Spring '11

From the President

By David G. Barber

One of the appeals of canals is there is always more to discover, either individually or collectively. One example of this is a simple question like the number of locks on a particular canal. This is more a question if the canal had a long life.

Using the Delaware Division Canal in Pennsylvania as an example, the locks are numbered 1 through 24. So, the number is 24? But, Lock 1 is at the upper end of Bristol Basin and there is an unnumbered outlet lock between the basin and the tidal Delaware River. That’s 25! But later, a connecting lock was built below New Hope so that boats could cross a pool in the river to reach the feeder for the Delaware and Raritan Canal. That’s 26! But, not only were Locks 8, 9, 10, and 11 at New Hope individually rebuilt to wider dimensions to take two boats at a time, but Locks 15/16, Smithtown, and Locks 22/23, Groundhog, were combined and widened. That returns the number in the system to 24. However, that doesn’t include the Papermill Lock below New Hope that was added as Lock 7A, bringing the number back to 25. It depends on what moment in time is being considered.

The Illinois and Michigan Canal has similar changes. Originally, it was planned to have 15 locks which are the numbered ones. But finances forced the construction of a summit level adding a lock at each end for 17. Later the summit was removed, returning the number on the mainline to 15. But the lock at Bridgeport was replaced when it was decided to use pumps to pump polluted water from the South Chicago River into the canal to flow towards the Illinois River and away from Lake Michigan. This does not include the lock at Ottawa on the canal’s branch known as the “Lateral Canal”. Nor does it clear up if there was a lock east of Lock 6 on the short feeder from the DuPage River.

The Ohio & Erie Canal is even more complicated over time with locks being rearranged at the Cleveland end, a side lock on the Akron Summit into Long Lake, a splitting of the lift of Lock 5 at Massillon into two locks, side locks at New Philadelphia and on the Trenton Feeder, the addition of two unnumbered locks at the north side of Buckeye Lake and south of the Deep Cut when Buckeye Lake was raised in elevation to increase its capacity, and other changes I haven’t learned of.

All of this keeps me reading canal histories very carefully and gives additional reason to attend canal tours.

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