AN EARLY TRAVELER'S DESCRIPTION OF THE SOUTH HADLEY CANAL



Source: Dr. Timothy Dwight, Past President of Yale University. NOTE: THERE IS NO E-MAIL ADDRESS FOR DR. DWIGHT

According to Timothy Dwight, who traveled through the area for his health during the 1820s,

"About five or six miles above Chequapee [Chicopee] we visited South-Hadley canal, made within a few years to convey boats, rafts, etc. round the falls of South-Hadley. These falls commence about twelve miles north of Springfield, and terminate within somewhat less than ten. Before this canal was finished, the boats were unloaded at the head of the falls, and the merchandise embarked again in other boats at the foot. The removal of this inconvenience was contemplated many years since, but was never seriously undertaken until the year 1792, when a company was formed, under the name of the proprietors of the locks and canals in Connecticut river, and their capital distributed into five hundred and four shares. After the proper surveys had been made by Christopher Collis, Esq., of New-York, the business was placed under the direction of Major Benjamin Prescott, of Northampton. A dam was built at the head of the falls, following, in an irregular and oblique course, the bed of rocks across the river. The whole height of the dam was eleven feet, and its elevation above the surface, at the common height of the stream, four. Its length was two hundred rods. Just above the dam the canal commences, defended by a strong guard-lock, and extends down the river two miles and a quarter. At the lower end of the canal was erected an inclined plane, fifty-three feet in height, and two hundred and thirty in length; built of stone obtained in the neighbourhood. The face of the plane was elevated 13 and 1/2 degrees, and was covered with strong plank. The outlet of the canal was secured by a sufficient lock, of the common construction. When boats were to be conveyed down the intended plane, they passed through the lower lock, and were received immediately through folding doors into a carriage, which admitted a sufficient quantity of water from the canal to float the boat. As soon as the boat was fairly within the carriage, the lock and the folding-doors were closed, and the water suffered to run out of the carriage through sluices made for that purpose. The carriage was then let slowly down the inclined plane on three sets of wheels; the second and third sets being so much larger than the first as to keep the carriage exactly level.

The machinery, by which the carriage was raised or lowered, consisted of a water-wheel, sixteen feet in diameter, on each side of the inclined plane; on the axis of which was wound a strong iron chain, formed like that of a watch, and fastened to the carriage. When the carriage was to be let down, a gate was opened at the bottom of the canal; and the water, passing through a sluice, turned these wheels, and thus slowly unwinding the chain, suffered the carriage to proceed to the foot of the plane by its own weight. When the carriage was to be drawn up, this process was reversed. The motion was perfectly regular, easy, and free from danger. At the foot of the inclined plane another canal is formed round a small rift; and through this, boats make their entrance again into the river. The boats which pass this canal are from fifty to sixty-five feet in length, and carry from ten to twenty-five tons. Upwards of seven thousand tons of merchandise have passed through this canal in a season. The fare is five shillings a ton.

A continual series of misfortunes has attended these works from their commencement. Before the dam was finished, a considerable part of it was carried away by the stream, and the contractor was unable to rebuild it, or to make up the loss. The canal, which was made at very great expense, being cut nearly two miles through a bed of stone, and for more than half a mile to the depth of from sixteen to thirty feet through a stratum of rocks, too hard to be easily dug, and too loose to be blown, was found to be of insufficient depth. At first cables were employed to raise and let down the boats, and were found insufficient, as well as expensive. The chains, which were substituted for them, were frequently broken; and thus embarrassed the regular course of the navigation. Very disagreeable apprehensions also have been excited for the shad and salmon fisheries in the river, probably not without foundation."

Excerpted from: Dwight, Timothy. 1823. Travels in New-England and New York.

Vol. I, pp. 286-288. William Baynes and Son, London.