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Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 30, No. 1    September, 1991


(Rain date: October 6)

Sponsored jointly by MCA and AMC

Meet by 2 p.m. in Billerica by the Talbot Mills parking lot, where Rogers Street crosses the Concord River.

Our annual fall canal walk, this year along with the Appalachian Mountain Club, will follow a route of approximately 2.5 miles from the site of the floating towpath in Billerica to Riverneck Road in Chelmsford. It will possibly also include "U-drive"/short hike excursions to the Tollhouse, the areas of "Great Bend" and Black Brook Aqueduct and the outlet locks to the Merrimac River.

Directions: From Route 3 (traveling north or south), take the Treble Cove Road exit (#28) and proceed toward Billerica. In about a mile, bear left at fork. Continue to where Treble Cove Road crosses Route 3A. Proceed across and continue for about another quarter mile. This segment of Treble Cove Road winds through a labyrinth of small roads; follow the main course, generally bearing right, to a stop sign, where another road (which passes over a bridge across the Concord River within sight) joins from the right. Just beyond this intersection, bear right at a fork into Wilson (unmarked), the "lesser" road of the two. At the end of Wilson (less than a quarter mile), turn right into Lowell (at the Cambridge Tool Co. Office) and, in about 50 yards, turn right again into the parking lot.

For more information, call Bill Gerber, (508) 251-4971 (until 10 p.m.) or Fran VerPlanck, (617) 729-2557.



THE MIDDLESEX CANAL ASSOCIATION will hold its fall meeting on Sunday afternoon, November 17, 1991. MCA Proprietor and new board member, Dave Barber, will present an illustrated talk on Canada's Rideau Waterway, based on his 1989 trip on the Kawartha Voyageur, and also on other explorations.

Details of time and place will be included in a later mailing, but please mark your calendars now so that you won't miss what promises to be a most interesting program.


On Sunday, April 28, 1991, after the annual meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association, Jeremy Frankel presented a most interesting and inspiring account of his recent work with the Feeder Canal Alliance on the Glens Falls Feeder Canal in upstate New York.

The Glens Falls Feeder Canal flows into the Champlain Canal through Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, and Fort Edwards. An old feeder canal once fed Hudson River water to the summit of the Champlain Canal, but in dry times the water would run the wrong way. So a new feeder canal was built that took water from 150 feet higher. The Glens Falls Feeder Canal ran for 5 miles level, and then descended through 13 locks plus a guard lock to the Champlain.

It is now possible to canoe on the feeder canal on 5-1/2 of the 7 miles. The land is owned by New York State, which made it easier to set up the parks.

Jeremy presented an account of how he was able, with almost no money, to renovate and improve several sections of the old feeder canal - thanks to volunteer labor and donated materials. He involved all the communities along the canal, and enlisted the aid of clubs, groups of disadvantaged youths, etc. Many of the old locks have been reclaimed, and long walking and biking paths, as well as bridges have been built. Jeremy had detailed slides of his work on the 5-step lock combine, locks 6-10, and the 2-step combine, locks 2 and 3.

Jeremy's engaging personality and his persistence have really paid off in this project - may he serve as an inspiration to all of us in our ongoing battles to save what remains of the Old Middlesex Canal.


Our "Association Year" starts with the election of officers and directors at the annual meeting in April and continues to the following spring. So here I am already into my second year as president.

We are pleased to have two new directors elected this year, Bruce McHenry and David Barber. As well as a strong interest in canals, Bruce brings to us his experience in preparing exhibits during his years with the National Park Service. We are also fortunate in having Dave join us. His enthusiasm, energy, and especially his experience and intimate knowledge of developments at our sister New England canal, the Blackstone, will be a big asset to our board of directors.

There were four events this year which I feel were particularly important in helping to further the goals of our Association.

One was Charles Mower's talk at our October 28, 1990 meeting and the publication in the March issue of Towpath Topics of his "Early Canals on the Merrimack River." This has revived interest in this important adjunct to the Middlesex Canal and it has created in many of us an urge to see for ourselves the canal and lock remnants still extant between Lowell and Concord, New Hampshire.

Another significant event was the exhibit created by Gretchen and Thomas Joy, entitled "Early Canal Transportation: The Boats of the Middlesex Canal" at the Patrick Mogan Cultural Center in Lowell during March and April. This was an excellent exhibit, using material from our Association's archives, as well as models built especially for the occasion. We are grateful to the Joys and the University of Lowell Center for Lowell History for putting on this exhibit, and thus bringing history of our Canal to the public.

Woburn Historical Commission Chairman Tom Smith's excellent video tape on the Middlesex Canal was aired on Public Television during the winter. This certainly brought the Canal to the attention of many people who otherwise may not have been aware of it and its role in our history.

Carl Seaburg, a Proprietor in our Association and author of local histories, announced his intention to produce "A Pictorial History of the Middlesex Canal." The goal is to have this published in time for the Middlesex Canal's bicentenary in 1993. Carl's publication will be another significant contribution to the spread of knowledge about our Middlesex Canal.

Please note that information about our walk in October and our meeting in November is included at the beginning of this issue of Towpath Topics.

Burt VerPlanck

by Thomas Raphael

Two hundred years ago, when the Revolutionary War ended, it was impossible to transport any materials or freight any distance by land in the fledgling nation. Major travel was by ship along the coast and up the rivers as far as navigable.

The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, made a survey of the economy and industry in 1791 and found a great demand for products and goods and a creditable number of industries ready to expand and supply them. In addition, there was the desire to open the interior lands. What was lacking was the means of transportation: canals and roads. But who was to build them?

Secretary Hamilton advanced the proposal that private funds should build the canals and roads, and that they should pay for themselves from tolls to be collected from the users.

But the new Federal Government had made no provisions for the formation of corporations for business purposes which, under English law, had been granted only by the Crown. The state legislatures were the only authorities with the power to grant charters.

While history has recorded the development of canals, their importance in the growth of commerce and industry, and their demise with the advent of the railroads, little has been reported of the concurrent role played by the private building of the turnpikes during the same period:

Starting in 1792 and continuing up to 1850, there were 118 charters granted by the Massachusetts General Court for turnpike corporations. In 1805 Massachusetts passed a General Law of Canals and Turnpikes, enumerating the various procedures and conditions required of such corporations in order to grant them the Right of Eminent Domain for the taking of land for their roads and canals.

Just as canals reimbursed their builders from tolls exacted for transit by the lockkeepers, the turnpikes raised their funds from the tolls required for passage at the toll gates. All rates were established by the State Legislature at the time of the granting of the charters. After 20 years, or sooner if the tolls had paid back the original investment and returned 12% annual interest, the roads were to become free public roads.

The canal and the turnpike era came to a close at about the same period, between 1840 and 1850. Unlike the canals, the turnpikes did not give way to the railroads. In fact, the roads not only continued to be used, but even today most of them are still there, expanded and paved and sometimes relocated as the major secondary road system.

It was the turnpike corporations that failed because turnpikes were never a good business. None of the turnpikes ever made the 12% interest allowed by their charters. The problem was road maintenance. As the corporations gave up their charters, the roads were made public and were maintained by the towns, the counties, and the states.

With the advent of the automobile, the gasoline tax was instituted as a means of having the users pay for the building and maintenance, but even that has not been able to provide all the necessary funds.

Still, the turnpikes played an equally vital role in the growth of the nation as did the canals.

contributed by Dave Dettinger

A lovely day, a pleasant walkway, a series of historical view-points and recollections -- that summarizes the canal walk on May 18, 1991. The route was that of the Middlesex Canal as it passed through the town of Woburn; the walkers numbered about 45 from many communities roundabout.

The group gathered at the south end of Horn Pond, where the canal boat "General Sullivan" sits on a flatbed trailer reedy to travel. It was only a step to the 1872 waterworks station of Woburn, where the huge steam pump stands with all its burnished brass fittings, to pump no more, alas. As we rounded the end of the Pond and headed north, we realized that the canal bed was beneath our feet.

When we passed the canal marker by the shore, we imagined ourselves at the old tavern nearby, having boated from Boston for a day's outing. Further on we found some remains of the three Stoddard double locks, then traced the canal route as it runs behind the Richardson-designed library and heads for Abbott's Landing below Rag Rock in the Town Meadow.

Beyond the field we found the canal bed itself with the towpath and berm intact, except where they had been rearranged by the railroad line that replaced the canal. The railroad is only a memory, with a few telltale remains.

On we sauntered for a full mile of pleasant woodland, until we emerged at the culvert that carries canal water under Rte 128. The Ramada Inn was on our left, and in its parking lot were cars waiting to ferry us around the intersections to the historic home of Colonel Loammi Baldwin, superintendent of the Middlesex Canal. This home now houses a restaurant named Baldwin!.

Here the walk recommenced along the finest section of the canal that remains, fully watered and well kept. It was half a mile to School Street; here the tour ended, and all returned to their cars at Baldwin!.

It was a pleasure to welcome so many newcomers to the attractions of the Middlesex Canal. Their enthusiasm matched the feelings that our members have always expressed, and we look forward to seeing them again at future events.

Route of Old Middlesex Canal through Winchester


[Editor's note: The following article appeared in the Medford Historical Register in September 1933. We have obtained permission from the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror to reproduce the section of the poem given below.)

In the summer of 1829 Samuel Jones Tuck and his wife Judith took a three months' trip through New England, going, of course, by carriage, this being before the days of railroads. Mrs. Tuck wrote a rhyming diary of the trip, which was printed in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror last summer.

The trip began by a ride through the Middlesex canal, and the portion of the diary telling of this is here given, with the permission of the Nantucket paper: --

Sunday the twenty-fifth of June

It was in the morning very soon

Over to Charlestown I did ride

Likewise my husband by my side,

At 8 o'clock went to the boat

And very soon were set afloat.

We entered on the fine canal

Where there was neither sea nor swell,

Now as I sat there at my ease

Thought to myself it would you please

If I my pen and ink should use

And send you something to peruse.

The scene it is so very fine

That I can scarcely write a line,

Oh never since I've been a wife

Or I will say in all my life

More beauteous sight did ever see.

I wish you were all here with me.

Oh how delightful is the scene,

The roses red, the grass so green,

Variety here is so great

It claims us much as here we sit.

I ne'er before a Lock did see

And of them could have no idea.

It is a great curiosity indeed

To see the water in full speed,

To see how gradual and how still

The boat doth rise up on the hill,

Over us now dressed are the willow trees

And many more the eye to please,

We sailed through many a beauteous farm

And God has kept us from all harm.

How can we view these beauties dear

And not acknowledge, "God is near".

We see his goodness every day

For all what infidels may say.

If any one would wish to walk

Alongside the boat, could with us talk.

When we had reached to Woburn town

There we all stepped out on the ground

Had to pass over Locks all near together

Then we walked on one with another.

It took them more than half an hour

Then we had time for a short tour,

The Sun being o'er the Meridian Line

We thought it about time to dine.

We sat down on the grass so sweet,

And there we ate our bread and meat

Surrounded by green fields and wood

You can be sure it did taste good.

Nigh thirty passengers were there

And each one carried his own fare.

Now by this time, they had got through;

Quick to the boat then we all flew.

We passed there many hills and vallies

And then sailed through a pond of lillies

We reached the head of the Canal

Past 3 o'clock and all was well.

It was there at Chelmsford we got out

And then for Lowell took our route,

It was then two miles we had to ride

Thirteen in the coach and nine outside,

There was a mixture I tell you

And very pleasant people, too,

Some were English, some were Scotch,

The rest were Yankees in the coach.

It was then near to four o'clock

When we got nigh where we meant to atop.

There we found our friends all well

Their seat was on a pleasant hill,

It was near the aide of Concord River

And there we spent three days together.

Next day we had delightful showers

Which enlivened all the plants and flowers.

It was on an eminence that we were

And we could see four churches there,

Three of them stood quite near together

Just on the other side of the river.

Oh how romantic is the scene

When all around you looks so green!

We see hills interspersed with valleyes and trees,

I feel the sweet refreshing breeze, As I sit at the window

Taking a view around

Oh how delightful is the scene

How charming is the sound,

To hear the birds on yonder tree,

The frogs in the river cry

And many things that here we see

Are pleasing to the eye.

On Monday Morn we took a walk

Soon after break of day,

And went to see the Irish Camp

That is built of logs and clay,

A lime cask for a chimney

On top their huts is set

The upper end was stopped with sods

For to keep out the wet,

The people within them seemed content,

And all appearing well,

The women were at work within,

The men on the Canal.

Some of the rooms were very neat

With carpet on the floor

While many had to tread on clay

And wanted nothing more.

Many think that if they'd wealth

Forever happy they would be.

But a contented mind and health

Are far more preferable to me,

Now as we were returning back

We at the factory stopped,

And there we saw the men and girls

Coming out in large flocks.

The Bell it had rung seven o'clock,

To breakfast they were bound

It was a novel sight to see them

Skipping o'er the ground;

Three thousand females are at work

In this great business place

And among them you may depend

There's many a pretty face.

One thousand men they say are there

To work with them likewise.

And very swift with skill and care

The weaver's shuttle flies.

contributed by Betty Bigwood

Wilmington is indeed fortunate to have two successful conservation administrators who are excellent and ready to go to bat to help us save the remaining sections of the Old Middlesex Canal. We have had two recent events which prove how helpful they can be.

Eileen F. Chabot, Wilmington Conservation Administrator for the past two years, has had her hands full. Indeed, as in confronting an irate home owner who runs a landscape business and finds a portion of the Canal which he owns an ideal spot to dump his clippings and debris - especially since the cost of land fills is steadily increasing - she becomes a formidable opponent. In fact, sometimes she takes along a police officer - just in case. First she sends a formal registered letter citing EPA wetland regulations; then follow telephone phone calls and personal visits; and, if all that seems to fail, off they go to court. In Wilmington, we are almost at the last stage.

At the Lake Street Bridge, Mrs. Chabot issued a Cease and Desist Order to a local builder when, while digging for a sewer pipe line in wetlands, his crew pumped water which was full of silt directly into the Canal. Regulations require that the silted water first be put into a retaining ditch to let the silt settle before pumping to another area. Also the area needed more bales of hay to protect it. Cessation or delay of multi-million dollar projects causes tempers to fly, but Mrs. Chabot stood her ground, and the builder complied with the regulations.

We thank you, Mrs. Chabot, for helping us!

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