Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 16, No. 3    October, 1978


In a slight departure from tradition, the 17th annual Canal walk, co-sponsored by the Middlesex Canal Association, the Appalachian Mountain Club and Troop 55, B.S.A., of Billerica, will take place on the last Saturday of October. The Association will provide a lecturer on the Canal, Co. Wilbar M. Hoxie, former president.

Canal and camera enthusiasts are welcome. Immediately following the walk there will be a pot-luck supper served by the Mothers' Auxiliary of Troop 55, at the Hajjar School, Billerica, for which the donation will be $1.50. Supper reservations must be made by October 26 with Edith J. Choate, 429 West Street, Reading, Mass. (telephone 944-0129)

Meet at the Hajjar School at the corner of Call and Rogers Streets at 1:30 P.M.. From Billerica Center, proceed North on Route 3A to first traffic light (one mile) bear right on Pollard Street (keeping off Route 129) for h mile, then right on High Street. After crossing railroad tracks, turn left on Rogers Street. The Hajjar School is on the left.

The four mile woodland route will include the more obvious remains of the Canal.


Because of the August festivities, the Directors have decided to omit the usual fall program of the Association (except for the Canal walk). The next meeting, therefore, will take place in the winter, on February 10, 1979. It will be a ski and snowshoe tour of the Canal in Wilmington.


The Middlesex Canal Association in this its 175th year has banner headlines to share with you!

During the first week of October final signatures will be affixed to make it all most official. $20,000 has been granted by the Northern Middlesex Area Commission to match the already granted $20,000 by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. This will enable the Commission to focus on studying possibilities for the long talked of linear park or canal corridor and to do in-depth testing by sonar of the canal subsurface to more accurately pinpoint the original canal path. Historic Preservation as far as is feasible and corridors for hiking, biking and canoeways will be the reward for us all! Congratulations to the Northern Middlesex Area Commission!

If you have special Middlesex Canal information that you have unearthed be sure to share it with your Commission representative listed in this issue of Towpath Topics. This will enhance the work of the Commission and our tax dollars.

Our 175th Anniversary publication, the fine booklet edition of Louis Linscott Middlesex Canal Prints is one we can be very proud of. Many compliments from our members have reached the desk of our Membership Secretary. Out-going Gov. Michael Dukakis wrote a most enthusiastic thank you to Louis Eno and also expressed his delight of last summer for his voyage in the "Colonel Baldwin". Additional copies of "The Middlesex Canal Prints by Louis Linscott" may be ordered from the Membership Secretary for $3.00 plus 53 postage.

Many Middlesex canal Association Members and friends were on hand August 19th to help celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the opening of
the Middlesex Canal. No other local canal community can match the time, the care nor the excellence of what has been created along the shores of the Baldwin Mansion in Woburn: the restoration of 2/3 mile of canal bed and towpath, preliminary fixing up of the Baldwin Mansion, creating a canal park, building a replica. of a passenger boat "Colonel Baldwin", plus the tremendous undertaking of setting up horse drawn rides along this historic section of the old canal. It therefore seemed most fitting and proper that our 175th Anniversary should take place amidst the wonder of this fine canal restoration.

Thus Woburn was again a genial host for this big event. Thank you to all in Woburn who have made the Middlesex Canal really come alive!

One very full bus load with canal guides Louis Eno, Mal Chaste and Nolan Jones (back briefly from Brussels) stopped first at the Shawsheen Aqueduct to view the restoration work there, then on down to the Ox-how at the Wilmington Town Forest and other highpoints down to the Baldwin Mansion. The Woburn Canal Society provided a cook-out meal more than adequate for all.. a fine supplement to the picnic lunches bought by many members. The Continental Navy, a Newburyport group, put on a fine display of Revolutionary firearms and early crafts. My favorites were the pewter casting and the rope-making I am especially fond of my freshly turned and finely twisted piece of hemp rope!

We heard canal speeches but briefly since the midday sun suddenly seemed much too fierce for prolonged celebrating, and people were most anxious to start with the young children and family members to the high-light of the day, a grand ride in or on the roof of the "Colonel Baldwin"! Over 200 persons made the trip that day. Len Harmon reports that over 1200 people have ridden the canal boat this season.

We are pleased that the Boston Museum of Transportation has plans to include a working model of canal locks for its new and still being renovated waterfront building. They plan to have real running water rising and falling as the locks open and close. They are looking to the Canal Association for loans from our archives of models, paintings, maps and charts.. The exhibit will feature the impact various forms of transportation have made since the 1630's on Boston and its surroundings. The Exhibit Director wishes by having visitors see and feel the real thing and by feeling such things as cobblestones and different textures that an "environmental experience" would be created.

The Museum of Transportation would accept help from knowledgeable volunteers to help create the canal exhibit. Board Member Ed Wood has already offered his services. Call if you can give them your time.

A slide-tape show has already been prepared by Board Member Paul Staples. He has successfully used it in the Brookline Schools with his classes. He would like to perfect it by obtaining only the best slides available on the Middlesex Canal and is asking our members if they will go over their slides so he can make a selection. He will cull out 50 of only the top ones and combine it with a 15 minute tape. After he has copied the slides from the original they will be returned to the owners. His project would include making a numbers of sets of canal slide-tapes and sell and distribute them throughout the school systems locally or elsewhere. These might also prove of use to historical and club groups. Call Paul (617-427-1534) or write him at 663 Washington St., Holliston, Mass. 01746 if you feel your slides are super special and should be included. Such a program would be a fine educational adjunct to the work of our author Mary Stetson Clarke.

Malcolm and Edith Choate have reminded us that this October 28th will mark the 17th Annual Billerica Middlesex Canal walk sponsored by the A.M.C. the B.S.A. and ourselves and, of course, the Choates. The Choates and all three organizations are truly quite expert now at putting on this affair and it is always moat enjoyable. Cheers to them all! Will Hoxie will give the Historical talk this year. Be sure to save the date and join us all.

A Wilmington Canal walk has been scheduled for February 10 and it should be considered a cross country ski/showshoe tour unless the snow conditions are such that only stout boots need be worn. As with previous Wilmington canal tours this one will start in the Wilmington Town Forest where on can see the fascinating grooves in the rocks etched by years of rubbing by towropes, at the Ox-bow. We will view the remains of the Maple Meadow Brook Aqueduct and cross the (hopefully by then...frozen) Maple Meadow Brook into the Stanley Webber land, now owned by the Wilmington Historical Society. Mr. Webber is a new MCA Board Member and a Middlesex Canal Commissioner. We are always most grateful that his family and himself have zealously protected this lovely section of the canal and the passing pond at the end of the walk. More details in the January Towpath Topics.

Fran VerPlanck

(from a paper delivered by Prof. George L. Vose of M.I.T. to the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, in the later days of the 19th century)

The pioneer work of actual internal improvement in Massachusetts, if not in America, was the Middlesex Canal, the inception and execution of which was due mainly to one of the most distinguished men of the last century, dames Sullivan. He saw, upon the map, the Merrimac river reaching far up into the heart of a great state, which lacked only the means of sending its products to market to set in motion a thousands wheals of industry. The connection of Boston," says Mr. Amory, in his excellent life of Sullivan, "by a line of navigable waters with New Hampshire and Vermont, and perhaps with Canada, became early for Sullivan a favorite project. The Merrimac, after issuing from Lake Winnipesaukee, 120 miles from Boston, ran southerly within 27 miles of that capital, and then turning abruptly to the northeast discharged itself, after an obstructed course of 50 miles, at Newburyport. Between Concord, in New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont, the Sunapee Lake gave facility for connecting the Connecticut and Merrimac, and the latter could be made navigable by locks at low cost. Should the undertaking succeed between Concord and Boston, the gradual increase of population and traffic would in time warrant its extension to the Connecticut, and perhaps to the St. Lawrence. The first step was a canal from Chelmsford to Boston."

The length of the canal was 27 miles; the rise from the Merrimac river at Chelmsford to the Concord river mill-pond at Billerica was 27 feet, and the fall from the mill-pond to Charles river 107 feet. There were in all 20 locks, 48 bridges over the canal, and 7 aqueducts. The work was under construction from 1795 to 1803. The cost was about $500,000, of which about one-third was for land damages.

In the month of May, 1793, several gentlemen, prominent among whom were James Sullivan, Loammi Baldwin and Jonathan Porter, associated themselves for opening a canal from the waters of the Merrimac, by Concord river or some other way, through the waters of Mystic river to the town of Boston; and a committee proceeded at once to obtain a charter from the General Court, which was signed by Governor Hancock on the 22d of June, 1793. The company organized by the choice of James Sullivan as president, and Loammi Baldwin and John Brooks as vice-presidents, and proceeded at once to make the necessary surveys to find the most eligible route between Medford river and the Merrimac.

An accurate survey in those days was almost unknown in this country, and a leveling instrument was an unheard-of thing. In January, 1793, Mr. Sullivan wrote to Gen. Knox: "We are under the neccessity of procuring a man who is skilled in the business of canaling, who can point us to the place where, under all circumstances, the canal ought to be cut. We hear that such a person is in Philadelphia, who has come to America on the invitation of Mr. Morris. We beg the favor of your inquiring whether such an artist is there, and whether we can obtain his aid." The "artist" referred to was Mr. Samuel Weston, an engineer brought up in England under James Brindley.

A preliminary examination of the ground was made in the summer of 1793 by Mr. Samuel Thompson, of Woburn. He appears to have made a very careful study of the country, but was not provided with instruments of sufficient precision to obtain the elevations accurately. In March, 1974, the directors voted to send Loammi Baldwin to Philadelphia, that he might try to get Mr. Weston to make the survey for the canal, which he succeeded in doing. The surveys were commenced in July, and on the 2d of August, 1794, a full report was made upon the work. It was found that the route of the canal would be crossed in Billerica by the Concord river, which at that point was 107 feet above tide water at Boston, and 27 feet above the Merrimac at Chelmsford, being at the summit of the canal, and able to supply water in both directions.

The work of building the canal was commenced in the spring of 1795, under the direction of Col. Loammi Baldwin the elder, and continued in the face of numerous difficulties until 1803, at which time it was so far completed as to be navigable from the Merrimack to the Charles river. The canal was 18 feet wide on the bottom, 30 feet wide a the water line and 4 feet deep. The locks were 11 feet wide and 76 feet long, with an average lift of about 7 feet. Some of these locks were made of wood, and others of stone. In the wooden locks the side walls, which were of wood, were enclosed between rough walls of masonry placed a few feet back of the timber-work. The masonry was thus the retaining wall for the earth, while the timber formed a tight box for the water, and two walls being well braced apart by struts of wood. In this way expensive masonry was avoided, but the cost of maintenance in after years was increased.

Although the Middlesex Canal was completed in 1803, great expense was incurred for many years, owing to imperfections in the banks and other parts of the work, and nearly the whole income was expended in additions, alterations, and repairs, so that no dividend was declared until Feb. 1st, 1819. One hundred assessments were put upon the shares, which with interest added to the above date, amounted to $1,455.25 on each share, making the whole cost of the canal $1,164,200. From 1819 to 1843 there were paid in dividends $504 a share, averaging $20.16 per annum, being an interest on the cost of about 1.39 per cent per annum. From the year 1819 to the time when the Lowell railroad went into operation the receipts regularly increased, so that the dividends rose from $10 to $30 a share. The year the Boston & Lowell road was opened, the receipts of the canal were reduced one-third, and when the Nashua & Lowell was opened they were reduced another third. The receipts of 1842-3 were not enough to cover the cost of repairs and current expenses.

After 1846 the traffic was small, though boats continued to run until 1852. In 1859 the charter was declared forfeited. The property was finally disposed of for about $130,000, and after the final dividend little more than the original assessments had been returned to the stock-holders.

When the Middlesex Canal went into operation it was the greatest work of internal improvement in America. It had been twenty-two years in operation when in October, 1825, DeWitt Clinton made his triumphant passage from Lake Erie to the Hudson river. Like many more recent works it produced a large indirect benefit. It was said by Daniel Webster to have added $5,000,000 to the value of the New Hampshire forests.

Commencing at the Merrimac River in Chelmsford, at a point just above the present "Middlesex" station of the Nashua and Lowell railway, the canal ascended through a connected flight of three stone locks, the location of which may plainly be seen by the deep depression on the line of the canal between the hotel and the railway, and directly in front of a small house, which was formerly the canal office. Passing under the Main street at Middlesex village, and over an aqueduct across Black Brook, it continued across the long swamp to River Meadow Brook, and thence to Billerica Mills, where it entered the Concord river mill-pond through a stone guard lock, which is still standing in the yard of Governor Talbot's mill. The tow-path was carried across the pond on a floating bridge or raft, and the canal, passing out through another guard lock just south of the road, continued on to Shawsheen River, which was crossed by a wooden trunk about 40 feet long, supported by two abutments and a pier of stone. This masonry is still to be seen directly below the common road, and from its considerable height must have been one of the most imposing works upon the line. Half a mile further south was Nichols' lock, and a mile and a half further Gillis' or Jacques' lock.

About two miles further, and near the Poor Farm, in Wilmington, the canal crossed Maple Meadow Brook, and made an abrupt bend called the Ox-Bow. A mile further south the canal entered the town of Woburn, running along close to the west side of the traveled road, passing under it near Wilson's tavern, running a little east of the village of North Woburn, crossing the road nearly in front of the Baldwin Place, and continuing through the western part of Woburn village, passing the rear of the present public library, it soon after reached the site of one of the chief engineering features on the route, the Horn Pond or Stoddard's locks.

At this point the canal made a descent of 50 feet by three sets of double locks, the middle set being separated from at above and below by a basin-like expansion or widening of the canal, by which the draft of water by locking was equalized. Half a mile further, and just south of the crossing of the outlet stream from Horn Pond, was a stone lock, and a mile and a half further, and just north of Abbajona River, were Gardner's locks, which were double.

From this point the canal ran close along the shore of Medford Pond, passed through the fine grounds of Peter C. Brooks, where there is still standing a handsome elliptic stone arch built to carry a farm road over the canal. Half a mils further south was Gilson's lock, and directly afterward the aqueduct over Mystic River. The present highway bridge rests on the piers of the old aqueduct, which have been built up to suit the grade of the present road.

From this point the canal turned east, passing under the Lowell Railroad (though the canal was built first). The wing walls of the way under the railway may still be seen cropping out of the embankment, and the bed of the canal is quite plain to the eastward of the railroad for some distance. Just in front of the old Royal House the canal passed under the road, now called Main street, and at this point a side or branch canal about a fourth of a mile long, with a lock and a basin at the upper end and a lock at the lower end, led to the river, passing under the old Medford turnpike, and entering just below the bridge. This branch was used for transferring ship timber to Mystic River.

From this point the canal followed very nearly the base of the highland, passing through what is now the Mystic Trotting Park, at the southwest corner of which it is plainly seen, then running to the sharp bend in the river at the old toll-house, it turned to the south and passed nearly through the middle of what is now Broadway Park, curved around to the base of Mt. Benedict (Ploughed Hill of Revolutionary times) and, crossing under Medford turnpike just at the foot of the present Austin street, to the north of which the bed may still be traced by the willows that grew along the bank, it reached a lock just east of the old road over Malden Bridge, and, curving around, passed the present locations of the Boston Maine and Eastern railroads a little north of Main Street, where on the east side of the railroads, the canal is plainly seen just back of the lead factory, and, crossing under Main street, it passed through a lock and entered the mill pond, from which the boats were let into the Charles River by a lock with double gates arranged to work in either direction according to the state of the tide.

Once in the river it was easy by poling, rowing or sailing to reach any part of Boston; but the canal proper occupied the area on which the Boston & Maine depot now stands, Canal Street being directly alongside of it. Hale's Map of Boston shows the old mill pond filled up, except the canal, which extended from Causeway street to Haymarket Square, and which was bridged over at Causeway and Traverse streets. This part of the canal was connected with the harbor, near what is now North Market street, by a waterway which followed nearly the present line of Blackstone street, and was large enough for canal boats, and was bridged over at Hanover and Ann (North) streets. It was through this passage that nearly all the stone for Quincy market, which came over the Middlesex Canal from Concord, N.H., was brought. The passage by Mill Creek is shown on Carleton's Map (1800).

The traffic, which was mostly freight, was carried in flat-bottomed boats, with a rectangular midship section reduced a little toward the ends. By the regulations of the canal, boats were required to be not less than 40 feet nor more than 75 feet long, and not less than 9 feet nor more than 9 feet wide. Each boat was drawn by one horse, the towing line being attached to a short mast, which was placed a little ahead of the centre. The crew consisted of one man to drive and one to steer, except in the case of boats running up to Merrimac River, which had one man to steer and two to pole. These boats carried from 16 to 30 tons, and drew about 2 feet when loaded. Freight boats were required to make 2 miles an hour, and passenger boats 4 miles. Boats of the same class going in the same direction were not allowed to pass. The usual time for freight-boats between Boston and Lowell was about 18 hours for the passage up and 12 hours coming down, and for passenger boats 12 hours going up and 8 hours coming down.

These last, which were called packets were shaped much like the present Erie Canal boats, and had a covered cabin extending the whole length, excepting a small standing room at each end for working the boat. At first there were two of these packets, one running down daily; but this not proving profitable, one was taken off, the remaining one running up one day and down the next.

A horse could draw 25 tons on the canal as easily as one on the common road. Coal, salt, slates, raw cotton and imported goods were carried to the interior, while lumber, wood and country produce came to the city. A great many rafts of lumber and large quantities of ship timber were brought down the canal, a single yoke of oxen drawing no less than 100 tons, a load which would have required 80 teams on the common road. These rafts were 75 feet long and 9 feet wide, and were generally united into "bands" of from seven to ten rafts. The company's charter allowed a tool of one-sixteenth of a dollar per mile for every ton of goods carried in the boats, and the same for every ton of timber floated in rafts. The actual rates ranged from $1 to $2 per gross ton for the 27 miles from Boston to Lowell.


The Middlesex Canal Association lost one of its early members and a good friend with the death of Arnold H. Barben of Seneca Falls, N. Y. on March 22, 1978.

A founder and past president of the New York Canal Society, Mr. Barben and other of its officers joined the Middlesex Canal Association soon after its inception, offering their assistance to the newly-formed association. With his wife Helen, Barb as many of us knew him, attended the August 5, 1967 interstate MCA meeting at which he was one of the speakers. He maintained an interest in the MCA throughout the years, sharing his knowledge of canals and the canal community. Through his efforts as an industrial historian, much canal lore was recorded and published.

Born in Watertown, N.Y. in 1905, Mr. Barben earned his degree in mechanical engineering at Clarkson Institute of Technology, Potsdam, N.Y. which on July 8th of this year awarded him posthumously the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. In 1970 he retired from Goulds Pumps, Seneca Falls, as senior vice-president and director.

Mr. Barben served on many state and local boards, giving freely of his time and knowledge to historical and ecological organizations as well as to his church. He will be missed by many.

Mary Stetson Clarke


It is with sadness that the Middlesex Canal Association announces the death during the past year of the following members:
Donald M. McFarlane, Medford, Member since 1973
Ruth Johnson, Woburn, Member since 1971
Richard B. Johnson, Boston, Proprietor since 1973
Mrs. Herbert Swift, New London, N.H., Honorary Member since 1971
Allan B. Mansfield, Brewster, Mass., Member since 1976
Herbert W. Toombs, Wilmington, Member since 1972
Wendell W. Dykeman, Annisquam, Honorary Member since 1967


BOSTON Eugenie Beal, Boston City Hall, Boston, MA 02201 725-4416
SOMERVILLE Isobel Cheney, 149 Lowell St., Somerville, MA 02143 625-4028
(Alt.) Mary Piro
MEDFORD Henry S. Condon, 72 Ravine Bd., Medford, MA 02155 483-1302
WINCHESTER * Frances B. VerPlanck (Secretary), 37 Calumet Rd.,
  Winchester, MA 01890
WOBURN * Leonard H. Harmon (Chairman), City Hall,
  Woburn, MA 01801
(Alt.) * Tom Smith (Corresponding Secretary) 935-2562
WILMINGTON * Stanley Webber, 668 Main St., Wilmington, MA 01887 658-2269
BILLERICA Charles Stearns, 318 Boston Rd., Billerica, MA 01821 663-8723
(Alt.) * Mrs. Marion Potter, Route 2 Box 42,
  No. Billerica, MA 01862
663- 8769
CHELMSFORD * Janet Lombard, (Vice-Chairman) 10 Bridge St.,
  Chelmsford, MA 01824
(Alt.) George A. Parkhurst, 7 Overlook Dr.,
  Chelmsford, MA 01824
LOWELL * Joseph Kopycinski, (Archivist) Leyden Library
Lowell University
Emily B. Tickell, 445 Merrimack St., Lowell, MA 01852
(Alt.) George Eliades, 85 Fairmont St., Lowell, MA 01852 453-1239
STATE REPRESENTATIVE Nick Paleologos, State House, Room 473G, Boston, MA 02133 727-2584
SENATOR Sam Rotundi, State House, Room 507, Boston, MA 02133 727-8822
OFFICE OF STATE PLANNING Frank Keefe, John W. McCormick Bldg., Room 2101,
  1 Ashburton Pl., Boston MA 02108
(Alt.) Curt Danforth
Carla Johnston, 23 School St., Boston, MA 02108 523-2454
(Alt.) John Connery 524-2454
Barry Dunn 525-2454
Joseph Hannon, 144 Merrimack St.,  Lowell, MA 01853 454-8021
(Alt.) Mike DiGiano
Dick Kendall, 100 Cambridge St., Boston , MA 02202 727-8893
(Alt.) Debby LeBlanc
(Alt.) Robert Yaro