Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 13, No. 3    September, 1975


In accordance with tradition, the 14th 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 September. The Association will provide a lecturer on the canal, and Scouts will serve as guides. Canal and camera enthusiasts welcome. Immediately following the walk there will be a pot-luck supper served by the Mother's Auxiliary, Troop 55, B. S. A., at the Hajjar School, Billerica, for which the donation will be $1.50. Supper reservations must be made by September 24 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 (but stay off Route 129) for 1/2 mile, then right on High Street. After crossing railroad tracks, turn left on Rogers Street. School is on the left. The four-mile woodland route will include the more obvious remains of the Canal.

Professor Dirk J. Struik points out that, even before the present series started in 1962, the A.M.C. had several times traveled the route. In 1938, Professor Struik and Clinton H. Collester led three walks all the way to Lowell. The first recorded walk was on March 26, 1921, led by Edith Coverly. This was followed by two walks in November, 1922, and one in December, 1923, led by Mr. Van Everen, who also led walks on May 30, and November 1 and 15, 1924. Finally, in July, 1924, Mr. Chamberlain led an A.M.C. group in the area of the Canal.


At the annual meeting on April 26, 1975, the following officers and directors of the Middlesex Canal Association were elected for a term of one year:

President: Wilbar M. Hoxie
Vice President: Leonard H. Harmon
Treasurer: Nolan T. Jones
Corresponding Secretary: Frances B. VerPlanck

Edwin L. Clarke
Harley P. Holden
Arthur L. Eno, Jr.
Clifford R. Jennings
Joseph V. Kopycinski
Frederick L. Lawson, Jr.
Janet Lombard
Marlene F. Schroeder


On July 10, 1975, the United States Postal Service closed the Association's post office box for non-payment of rent. This was due to an unfortunate combination of a price increase by the Post Office, the amount of which was unascertained until practically the day it was due; the absence of the Treasurer on vacation; and an automobile breakdown. We apologize to anyone whose mail was returned during this period, and assure you that our good relations with the Post Office have been resumed. The Treasurer announces that he is back in business, as all members will learn when the dues bills go out soon.


Although the Department of Natural Resources expects to have salmon in the Merrimack River again by 1980, the Association has not considered the chances of having fish in the Canal too great. Nevertheless, the Lowell Sun reported recently that the dog officer (sic) had been called to pick up a dead animal behind an industrial park in Lowell. When he arrived there he found a 300-pound, six-foot long sand shark - dead. The location of the discovery was suspiciously close to the old bed of the Middlesex Canal. If any more sharks turn up, we certainly will not have any desirable fish in the Canal - and, if there is anything to JAWS, we will probably have to close off sections of the Canal.


(We begin in this issue the reprinting of a long article on the Lowell Railroad and Middlesex Canal, which originally appeared in the July 29, 1830 issue of the Boston Weekly Messenger. In view of its length, it will take more than one issue to print in its entirety. The editor is grateful to Madeleine Eno for transcribing the article from a barely readable Xerox copy, and thus helping to save the editor's eyesight).


No. 1

It has been asked, why the Proprietors of the Middlesex Canal did not oppose the grant of a Rail Road between Boston and Lowell? There are several reasons; it will be sufficient to mention only these:

1. The grant of the Middlesex Canal does not give any exclusive privilege; it is a grant in perpetuity, with a very liberal toll, nearly double of the rate of toll, at present, taken. It cannot be pretended that a perpetual grant contains an implied prohibition, that no other mode of transporting articles, shall ever be established, in the vicinity of the canal. This case, and that of the two bridges over Charles River, are not similar.

2. The Canal Proprietors made no opposition to the Rail Road at the late session, because they are of opinion, that if the Rail Road should ever be built, the effect would not be a diminution of the income of the Canal, but, eventually, an increase of it. This opinion rests on the supposition, that the effect of a rail road would be, that which its projectors contemplate, viz. an increase of factories and of population at Lowell. So far as can be inferred from the disinclination to engage in making this road, it will not be built from an expectation of profit to stockholders, but only for the purpose of benefitting proprietors at Lowell. In such case, there would be many articles of a description which would require transportation by water, in preference to that by a rail road; and this sort of articles would increase in proportion with the wealth and inhabitants of Lowell. The growth of Lowell would increase the quantity of carrying on Merrimack river, by which Middlesex Canal must be benefited, as will be shown in further remarks. It cannot be from the transportation of goods, or any other personal property, that this rail road will be productive, because the number of tons carried daily, between Boston and Lowell, does not exceed sixteen. If the toll be one dollar a ton, it would amount, if there be 300 working days in the year, to $4800 only. The profit, therefore, must be expected from carrying passengers. From this source the canal does not, and never has derived any profit. A boat passes up and down daily for the accommodation of passengers, but the gain to the canal is not, and never was, two hundred dollars in a year. If the proposed rail road should be built, and if the accommodation for passengers thereon should be deemed preferable to any other, and if the number to be carried should be (as some persons think it would) one hundred a day, it is not improbable, that the most profitable use of the road would be, to carry passengers, and that the tonnage transportation would go by the canal; or there must be a track for goods, and another for passengers, as the rate of motion in the two cases must be very different.

It is probable that the growth of Lowell will induce the proprietors of the canal to make a branch from Billerica mills directly into the centre of Lowell, a distance of about four miles. It is supposed that this could be done at a light expense, as Concord river might be used, and that river is included in the grant to the canal. It is desirable that this measure should be adopted, because it would give a fair experimental comparison between a rail road and a canal. The water way to Lowell now, is to the head of the canal 27 miles; then by the Merrimack, about a mile and a half; then by the canal belonging to proprietors at Lowell, from the Merrimack to the centre of business, about a mile and a half, making 30 miles of water carriage. If the proposed branch were made the water way would be about 26 miles; the rail road about 24. Beginning and ending nearly at the same points, the experiment would demonstrate, which of these modes of conveyance is preferable, in our climate.

The petitioners for the rail road, and the proprietors of the Middlesex canal, have conducted with commendable liberality, as to their respective interests. The prosperity of Lowell, whether regarded as one of the most praiseworthy examples of intelligence, well used; or as a model for imitation in all similar establishments; or as one of the proofs that New England men can do, as well as men of other countries can, all must feel an interest in its continuance and improvement. There is an interest, separate from any which these parties may have, residing in the community, who are to be benefitted by public institutions. In this view, all modes of making the transportation of goods, or persons, cheaper, and effecting it in shorter space of time, deserve support, and favourable regard. If the petitioners for the rail road carry their plan into effect, the canal has no just cause of complaint; but its proprietors will feel bound to take all such measures to promote their own interests and to accommodate the public, as they may find to be proper; fully admitting the same as they may find to be proper; fully admitting the same rights on the part of the rail road. But as before intimated, and as will hereinafter be more fully shown, it is not probable that the canal, and the rail road, will ever essentially interfere with each other. It is, by no means, intended to insist that the day is a distant one, in which the inducement will be powerful enough to establish a rail road between Boston and Lowell. But we venture to entertain the opinion that if it be built, no injury will arise therefrom to the proprietors of the canal. As the subject of carrying is one which engages public attention, at this time, we shall add a few remarks as to that which is done on the canal, and Merrimack river, in which many persons are interested.

No. 2

Will rail roads take the place of canals? If this question can be answered as to England, the answer given there, may, or may not be an answer in the United States. Very different elements enter into the computation in different parts of the United States. Some experience has been derived from the Middlesex Canal, and from those established on the Merrimack, by means of which Concord, the capital of New Hampshire, and Boston, are connected. Thirty years' experience will show what has been, and is likely to be, the utility of this kind of conveyance; and possibly something may be inferred as to the utility of rail roads.

The grant of Middlesex Canal was in 1793. It gave the right to establish a canal from Merrimack River to Medford River; and afterwards, by other acts, in the place where the canal now is. The project was begun upon soon after the grant; and the canal now exists, commencing at the mills, in Charlestown, (about three-fourths of a mile northwardly of the north end of Charles River Bridge) and runs through Medford, Woburn, Wilmington, Billerica, Chelmsford, to the point on the Merrimack, where the river, from a course nearly south from its sources, turns to the northeast, in which latter course it finds the ocean below Newburyport. The canal passes about two and a half miles westwardly, of the factories at Lowell, at the nearest point. The whole length of the canal from Charlestown mills, (or landing) is twenty seven miles and a few rods. At this landing the boats leave the canal waters, and taking those of the tide, deliver their loads at landing places in the city, and receive at the same places their loading to be carried up. The summit level of the canal is Concord river, at Billerica mills, about four miles southwardly of the Lowell factories. The river runs thence to Lowell. The number of locks between the river and tide water is sixteen. The whole descent is one hundred and two feet. The number of miles is twenty-two. From Concord River to the point where the canal reaches the Merrimack, is five miles. The number of locks is four. The whole descent is thirty-two feet.

From the commencement of the Middlesex Canal up to the year 1818, all the tolls obtained, was expended in improvements, and in making the Merrimack navigable up to Concord, N. H. Several independent Corporations were established on that River, which will be after mentioned. In 1818 the proprietors of the Middlesex Canal made their first dividend, at which time the works on the River had been completed.

The Middlesex Canal is divided into 800 shares.
The amount paid as assessments is 528,000
Expenditure of all income up to 1818 in improvements, 85,000
If we compute the interest on the unproductive expenditure up to 1818 at     450,000
the sum is 1,063,000

The actual cost of each share in 1818 would be a fraction short of $1330. The dividends from 1818 to 1829, amounted to ($148) one hundred and forty-eight dollars a share, making an annual average of $12,23-100 a share. The highest dividend was $20 a share. The lowest was $8. But it is to be taken into view that the corporation incurred a debt to the amount of 7000 dollars - in consequence of a grant of a lottery to help build Union Canal on the Merrimack, which belongs almost exclusively to the Middlesex Canal, as a corporation. That debt has been paid.

It is also to be taken in view, that besides paying the lottery debt, the works have been renewed in the most substantial manner, in many places; and some of the finest and most durable works that can be made are now seen on the Middlesex Canal. We may instance particularly, the stone aqueduct, about 8 miles from Boston, which is not surpassed by any work in the world. The aqueduct over Medford River, (rebuilt last winter) is of wood; but so well constructed as to endure with very little repair for thirty years. Several stone locks have been built to replace decayed wooden ones. The duration of wooden lock is found to be about fifteen years. Stone locks require no repairs but gates once in sixteen years.

The Canal is now in fine order, excepting the locks at Horn Pond, about 10 miles from Boston, six in number, must be renewed in the course of five or six years. The materials are gradually collecting; and two locks in a season can be put down and completed between the time of closing in autumn and opening in the spring. It has been proved that a lock may be put down in winter as well as in summer. The present superintendent, Caleb Eddy, Esq., built the stone aqueduct (which will need no repairing as long as the Canal exists) without stopping the Canal a single day. He has also constructed wooden locks, and stone locks, in the season when the Canal is closed. His practice is to have every thing prepared, and ready to take its place, as favorable days for working occur, during the winter.

No. 3

Besides the grant in perpetuity to the Proprietors of the Middlesex Canal, they are enabled to hold real estate to a certain amount. They are proprietors of a valuable estate at Charlestown. Their mills, at that place, produced a yearly rent of four hundred dollars only. But this year the lease was renewed for ten years at thirteen hundred dollars a year. At the same place the proprietors own all the vacant land between the Main street, and the canal, comprising 85,000 feet; and another estate which rents for $350. They own also the Billerica mills, and some real estate connected therewith. They own the dwelling places of the lock tenders; and several wood lots on the banks of the canal; and a parcel of land at the head of the canal, adjoining the Merrimack. To these may be added two townships of land in Maine, of uncertain value.

In estimating the value of a share in the Middlesex Canal, we are to take into consideration, not only the canal from Boston to the Merrimack, which is all that a certificate nominally includes, but also, its proportion of all the real estate; the whole of Wicassee locks, and canal; 73 parts in 83 of Union locks and canals; 45 parts in 100 of the Isle of Hookset canal; and 106 parts in 157 of Bow canal; and that some portions of these works are far superior now, to what they were when first erected, from having been renovated with stone, instead of wood. The only thing to be put in the opposite scale is, that in due time, and when most convenient, some further renovations in stone will be expedient;  -and the possibility, that money enough will be raised to run a rail road to Concord; an event not likely to happen at an early day, even after it shall have been demonstrated, by experience, that rail roads are better adapted to our climate than canals.

As the Middlesex canal is thus connected with the river canals, it may be serviceable to proprietors, who have recently become such, to glance at the works on the Merrimack; and for the further reason that the subject of interior transportation is becoming one of great interest in this State, as it has long been elsewhere, it may be useful to state some facts, derived from experience. Possibly some useful inferences may be obtained from them.

The Merrimack takes its name at the confluence of the Pemigewasset, and Baker's river, near Plymouth, N. H. This point is about twenty four miles in a straight line due east from Connecticut river. The Pemigewasset comes down from the highlands which are southwestwardly of the White Hills. Baker's river rises near the Connecticut. At Wentworth, twelve miles due east from the Connecticut, it becomes "boatable," and has no fall for nearly twenty miles, in its way to the other branch, near Plymouth. From the point of confluence, the Merrimack runs nearly south by Concord, N. H. to the great Bend where the Middlesex Canal joins the river. Here the course turns northeastwardly, and passing by Lowell, and Haverhill and Newburyport, finds the ocean. The whole distance from the confluence to the Bend is conjectured to be 100 miles; by the common road, about 80 miles.

The Merrimack falls, at several points in its course, and in some places, with imposing effect. Beginning at the point where the Middlesex Canal meets the Merrimack, and going upwards, the extensive iron foundry of Gen. Leach is about two miles above. Passing the slight falls of Wicassee, with one lock, on the eastern side of Tyng's island, and about three miles above the head of the Middlesex Canal, the river is still, and uninterrupted for the space of about nine miles from Wicassee, up to the junction of the Nashawa. On the last mentioned river, about a mile and a half west of the Merrimack, are the extensive factories of Nashawa, and Indian Head. Nashawa village has increased, in no great disproportion to Lowell; and having survived recent shocks, is becoming valuable again, as a seat of business. The same uninterrupted level of the river, continues about six miles further to Cromwell's falls. From the foot of these falls, to the foot of Amoskeag falls, is about fourteen miles; and in this space the river falls, at six different places, at all of which there are dams, which traverse the river, and one or more locks, so as to constitute a series of levels. These six falls, and the levels between them, make the Union Locks and Canals, a distinct corporation, divided into 83 shares, of which the Middlesex Canal owns 73. The whole cost was about $56,772, or $684 a share. This is the unfortunate property, on which the lottery debt arose. But it is now in good order, and last year made a dividend. The works have been thoroughly repaired within the last five years. Taken by itself, this property is to be regarded as valuable mostly as it is indispensable to the works above, and below it. The country from Nashawa to Amoskeag, on the west side of the river, is sandy near the river, and does not produce much for transportation. A little back from the river on the west side, the country is a good farming region. On the east side of the river, the country is hard, hilly land, and is gradually improving in agriculture. Londonderry lies eastwardly of the river here, and has some factories, which make some use of the river, but it is inconsiderable.


Through the courtesy of Mr. Dan Silverman, the Association has issued attractive certificates of membership in the Association which are being distributed to all paid-up Proprietors. Certificates were distributed to those attending the annual meeting, and all others should have been mailed by this time. Any Proprietors who have not yet received their certificates should communicate with the Treasurer.

Perhaps it is time again to repeat that Proprietors differ from ordinary Members only in the fact that the dues are $10 a year instead of $4. The advantages of proprietorship, in addition to the certificate, are the right to vote in Association elections and the right to hold office. No formality is required other than to send $10 (or an additional $6) to the Treasurer. Your valuable support will be appreciated and your certificate will follow.

Middlesex Canal Navigation.

THE Public are informed that a large Boat, called the WASHINGTON, carrying upwards of thirty tons, covered so as to secure goods and passengers from the rain, and having two commodious rooms in her, will proceed from the head of the Canal (having laid there one day previously to receive freight) on every Thursday morning, and arrive at Charlestown, the same day before night. She will remain at Charlestown from Thursday to the next Tuesday, to receive freight, in which interim she can proceed over to Boston, to deliver freight brought down the Canal, or to take in freight to be transported into the country. The Boat is drawn by two horses, having a relief on the way, and conducted by Mr. WARDWELL. The passengers will bring their provisions on board, as there can be no delay to go on shore for refreshment. The passage money is four cents a mile, and passengers will be taken in and landed where they shall choose. The toll for Canalage, is, at the rate of 1-16 of a dollar for a ton each mile. And the expense of transportation in the boat is three cents and an half for each mile. The property will be secure from hazard or accident, and delivered to the owner or his consignee where he directs. If nobody appears to take it, the Agent of the Canal Corporation will hold it, subjected to payment of storage, until the owner or his consignee appears. The toll and transportation between Charlestown and the head of the Canal, is twenty eight miles. Goods brought to, or carried from Boston, will pay for thirty miles. Goods will be taken in and landed at Medford, Woburn, Wilmington and Chelmsford. But this must be done so as not to prevent the Boat from effecting a punctual arrival at the ends of the Canal. There are other boats ready in the Canal to proceed when there shall be business for them. The regulations suggested will apply to the other boats, subject to such alterations as experience shall dictate for all the boats employed.