Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 22, No. 1    October, 1983

Middlesex Canal at the Merrimack River
(From Survey of the Middlesex Canal, Field Book #5)


Eleven M.C.A. members enjoyed a delightful Erie Canal Trip June 27 - July 1st. Our superb trip planner and M.C.A. President Nolan Jones made all the smooth as clockwork arrangements. Our New Jersey canal hosts provided a most knowledgeable canal historian, Lance Metz, to accompany us and who gave not only canal history but fascinating Colonial, American Revolution and New York State history.

Each of the early forts intrigued us: Fort Hunter, Fort Klock, Fort Herkimer, Fort Johnson and Fort Stanwix. The National Park Service at Fort Stanwix made a lively presentation of fort life in those terrifying frontier days. Guides were dressed in marvelously authentic costumes as soldiers and a live-in wife pretended they were living there in the 1700's. They offered vivid details of sneaking through the lines to obtain food and water, of how and what they cooked. The soldiers and prisoners described their everyday life in great and fascinating detail, even demonstrating what you put in a blanket role and how, indeed, you rolled it, and grand officer gossip. Each Fort treated us to fine slide presentations.

We were amazed to hear of the tremendous power of Sir William Johnson (1715-1774) appointed by the British Crown to be Superintendent of Indian Affairs. His most amicable relations with the Indians led him to learn Indian languages and be adopted by the Mohawks. He wielded control of the Six Nations (Iroquois). From the impressive Court House in Johnstown he ruled over 1/3 of the Colonial America. This talented man unfortunately provided us with a diabolical son, Sir John Johnson, who was notorious as the most hated man in America, especially after sabotaging the beloved patriot, Major Rogers, during the Rangers' western discovery expeditions. Like Woburn's Count Rumford, this hated traitor was banished and the extensive Johnson holdings confiscated. The Johnstown Court House has been in continuous use.

We were surprised that the original Erie Canal had such sparse remains. It would seem we had almost as much to show of our original canal remains on our 27¼ miles as they on their lengthy Erie. Surely, one of the most hair-raising and precarious rides I have ever encountered was a backwards ride on our great bus. It seemed like a mile, but I am sure it was more like ½ mile on a one lane dirt road, the kind with grass in the middle and frightening ditches on each side. I held my breath the whole way. All this to see an aqueduct and remains of the original Erie "Clinton's Ditch". It was an experience to make you grit your teeth from the danger but be happy you were there to see it all. The aqueduct was of the "Improved" Erie.

No sooner was the original "Clinton's Ditch" completed than it was already inadequate to cope with the hoards of homesteaders who gave the canal its colorful history on their courageous treks West. Thus the "Improved Canal" usurped its place, very much wider and grander and now, of course, the great New York State Barge Canal. At the Guy Park Manor, home of Sir Guy Johnson, we could watch the today canal boats enter and leave the Lock #11 as we ate our picnic lunches. But at Little Falls at Lock #17 we had the great good luck of arriving just as the immense 40.5 foot locks opened for a small craft to enter. As the waters of the Mohawk swished into what now seemed a deep abyss, we exclaimed as we ran up and over the great numbers of steps so as not to miss one single experience at the U.S.'s second highest locks.

We had two canal boat rides, one a horse drawn one at the Fort Hunter State Park, fitted out like Sturbridge Village with homes of the canal period to visit and a fine museum. The second ride on the "improved canal" was at Camillus Erie Canal Park on a motor launch. Here the owners had restored a charming canal store and provided us with a warm friendly escort to an aqueduct and very overgrown remains of "Clinton's Ditch".

One of the most fascinating canal sights of all was the weigh station at Syracuse. There the Oswego Canal from Lake Ontario and the Erie Canal meet. In the Erie "improved canal" days, the boats entered a special lock to be weighed before proceeding up or down. A charming museum was there and most fascinating of all, the original plans and letters of the architects of the canal. We loved poring over these original documents of the Erie Canal.

Beyond one of the aqueducts we could see the ovens on the steep banks where they processed the hydraulic cement so important in the building of the canal locks.

Before we finally left this beautiful country filled with so many Baronial fort/homes all serviced by slaves and mostly of the extraordinary Johnson families, we visited two lovely Palatine stone churches. Here the lines were simple, plain arched windows and the inside roof structure shaped like the ribs of a large vessel; and then, of course, the high pulpit and white box pews.

Nolan's trips are super special. Hope you'll join the next one!


The Board of Directors recently combined a meeting and a dinner at the new Baldwin's Landing restaurant in Woburn. It was refreshing to see the adaptive reuse of the old Baldwin mansion. The restoration was done with taste and originality. The double staircase restoration was stunning. You got the feeling that you were invited to a meal by old Loammi himself.

Prof. Burton Segall of the University of Lowell's Civil Engineering Department has agreed to locate the locks at the Merrimack River end of the Middlesex Canal. An old map from the City of Lowell Engineer's Office will be the key to solve this long-standing mystery. I hope to have a full report in the next issue of "TOWPATH TOPICS".

The Eben Adams house, on Baldwin St., which had been restored and then devastated by fire, has been saved. The back part, supposedly part of the [incomplete]


Saturday, October 22, 1983 - 1:30 p.m.

Meet at: Hajjar School - Call & Rogers Streets, Billerica

Join us for our annual walk with our friends from the Appalachian Mountain Club and Troop 55, Boy Scouts of America.

The portion of the canal route that we cover in this 4-mile walk includes some of the most significant extant remains of the Canal. From the Hajjar School, we walk to the Concord River mill pond, site of the famous floating towpath and then move along the canal route passing the Toothaker(?) Tavern(?), subject of an interesting article in the October 1981 Towpath Topics. The woodland sections of the walk include the "Deep Cut" and some well watered stretches that enable one to visualize canal boats being pulled from the towpath. There will be several stops for historical commentary and many opportunities for taking pictures of the fine fall foliage.

Following the walk, a spaghetti supper will be served at the Hajjar School by the Troop 55 Mothers' Auxiliary (Donation $2.50). We will also show some slides of the Canal and highlights of previous walks. Please make reservations for the supper only by October 20 with Larry Henchey (245-4675) or Edith Choate (944-0129).

Direction to Hajjar School: Through Billerica Center on 3-A North, at bottom of hill bear right at traffic lights onto Pollard Street, (avoid sharp right onto Route 129). Continue straight for 1/2 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 (1/10 mile from tracks) at corner of Rogers and Call Streets.



This has been a very active summer for us. The Baldwin Landing restaurant opened in the Baldwin mansion on June 4th with suitable festivities. The house is elegant, the decor is gracious, and the food is good. We recommend it for dinner. The Colonel Baldwin canal boat was re-launched to aid in the opening festivities and has been carrying passengers again after an absence of three years.

A few of us went to the Roebling Symposium in Port Jervis, New York, and then visited the Canal Society of New Jersey annual meeting and picnic. Twelve of us had a very enjoyable tour of the Erie Canal with the Canal Society of New Jersey the last week of June. A brief story of that trip is found in this issue of Towpath Tropics. A longer story of the trip with color slides will be most of our fall meeting.

In the last issue we put in a short "canal calendar" of events being offered by other canal societies. The list is abbreviated, only including those events that I think that our members would like to attend. We exchange newsletters with several other groups so please let me know if you would like more information on any of these activities, or those not listed.

The annual canal walk comes up soon. That is always a fine time to take a leisurely walk along the historic tow path with congenial canal buffs. We look forward to a nice day.

Nolan Jones
Nolan Jones

LETTER TO CALEB EDDY - From a famous lawyer
LETTER TO CALEB EDDY - From a famous lawyer

Fall Meeting Sunday, November 20, 3:30 PM
Unitarian Church, Billerica

"The Erie and Other Canals"
by Nolan Jones

Twelve members of the Middlesex Canal Association toured part of the Erie Canal with the Canal Society of New Jersey in June. This meeting will feature a slide show of that trip plus a scene or two from six other canals visited by our president this summer.

Please come and bring a friend.

Notable events planned by other canal groups:

October 15, 1983 - Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Canal Historical Society Annual Meeting, Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, NY, 6:30pm.

October 29, 1983 - "Heritage Walk", Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Association, Hancock, Maryland, 10am-10pm.

November 18, 1983 - "Film Night - Trolleys, Trains, and Canals", Canal Society of New Jersey, Morris Township, NJ, 7:30pm.

March 31, 1984 - "Third Annual Canal Symposium", Easton, Pennsylvania.

April 15-28, 1984 - "Justice Douglas Reunion Hike", Cumberland to Washington, C&O Canal Association.

For information on these or other events, please call Nolan Jones, Winchester (617) 729-4234.