to the underlying ledge with iron straps, it is likely that some remnants of it can still be found. There are two small islands in immediate proximity of where the lock is thought to have existed.

A great many granite blocks from the lock walls at Goff’s Falls can still be found. The lock itself has been badly damaged by ice flows in the approximately 150 years since this lock was abandoned. At the time of his visit in the mid-seventies, Gould found an anchor chain attached to the ledge in the floor of the structure. Gould did not speculate on the purpose of this chain; could it have been part of the drop-gate mechanism?

The Griffin’s Falls lock was built about a mile above the current-day I-93 bridge on the east side of the river. Gould stated that this is the most accessible of all of the locks on this river navigation. He noted that the chamber wall on the east side appeared to be of its original height and could still be walked on. He indicated that the west wall had been heavily damaged by ice floes but that the lower chamber blocks were very discernable and in a straight line. He also noted the presence of a wing-wall at the south end of the lock.

Also of interest near Griffin’s Falls, though not part of the Merrimack River Locks and Canals, was Smith’s Ferry. At the time of Gould’s visit, the Old Ferry House was still standing a short distance from the lock site.

The lock at Short’s Falls is located on the east side of the river and can be viewed partially from that side. Gould stated that the west side of the lock structure is about 200 feet or less in the rapids, and the west side of the lock, which can only be seen from the Route I-93 bridge appeared to be in pretty fair condition.

At Merrill’s Falls, a wing-dam was constructed from near the center of the river toward the east shore of the river. A granite wall was built within 40 to 50 feet of the east shoreline, following the contour of the river. The canal is still there, but is in poor condition. Apparently there is nothing remaining of the lock. Gould indicates that the dense growth of trees prevents more than a glimpse of the canal until late fall, when the foliage is gone.

The Amoskeag Canal was still more or less intact in 1975. Heavy granite walls still stood in very good condition. However, the only remaining lock, the upper guard lock, is located at the Amoskeag Dam. It was guilt of cut granite and appeared to be in fine condition. Its north end is sealed off by concrete but the lower gate recess is clear, though without gates. A latter-day gatehouse, of brick construction at the end of the 75-foot flume, is sealed off with concrete at the canal’s lower level.

At Hookset, the canal and three locks bypassed the falls on the west side of the river. In the late fall, sections of some walls can be viewed; however ice floes have damaged much of the site.

At Garvin’s Falls, the Bow Canal consisted of a 450-foot wood and stone dam, and the canal with a guard-lock and three lower locks. Apparently the flume of an old electrical substation on that site was the canal. Gould claims that the exit of the canal can be seen on the west side, which is watered, back to the granite abutments of the old dam. It may be that some of the upper end of the canal was covered over or removed when a second railroad track was added to the original single track.


…; Canal Index, American Canal Society; sundry pages by Gould, Alden W. and Trout, William E., III; from 1974 and 1982, respectively.

Clark, Mary Stetson; The Old Middlesex Canal; Center for Canal History and Technology, Easton, PA, 1974; pp 50-77.

Hoxie, Wilbar; Merrimack River Canals, Videotape of his presentation to the Middlesex Canal Association; early 1990s.

Lambert, Catherine W.; Boating on the Merrimack; Village Improvement Association Annual, Tyngsborough, MA; March 1953; pp 1,3,and 4.

Lawrence, Lewis M.; The Middlesex Canal, Boston 1942; manuscript later published by the Middlesex Canal Association; pp 75-95.

Lawson, Fred; discussions at various times, latter quarter of the 20th century.

Mower, Charles; Merrimack River Canals, Videotape of his presentation to the Middlesex Canal Association; early 1990s.

Roberts, Christopher; The Middlesex Canal, 1793-1860; Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1938; pp 124-158.



At the moment, the level of the Merrimack is VERY low. (I heard that it was lowered WAY-DOWN because of Clinton's visit.) I went by Tyngs Island yesterday, site of the Wicassee Canal and Dam, and am almost certain that I could see both ends of the dam, from the south side of the island, and possibly a bit of the lock from the north side. The island side of the dam is just down the bank from the east end of the fence around the swimming pool at the Vesper Country Club (VCC). The south-shore end seems to be just upstream of a boat launching ramp serving the marina on the Rt. 3A side. (The only ramp in that area.) Actually there are at least two rock-piles on the south side that could have been the south end of the dam; I suppose that one would need to swim the route of the dam to determine which is the correct one.

If I truly have spotted the lock, then it is located in the channel between the island and the north shore, a short distance from the west end of the island. It can be seen from just beyond the west end of the building in which the VCC stores its golf carts. There is a rock pile in the middle of a shallows, on the south-side of a deeper channel running against the north shore. I suspect that this is the principal marker. The orientation of the lock (if the lock) is a bit of a surprise, it runs at a fair angle to the channel. But that puts it behind a little head of land that might have offered some protection from the ice during ice-out. That's about the same thing that builders did at Cromwell lock, about 15 miles further upstream.

This would make sense. Farther downstream, but upstream of the community boat house and river walk, there appears to be a berm at a fairly constant distance from the shore. The suggestion to me is that this is the remains of a channel that would have kept canal boats out of the main-course of the river current and may even have allowed "critters" to tow the boats to/from the head of the Middlesex all the way up to and through the Wicassee lock.

Also, if I've spotted the lock, this would resolve the question that I've had about which end of the island the lock was located by. The first historical records that I read indicated that it was about 1900' from the end of the island, which I assumed to be the upstream (or west) end of the island. That would put the lock in the vicinity of the foot-bridge serving the 4th and 14th fairways of the VCC. But a later record indicated that, at low water, the remains could be seen just upstream of the boathouse of the old Vesper Canoeing Club. I think that this is the present Golf Clubhouse and this would put the lock about 1900' from the downstream end of the island. (Oops!)

The bad news is that if this is the lock, it is not likely that there is much left of it, though an underwater survey should certainly be conducted. This would not be too surprising. The historical record indicates that this was a wooden lock, made of heavy planks set into the bottom with much earth backfilled to support the planks. But it also suggests the possible use of drop-gates, which may still be somewhere at the bottom.

More bad news, part of the fill added to carry Rt. 113 probably covers whatever may remain of the old towpath and may even extend into the original channel; though it is doubtful if this reaches all the way to the lock.


by Thomas Dahill

The annual festival on September 16-17 called Yankee Doodle Day in Billerica was chosen as the optimum occasion for the informal open house of one of the Middlesex Canal Association’s major endeavors. The historic mill had been the focus of almost tireless activity by members of the local Middlesex Canal Commission and other volunteers from Billerica, transforming the dignified old work place into a clean, sparkling display and meeting complex, maintaining a great deal of the original character. The brick walls were sand-blasted, rough floors leveled and surfaced mirror-bright, extensive wiring installed, and exhibit panels constructed and painted, caulked and erected for a show of illustrations of The Incredible Ditch and other pertinent images of the building, history and running of the canal. Models of a lock, canal boat and an aqueduct increased the reality of the canal, and a contemporary shovel and skates brought it to a scale we all respond to.

A bus system inaugurated for the festival kept a steady flow of visitors on Saturday and, to our surprise, without the bus there were many visitors on Sunday. A policeman on duty in front of the mill helped to maintain a level population in face of the heavy traffic. Many members of the board of the Middlesex Canal Association turned out to greet people and render aid in selling pamphlets and t-shirts and to explain the operation.

Roger Hagopian’s video was a great drawing card, and the intimacy of the video corner proved very successful. In the main exhibition area Fred Lawson, longtime member, officer and honorary director of the Middlesex Canal Association, demonstrated basket making, and in the meeting room a young couple demonstrated weaving on a small loom. Ron Pare, owner of the mill, provided refreshments and his daughter acted as informal hostess. Ron also very generously allowed visitors access to the rest room in his office.

Although there is not at this time an accurate tally, a large number of books and pamphlets about the Middlesex Canal were sold, and a gallon-sized jar filled with contributions toward the Center. We all look forward to the official opening in the spring.

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