Middlesex Canal Association
P.O. Box 333, Billerica MA 01821

Volume 34 No. 1
September 1995

ERIE CANAL BECKONS by Dave Dettinger
MONEY IN 1793 (or Not Worth a Continental) by Thomas Raphael

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14, 1995 at 1:30 P.M.
(Rain date: Sunday, October 15)
Jointly sponsored by MCA and AMC

The Fall 1995 walk will explore the part of the Old Middlesex Canal in Medford and Winchester. Please plan to join us for this easy hike along the route of the Canal.

Meet at 1:30 p.m. at the MDC parking lot by the beach at the northeast comer of Upper Mystic Lake in Winchester, off the Mystic Valley Parkway.

Trip leaders: Bill Gerber (508/251-4971) and Roger Hagopian (617/8617868)


The January meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association will feature a talk by Proprietor and Board Member Dave Barber on the Blackstone Canal. This ran from Worcester, MA to Pawtucket, RI, and there are many places where the old Canal can be seen and enjoyed.

A mailing will be sent, first class, to all MCA members well before the date of the meeting, giving the particulars.


Members of the Association are saddened to hear of the death on September 1, 1995, at age 62, of our good friend and fellow member, who moved to Scituate when he retired. For many years he served the Middlesex Canal Association as a member and Director, but with advancing years he reluctantly gave up traveling and many of his activities. We have missed him at meetings for the past few years.

Our sympathy reaches out to his wife, Clare, and their three daughters and four grandchildren. At the funeral, held at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, one granddaughter spoke with emotion of their recollections of their grandfather and his many interests. Our Association, to which Mr. Wood gave so many years, was represented by Edith and Wilbar Hoxie, and Edith Choate. Burial was at Mount Wallaston Cemetery, Quincy.


On Saturday, November 4, 1995, the Middlesex Canal Association has planned a lively and varied program to celebrate the third year in the bicentennial decade of the Middlesex Canal. To be held at the Lowell National Park Headquarters, the day will begin with a Colloquiurn in the homey auditorium there, featuring two topics of interest.

The first talk will be a retrospective review of accomplishments during 1795, as it might have been presented by the Canal Superintendent, Col. Loammi Baldwin. Dave Dettinger has assembled from the records in the adjacent Mogan Center an illustrated briefing on the work undertaken. The talk will cover the route chosen, surveying tools, construction techniques, and working conditions; in short, Dave will attempt to recreate the actual experience of this innovative venture.

This talk will be followed by a break for refreshments and discussion. At this time, information will be provided describing restaurant options nearby and outlining tours of the Lowell National Park available during the afternoon.

The second talk will be presented by Tom Raphael. Tom has explored the opportunities and the funding available from various sources to enhance the Canal beyond its present image. Building on the Middlesex Canal Heritage Park Feasibility Study of the Middlesex Canal Commission of 1980, he will describe actions that may be taken further to preserve and restore the novel features that were developed in this early period. David Soule, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and Robert Flynn, Executive Director of the Northern Middlesex Council of Government, will explain the process and the assistance they can provide in reactivating the Middlesex Canal Commission for this work.

The Colloquium will end at noon, and a directory of nearby restaurants will be provided for lunch options. Attendees are encouraged to join afternoon tours of the Lowell Historical Park as outlined at the time of the refreshment break.

Saturday, November 4, 1995

Boott Mill Auditorium
400 Foot-of-John St.
Lowell National Park

9:30    Loammi Baldwin's Progress Report for 1795
Presented by David Dettinger, Proprietor
10:30        Refreshments; Lunch and Tour Information
11:00        Planning the Future of the Middlesex Canal
Presented by Thomas Raphael, Proprietor
Assisted by David Soule, MPAC, and Robert Flynn, NMCG
12:00        Adjournment, followed by lunch (on your own) and tours of the Lowell National Park.

 A mailing, including directions for driving to the Colloquium, will be sent to all members of the MCA at a time nearer to the event.


1995 September 3, Amherst, NH

We had about 100 people on our spring walk in Woburn on April 29th. There had been an article in the Northwest Section of the Boston Sunday Globe which contributed to the good attendance. A reporter from the Lowell Sun is planning to write an article shortly before our Colloquium in November so we anticipate some encouragement from the news media.

Our annual meeting was on May 7th in the Methodist Church in Winchester. The program was the trip on the English narrow canals by four of our board members. The incumbent officers were reelected and Tom Dahill of Arlington and Sidney Bowhill of Concord were added to the Board. We wish to welcome them to our board.

There seems to be some movement in programs that may fund some preservation of the Middlesex Canal. Board member Tom Raphael has been working on this and is getting good results. Part of the program for our November 4th Colloquium will address this subject. We will be taking steps to reactivate the Middlesex Canal Commission.

As part of our outreach program we have been planning to hold meetings in towns where our membership is low and then invite the local historical society. For the annual meeting I tried to find a suitable meeting place and organization in Woburn and I was not successful. If anyone knows of a suitable location and group in Woburn I would gladly accept the suggestions.

Delivery of the meeting notices by bulk mail has been erratic as described in my last report. A number of people, including me, received the notice for the January meeting well after the meeting. The board decided to mail such notices first class so there should be great improvement. Towpath Topics will continue to be mailed bulk rate.

We have given Olin Chemical Corporation permission to install a pollution monitoring well on our property in Wilmington. This is described in an article in this issue.

Nolan Jones

gathered by Betty Bigwood

1. The Middlesex Canal construction was one of the first major engineering projects in the United States.

2. It is the oldest regional traction canal (boats pulled by horse, mule, or oxen) in the United States.

3. It was dug by hand (using pickaxes, shovels, wheelbarrows) a distance of 27 miles from Charlestown to Lowell over a period of ten years (1793-1803).

4. To raise money to build the Canal, the first American Corporation that sold shares was formed.

5. The first eminent domain in the United States was used to acquire land for the path of the Canal.

6. The first surveyor's Wye level ever used in America was brought by William Weston, an English Civil Engineer, who consulted with Canal officers in 1794 for accurate leveling.

7. Ground was broken September 10, 1794 at the west bank of the Concord River in North Billerica. To speed up work, Superintendent Loammi Baldwin introduced the practice of small individual contracts for short sections of excavation, thereby enabling multiple sites to be dug simultaneously.

8. The Concord River in Billerica was the primary source of water for the Canal. From Billerica, the land level dropped 26 feet north to Lowell and dropped 100 feet down to Boston. This level change in the Canal was resolved by the use of locks between levels.

9. The dump cart, the forerunner of the dump truck, was invented to speed up the movement of vast quantities of dirt.

10. The first use of hydraulic cement in the United States was to mortar the granite blocks in the Merrimack River Locks. This special cement was shipped from St. Eustatius Island in the West Indes.

11. It took a horse and wagon 3-4 days to carry 2-3 tons from Charlestown to Lowell over poorly maintained roads. A canal boat could make the same trip in one day carrying 20 times that of a wagon load. This improved transportation dramatically but could not operate in the winter.

12. Loammi Baldwin II, son of the first Superintendent of the Middlesex Canal Corporation, is considered the Father of American Civil Engineering. He had his early practical training while watching and helping his father supervise the building of the Canal. He later went on to build the first dry dock in this country in Charlestown, thereby enabling the repair work to proceed without respect to tide changes.

13. The Canal ceased operating in 1853. As with most canals, it was put out of business by the railroad, which could operate around the clock all year long and carry more cargo faster. By a sad quirk of circumstances, Canal boats carried the granite ties and cast-iron rails to build the railroad track. Also, the first locomotive, made in England, was transported - in pieces - by the Canal to machine shops of Lowell's Proprietors of Locks and Canals, where it was assembled.

14. The Route of the Middlesex Canal is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1967, it was designated the third in a series of National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.

by Dave Dettinger

A three-day cruise on the Erie Canal from Syracuse west to Tonawanda attracted several members of the Middlesex Canal Association this year. Arranged by the Canal Society of New Jersey, the party boarded the Emita II, run by Mid-Lakes Navigation Co., of Skaneateles, for a leisurely jaunt through the rural countryside of western New York State. Dave, Carolyn and Doug Dettinger joined the first group August 18-20, while Nolan and Joan Jones were scheduled for a second offering on September 25-27.

The present route of the Erie Canal portion of the New York State Barge Canal System follows much of the original canal, but takes advantage of river channels where feasible. We found ourselves in the Seneca River as we left Syracuse, even crossing an enlargement called Cross Lake. Soon we entered the Montezuma Marsh, now a wildlife area; we saw birds aplenty, but no animals.

Along the way to Newark, New York, we passed through a dozen locks, all well maintained. At our hotel that evening, Dan Wiles, our captain and the son of the founder of Mid-Lakes, presented a narrative on the origins of the Erie Canal and its prime mover, Dewitt Clinton, along with a perspective on future prospects for this historic waterway. The next morning began with a tour of the last lock we had passed, featuring the 90-year-old power system with a direct current generator built to last forever! Within walking distance were the remains of the earlier lock with its impressive stonework (and its reliance on water and man power).

Soon we entered the "Long Haul," 64 miles without a lock, but with aqueducts and embankments that clearly required immense effort to construct. The high point of the cruise came at Lockport, where the original five-lock combine, still visible, sat adjacent to the present two-lock version. Both sets achieve a 50-foot lift over the Niagara Escarpment. From here on, pleasure boats were everywhere on the final run to Tonawanda, beyond which the Canal enters the Niagara River in its way to Buffalo.

The return by bus to Syracuse took less than three hours, as compared with the three days spent "canaling," but what a contrast! The relaxed pace and pleasant surroundings of a canal cruise are hard to match, while the delicious meals aboard the Emita II were a delight.


On Sunday, May 7, 1995 at 2 p.m., the Annual Meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association was convened at the Crawford Memorial Methodist Church in Winchester. During the brief business meeting, the members elected a new Board of Directors and new Officers, as listed on p. 16 of this newsletter.

Following the meeting, Nolan Jones presented an illustrated talk on "Navigating the Narrow Canals of England and Wales," describing a trip Nolan and Joan Jones, Martha Hazen, and Bruce McHenry took on a U-drive narrow boat in the summer of 1994.

by Nolan Jones

The Olin Chemical Corporation asked for permission to put a pollution monitoring well on our land in Wilmington. Olin and I have had several telephone discussions and exchanges of fax messages. Two such wells were installed on our land in 1992 without permission from us. Olin had obtained permission from the town, since they thought that the wells were on town land. They were embarrassed to find that the earlier wells are on our land.

The wells are unobtrusive -- a square metal post about five inches square, one about four feet high and the other about three feet high. The two are located about ten feet apart, 50 feet to the west of the berm, 100 yards north of Maple Meadow Brook. The third will be 50 feet north of the other two. Most people walking on the canal bed or berm would never notice these wells.

One well samples the water at the top of the aquifer. The second well samples the water at the bottom of the aquifer on the top of the bedrock. The new well will be drilled into the bedrock to determine if fractures in the bedrock provide a pathway for the pollution constituents.

A earlier owner of the property in Wilmington, now owned by Olin, had disposed of a "dense waste stream containing among other chemicals chrome sulfate, sulfuric acid, urea, ammonium sulfate and sodium bromide" into unlined pits/lagoons. This material sank into the soil and water table to form a dense plume. The site is a priority site within the Mass Dept of Environmental Protections Master Contingency Plan. Olin, as current owner, is required to investigate and remedy these problems.

We have given Olin permission to leave the old wells and install the new well. The agreement is subject to review in five years.

Map showing the location of the Olin wells in Wilmington


[Excerpts from Railroads and American Economic Growth by Robert W. Fogel (Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore & London, 1964]
Review by Roger K. Hagopian

In his book Railroads and American Economic Growth, Robert W. Fogel contends that the railroads did not play the crucial role in the development of the country's industry and economy. He implies that America would have achieved nearly the same level of prosperity utilizing other modes of transport.

Fogel writes, "The railroad was not born with the distinction attributed to it by later generations. Far from being viewed as essential to economical development, the first railroads were widely regarded as having only limited commercial application.... The prevailing opinion of the 1830's appears to have been expressed in a report ... canals are clearly the most advantageous ... in regard to cost and maintenance and conveyance at moderate velocities."

According to the author, one decade later most of the early doubts about railroads had disappeared. By 1890 railroads had completely dominated city-to-city freight traffic. He writes, "In 1851-1852 boats carried six times as much freight as railroads; in 1889-1890 railroads carried five times as much freight as boats."

Fogel goes on, "Some scholars have departed from this implicit tendency.... A case in point is Kent T. Healy's pithy critique of the proposition that railroads were responsible for the development of the trans-Appalachian West. Despite its slowness and uncertainty, water transportation rather than the railroad, said Healy, brought about the astonishing redistribution of population and economic activity of the ante-bellum era ... before a single railroad had penetrated the area."

Carter Goodrich writes, "... it must not be forgotten that the initial reduction in costs provided by canal transport ... was more drastic than any subsequent differential between railroads and canals. The effect of this reduction was decisive for the opening of substantial trade between the east and west."

Fogel continues, "It must be thought that ... railroads were essential for the development of agriculture in the prairies. Such an inference would be erroneous. The prairies were settled at a time when the railroad had achieved clear technological superiority over canals. As a consequence, the movement for canal construction which played such an important role in the development of Ohio and the states east of it was aborted in the prairies ... a relatively small extension of the canal system would have brought most of the productive agricultural land into the region of feasible commercial agriculture."

To Fogel, "It seems quite likely that in the absence of railroads much of the capital and ingenuity that went into the perfection and spread of the railroad would have been turned toward the development of other cheap forms of land transportation. Under these circumstances it is possible that the internal combustion engine would have been developed years sooner than it actually was…. While most such possibilities of a speed-up in the introduction and spread of alternative forms of transportation may be too speculative to permit meaningful quantification, there are two changes about which one can make fairly definitive statements. They are the extension of the existing system of internal waterways and the improvement of common roads. Neither of these developments required new knowledge. They merely involved an extension of existing technology."

He postulates, "A system of canals, constructed in the absence of railroads, would have brought almost all of the agricultural land in the Midwest within 40 straight-line miles of a navigable waterway .... With respect to water supply ... no canal in the proposed system would have required more than 65 % of the water available at the summit ... a highly favorable situation .... Built across the terrain of the North Central states and Texas, the average rise and fall on the proposed system would have been 29% less than the average rise and fall on those canals that were successful enough to survive railroad competition through 1890."

Fogel also writes, "If society had to ship by water and wagon without the railroad it could have altered the geographical locus of agricultural production; some different cities would have entered this new scenario."

Regarding the problem of canal shutdown for as long as five months during the winter, Fogel says, "No less an engineer than R. H. Thurston pronounced as feasible a plan to keep the Erie Canal in operation by the application of artificially generated heat."

The map below shows Fogel's proposed canal system extension primarily ly westward from the Mississippi River. The canals and feeders total approximately 5, 000 miles. The map is adapted from one that appears on page 93 of Fogel's book.


In June, my husband, Bruce McHenry, and I traveled the Rideau Canal across Ontario with Ontario Waterways Cruises on their wonderful houseboat, the Kawartha Voyageur. Those of you who have taken this trip or the TrentSevern trip also offered by the company, will remember the Voyageur as a charming boat carrying about 24 passengers. During the winter of 1994-1995, the owners, the Ackerts, had enlarged the capacity of the boat to 37 passengers by making a crosswise vertical cut through the center and spreading the two halves apart. The resulting boat is as charming as the old one, and has some added amenities, like more shade on the lower deck bow, larger public rooms, an elevator between lower and middle decks, and a larger top deck.

An extra day was added onto the trip from Ottawa to Kingston, since it was still early in the season, and we actually embarked at Montebello, a spectacular old resort hotel about a day's journey downstream from Ottawa. The Ottawa river was in flood, making traveling against the current, as we did, somewhat difficult. But we arrived and tied up underneath the Canadian Parliament buildings at the foot of the 8-lock flight bypassing the Rideau river's beautiful waterfall into the Ottawa River, just about sunset.

In the morning, we set out to navigate the spectacular flight. By about the fifth lock, it was quite clear to our captain, Marc Ackert, that something was very wrong with the propellers and/or the transmission. So, we tied up in the top lock, and Marc, suited up in his scuba gear, went searching underneath the boat to see if something had fouled the propellers. Perhaps unfortunately, the problem was not so simple. In a few hours, the culprit was found. The new, more powerful, propellers had put too much torque on the old transmissions (in spite of advice to the contrary from a prestigious marine architectural firm) and a gear in the starboard one had snapped, throwing pieces into the rest of the gear train. What to do?

A new transmission was not available anywhere in the hemisphere. But while the company laid on a wonderful bus trip to see Ottawa, Marc lined up parts for a new transmission in Vancouver to be flown east on the next plane, and a genius resident in Halifax who actually claimed he could rebuild a transmission in 10 hours, given a shop and, of course, a plane ticket. Marc located the shop, and, at 10 p.m. parts, genius, and Marc convened in a location just outside of Ottawa. When the early-rising passengers came on deck at 6 a.m., the new transmission was almost in place. Marc tried it out, declared it functional, and off we went.

We pushed hard that day to try to regain some of our lost time. Up the beautiful Rideau river, past all the elegant summer houses, we cruised, arriving in Merrickville in the very last stages of dusk. The wonderful lockkeepers, remembering Marc's and his father's many kindnesses to them, stayed on duty well past their usual quitting time.

The next evening saw us, having passed through the beautiful Rideau Lakes, in Westport, and caught up to schedule. But that was not the end of it. Marc did not want to endanger the transmissions further, and had decided to put the old propellers back on the shafts until a solution was found to the whole problem. The location for this change would be the next evening at Jones Falls. There would be a flight of 3 locks, and we could commandeer all 3 after the canal officially closed at 5 p.m. The technique was to back the boat down into the middle lock with the upper gate closed and the lower one open. This way, one could stand on the bottom of the middle lock chamber, under the boat, and work on the propellers and shafts. Marc enlisted the aid of another buddy, a scuba diver with a two-way radio in his gear, and in about an hour the two of them had the old propellers on and ready to go. The passengers, in the meantime, were wonderfully treated to French Canadian songs sung by one of the lockkeepers accompanying himself on a squeeze box.

After the "surgery" was completed, we backed through the last lock and tied up just below, although not until Marc had turned the boat 3600 on the "new" old propellers just to get the feel of them. The next morning, Marc's brother John sent the larger propellers back to the manufacturer to be reworked. (We heard subsequently that the new propellers could never be worked to be appropriate, and new ones would have to be ordered.)

The following day, we traversed the Cataraque River on our final leg to Kingston. I think our many adventures had brought us all closer to each other, and we all very much appreciated the fact that Marc kept us completely informed about what was happening. Although Ontario Waterways apologized for any inconvenience we may have felt, I think most of us found the trip even more interesting than others we have taken in the past.


On Saturday, April 29, members and guests assembled at Baldwin's Restaurant in Woburn for the annual spring walk along some watered pieces of the old Middlesex Canal in Woburn. From Baldwin's, the group visited Baldwin Green, where there is a statue of Loammi Baldwin and also a replica of a Middlesex Canal passenger boat. We then walked north, in almost rainy conditions, along a well-preserved section of the Canal. After returning to Baldwin's mansion, we transferred our cars to the parking lot of the motel just south of Rte 128. From there southward is another fairly well preserved section of Canal, which the group walked. Clearly this section needs some maintenance, and many of us collected bags of trash along the way. No one seemed to mind the dubious weather, and everyone seemed to enjoy reacquaintance with the old Middlesex Canal remnants.

MONEY IN 1793 (or Not Worth a Continental)
by Thomas Raphael

The venture to build the Middlesex Canal was surprisingly easily financed by the issue of notes of ownership with the prospect of both appreciation of value and return of interest. This wealth accumulated in an interesting way.

In the Colonies, the British Pound was the standard coin but all European coins were freely in use and accepted at the going exchange rates among businessmen and traders.

In 1775, the Continental Congress approved a Continental Dollar Coin; however, since it had no assets nor the right to tax, the Congress began printing scrip or bills of credit in various dollar denominations to finance the revolution.

In 1787 the new Constitution gave Congress the power to tax and to coin and print money and to regulate the value relative to foreign currency. The old scrip or bills of credit were often sold or exchanged for dollars at a fraction of their face value. This gave rise to the phrase "not worth a Continental." However, many wiser men accepted and accumulated the Continentals at reduced rates in the hope of an ultimate redemption.

In 1790 Congress passed the "Funding Hill of 1790" which issued $50 million in 4% interest securities which it used to redeem the debt of Continental scrip at full value to current holders. Many got rich. In 1791 Congress established the Bank of United States with branches in all the States to issue currency and in 1793 built the first Mint in Philadelphia to issue gold coins.

Thus, everyone who had helped in the war of independence from veterans, merchants, manufacturers to traders and farmers who had been paid in Continental scrip and held it, as well as those who had accepted scrip at reduced value, suddenly found themselves with considerable wealth. The country was short of everything that people needed. Opportunities abounded. Entrepreneurs easily found backers, as did the Proprietors of the Middlesex Canal.


Nolan T. Jones
16 Courthouse Rd.
Amherst, NH 03031
Bettina Harrison
19 Priscilla La.
Medford, MA 02155
Howard Winkler
10 Sleepy Hollow La.
Arlington, MA 02174
Recording Secretary
Jean Potter
82 Bartlett Ave.
Arlington, MA 02174
Corresponding Secretary
David Fitch
15 Andover Rd.
Billerica, MA 01821
William H. Drury
24 Buckman Dr.
Chelmsford, MA 01824


David Barber
16 Ballou Rd.
Hopedale, MA 01747
Betty Bigwood
300 Chestnut St.
Wilmington, MA 01887
Sidney Bowhill
555 Annursnac Hill Rd.
Concord, MA 01742
Edith Choate
429 West St.
Reading, MA 01867
Thomas H. Dahill, Jr.
223 Broadway
Arlington, MA 02174
David Dettinger
3 Penn Rd.
Winchester, MA 01890
William Gerber
16 Princess Ave.
Chelmsford, MA 01863
Roger Hagopian
9 Cummings Ave.
Lexington, MA 02173
Martha Hazen
15 Chilton St.
Belmont, MA 02178
Wilbar Hoxie
31 Green St.
Reading, MA 01867
Carolyn Osterberg
79 Nichols St.
Wilmington, MA 01887
Tom Raphael
90 Grove St.
Winchester, MA01890
Burt VerPlanck
37 Calumet Rd.
Winchester, MA 01890

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