Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 26, No. 1    September, 1987


Saturday, October 17th at 1:30 P.M.
Meet at Hajjar School, Call and Rogers Street, Billerica at 1:30 P.M.

Our annual Canal Walk in Billerica this year is a cooperative effort of the Middlesex Canal Association and Troop 55 of the 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 Rogers House, formerly thought to be the Toothaker Tavern. The woodland sections of the walk include the "Deep Cut" and some well-watered stretches that enable one to visualize canal boats being pulled by horses along the towpath. There will be several stops for historical commentary and many opportunities for taking pictures of the fine fall foliage.

Directions to the Hajjar School: Through Billerica Center on 3-A North, at bottom of hill bear right at the traffic lights onto Pollard Street (avoid sharp right onto Route 129). Continue straight for ½ 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.

For more information, call David Fitch at 663-7848.



TIME: 2 P.M.

PLACE: First Congregational Church (18 Andover Road, Billerica)

Directions: Take Andover Road east from Route 3A at the Center of Billerica. The church is on the left side 150 yds from Route 3A. Parking behind church or on street.

Program: Following a short business meeting, there will be a talk on the Middlesex Canal, illustrated by old glass lantern slides made early in this century. The speakers will be Louis Eno, our first president, and Fred Lawson, former Director of the Middlesex Canal Association. The meeting will conclude with refreshments and an opportunity to socialize with other members and guests.

Editor's Note: Joe Kopycinski's editorial shoes are clearly impossible to fill adequately, but I promise my very best shot. My work will be much easier if all of you can help. Please feel free to suggest items for Towpath Topics, and to send me any written material that you would like to see appear here. I am relatively new to the Middlesex Canal Association scene; I hope your experience and expertise combined with my enthusiasm can continue to make Towpath Topics an interesting and worthwhile publication.

-- Martha Hazen


All too often we hear of an organization that has done wonderful things within its area of interest, only to suddenly cease to exist, and pretty soon all of that good work is gone. It's a sad thing, and we always wonder what could have been done to prevent the loss of these organizations. In a lot of cases, the problem can be traced to a lack of involvement and "hands-on" interest by the membership. People tend to feel that the group officers will shoulder the burden for the maintenance of the organization, and, to some extent this is true. But the success of an organization depends on all of its members to fulfill the goals for which it was conceived.

The past several years have not really shown a decline in membership, but they haven't shown any real growth either, and a healthy organization is one that is growing. Attendance at the meetings is also not what it should be, and while this is not based on any actual numbers, we have seen a slow trend towards decline.

This is a great source of concern for the Board of Directors because we feel that perhaps we're not generating enough interest with our efforts. It is difficult to organize interesting programs and events based on the input of only a few people. The troublesome part is that we're all getting older. Who will take over when our ideas and energies run out? Who will preserve this masterpiece of early engineering? Every day a little piece slips away. We're constantly monitoring what remains to ensure that the efforts of those who would destroy what remains of the Canal are stopped, or at least slowed. It's not critical yet, but it gets more and more difficult.

We need help! We need more people to come forward and give us their time. There are over three hundred of you out there. Most of you must be genuinely interested in the preservation of the Canal or you would not have joined the MCA. All of you have talents and ideas that you could share with us. We need to hear from you. Please drop us a note, or contact us by phone. Or if you have a few hours, attend one of our Board meetings. We meet three or four times a year to plan upcoming events. We have a good time, and if you're lucky, you'll be treated to one of Colonel Hoxie's stories.

We need your thoughts, your energy and just a little commitment if this association is to continue and grow. We need to promote as well as preserve. There is so much work to be done, but it can't happen without people who care. Remember, "gone" is forever. You can make a difference. The choice is yours.

by Betty M. Bigwood

Jonathan M. Morris, a recipient of a six-week traveling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, spoke to members of the Middlesex Canal Association and guests at the Harnden Tavern in Wilmington on Saturday, June 20.

He traveled more than 5000 miles in the United States and Canada, visiting 15 canals in New York, Illinois, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. Upon return to England, he will be given a medal by a member of the Royal Family in a presentation ceremony at the Guild Hall in London.

"Jon" has been employed by the British Waterways Board for almost eight years, on the Shropshire Union Canal, which is almost 66 miles long. The section for which he is responsible as a lock keeper and leading canal man is 4½ miles long and contains five locks for a total descent of 33 feet. His slides were taken from a 39-mile section in his area. The pictures showed us a variety of scenes, delightful to the eye and revealing the diversity, character, and flavor of this small, rural canal. There are about 1500 miles of navigable canal in Great Britain. We saw slides of relics of the past: a well-known boat horse - Fred - decorated in his traditional tackle, rope marks on a bridge's metal edge, hand drill marks on the rocks of the deep cuttings, masons' marks on the High Bridge, and aqueducts.

We saw slides showing how the canal is currently maintained: locks, bridges, lock cottages, hotel boats, cargo boats, pubs located along the way, and repairs to the canal during the winter months. The evening passed rapidly.

We were delighted to learn that a week on a canal hotel boat costs in the $300 range per person, which includes meals. "Jon" promises to send us more information - we all want to go!


Five of the descriptive signs provided by the Middlesex Canal Commission to be located along the route of the Canal were installed during the summer. The remainder are expected to be in place before the end of the year. The location and status of each sign is as follows:


1. On wall of H. P. Hood building on Rutherford Avenue opposite the end of Baldwin Street. Date of installation by J. P. Hood has not yet been established.

2. On granite block in front of the Sullivan Square MBTA Station. Date of installation by MBTA has not yet been established.


On granite block on Temple Street near Catholic Church. It was installed in September.


1. On wall of No. 157 Main Street. Installation is expected late this year.

2. On boulder in MDC park on east side of Boston Avenue and south of bridge over Mystic River. Date of installation by MDC has not yet been established.


On granite block in park at intersection of Fletcher, Wildwood, and Palmer Streets. It was installed and dedicated in June.


On granite block beside Horn Pond on Arlington Street across from the end of Hudson Street. It was installed during the summer.


On granite block between Nos. 48 and 52 Butters Row and approximately 200 ft east of the entrance to the town water treatment plant. It was installed in July.


On granite block on north side of canal on High Street near the entrance to Quality Paper Company. Installation is delayed pending completion of the new bridge over the railroad.


On granite block on north side of Riverneck Road, approximately 1 mile from Route 129 and across from Canal Road. It will be installed later in the fall.


On granite block at northwest corner of Hadley Field on Middlesex Street in Middlesex Village. It was installed in June.

Winchester had a ceremony to dedicate its canal plaque on June 6. Speakers were Ellen Spencer, Chairman of the Winchester Historical Commission, Town Moderator John Sullivan, State Representative Sherman Saltmarsh, and Winchester Middlesex Canal Commission Representative Fran VerPlanck. Details of other dedication ceremonies will be reported later.

[The above article was contributed by Bert VerPlanck.]

The following article was written by Jonathan Morris and sent to the Bigwoods upon Jon's return to England.

by John Morris, lock keeper at Tyrley

How many times have you passed over a canal bridge and not given a thought to the different world existing below along the canals? Originally built as a transport system, canals have now taken on a new role, namely that of leisure. Whether young or old, angler or rambler, boater or archaeologist, the canals hold an attraction for all.

The Shropshire Union Canal, which threads its way along the borders of rural Shropshire and Staffordshire, and on into Cheshire, completed in 1835, was one of the later narrow canals to be built and the last that Thomas Telford engineered. It is particularly noted for its deep leafy cuttings and high embankments with fine views over the surrounding countryside.

When built it was a major construction, comparable with our present day motorways, scarring the countryside with vast earth-works. But over the last 150 years nature has invaded and it has now become the stable environment for a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Just south of the historic market town of Market Drayton lies a flight of five picturesque locks which ascend 33 feet over half a mile through a wooded sandstone cutting to open country-side. Then the canal enters a further even deeper cutting, straddled by two impressive sandstone bridges. These are Tyrley Locks, and this is where I live and work as lock keeper. In the heyday of this canal, milk was regularly traded at Tyrley Wharf, destined for the Cadbury's factory at Knighton. In recent years the Wharf buildings have taken on a new lease of life as attractive dwellings and a thriving craft shop serving our summer visitors.

A lock keeper's job has not changed very much over the last 150 years, but the nature of the traffic which passes through has changed considerably. Working outside you become very aware of the seasons even if the weather does not always reflect them, and the work I do, apart from regular tasks such as clearing weirs, maintaining water supply and keeping the locks working efficiently, tends to vary with their change. Late Autumn and Winter are very important times for us as we close various sections of the canal, in order to carry out major repairs such as lock gate replacement, culvert repairs and any other work where the canal needs to be dewatered.

In Spring and Summer I spend most of my time around the locks, keeping them tidy, painting, grass mowing, hedge cutting and giving advice to novice boaters on how to use the locks. In fact it would be quite useful to speak a few different languages, as visitors from all over the world come for holidays on the canals. Once a week throughout the year I have to inspect my four and a half mile length of canal for leaks, or anything else which might require urgent attention.

Walking this section of canal regularly gives me an insight into the wildlife and plants which inhabit it. I've almost rubbed noses with a fox on several occasions; badger sets are also in abundance, although I must say, neither of these borrowing animals live in the embankments as this would spell disaster for the canal by weakening them. Kingfishers and dragonflies are two of the more spectacular inhabitants; both are a sign of unpolluted water. In summer there are orchids to admire and wild strawberries and raspberries to eat. I once made wine out of gooseberries found on the canal bank. A distressing task, which should be unnecessary, I have had to perform many times is that of releasing birds, once a barn owl, and fish from carelessly discarded fishing lines.

Most of the boats passing through nowadays are hired, often travelling to LLangollen or round the four counties ring. After hiring boats for several years, some people get bitten by the canal bug and buy their own boat; this can be anything from a canoe or old narrow boat to a modern luxury cruiser. An easier way for the not so energetic person to enjoy a canal holiday is to book a passage on an hotel boat, where everything is done for you from meals to locks.

Next time you're passing over that canal bridge, take a break from the hectic pace of modern living, go and explore the towpath and get away from it all.