previous next

The Middlesex canal.1

by Lorin L. Dame, D. S.
The curious traveller may still trace with little difficulty the line of the old Middlesex canal, with here and there a break, from the basin at Charlestown to its junction with the Merrimac at Middlesex Village. Like an accusing ghost, it never strays far from the Boston & Lowell railroad, to which it owes its untimely end. At Medford the Woburn sewer runs along one portion of its bed, the Mystic water-pipes another. The tow-path, at one point, marks the course of the defunct Mystic Valley railroad; at others it has been metamorphosed into sections of the highway; at others it survives for a while as a cow-path or woodland lane; at Wilmington the stone sides of a lock have become the lateral walls of a dwelling-house cellar.

Judging the canal by the pecuniary returns which it brought its projectors, it must be confessed a dismal failure; yet its inception was none the less a comprehensive, far-reaching scheme, which seemed to assure a future of great public usefulness and correspondingly ample profits. Inconsiderable as this work may appear compared with the modern achievements of engineering, it was, for the times, a gigantic undertaking, beset with difficulties scarcely conceivable to-day. Boston was a [p. 34] flourishing town of about twenty thousand inhabitants; Medford, Woburn, and Chelmsford were insignificant villages; Lowell was yet unborn; while the valley of the Merrimac, northward into New Hampshire, supported a sparse agricultural population. But the outlook was encouraging. It was a period of rapid growth and marked improvements. The subject of closer communication with the interior early became a vital question. Turnpikes, controlled by corporations, were the principal avenues over which country produce, lumber, fire-wood, and building-stone found their way to the little metropolis. The cost of entertainment at the various country inns, the frequent tolls, and the inevitable wear and tear of teaming enhanced very materially the price of all these articles. The Middlesex canal was the first step towards the solution of the problem of cheap transportation. The plan originated with the Hon. James Sullivan, who was for six years a judge of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, attorney-general from 1790 to 1807, and governor in 1807 and 1808, dying while holding the latter office.

A brief glance at a map of the New England States will bring out in bold relief the full significance of Sullivan's scheme. It will be seen that the Merrimac river, after pursuing a southerly course as far as Middlesex Village, turns abruptly to the northeast. A canal from Charlestown mill-pond to this bend of the river, a distance of 27 1/4 miles, would open a continuous water-route of 80 miles to Concord, N. H. From this point, taking advantage of Lake Sunapee, a canal could easily be run in a northwesterly direction to the Connecticut at Windsor, Vt.; and thence, making use of intermediate streams, communication could be opened with the St. Lawrence. The speculative mind of Sullivan dwelt upon the pregnant results that must follow this articulation of Boston with New Hampshire, Vermont, and Canada. A vast internal commerce, beyond the influence and attraction of the great [p. 35] market of New York, it was reasonable to assume, would thus be secured to Boston. He consulted his friend Colonel Baldwin, Sheriff of Middlesex, who had a natural taste for engineering, and they came to the conclusion that the plan was feasible. Should the undertaking succeed between Concord and Boston, the gradual increase in population and traffic would in time warrant the completion of the programme; even should communication never be established beyond Concord, the commercial advantages of opening to the market the undeveloped resources of upper New Hampshire would be a sufficient justification. Accordingly, James Sullivan, Loammi Baldwin, Jonathan Porter, Samuel Swan, Benjamin Hall, Willis Hall, Ebenezer Hall, Ebenezer Hall, Jr., and Andrew Hall petitioned the General Court for an act of incorporation. A charter was granted, bearing date of June 22, 1793, ‘incorporating James Sullivan, Esq., and others, by the name of the Proprietors of the Middlesex Canal,’ and on the same day was signed by His Excellency John Hancock, Governor of the Commonwealth. By this charter the proprietors were authorized to lay such assessments from time to time as might be required for the construction of the canal.

At their first meeting the proprietors intrusted the management of the corporation to a board of thirteen members, who were to choose a president and vice-president from their own number, the entire board subject to annual election. Boston capitalists subscribed freely, and Russell, Gore, Barrell, Craigie, and Brooks appear among the earliest directors. This board organized on the 11th of October by the choice of James Sullivan as president and Colonel Baldwin and John Brooks (afterwards Governor Brooks) as vice-presidents. The first step was to make the necessary surveys between the Charlestown basin and the Merrimac at Chelmsford; but the science of engineering was in its infancy in New England, and it was difficult [p. 36] to find a competent person to undertake the task. At length Samuel Thompson, of Woburn, was engaged to make a preliminary survey; but the directors, not wholly satisfied with his report, afterwards secured the services of Samuel Weston, an eminent English engineer, then employed in Pennsylvania in the Potomac canals. With good instruments at his command, he did his work well and quickly. His report, made Aug. 2, 1794, was favorable, and it is interesting to compare his figures with those of Mr. Thompson. As calculated by the latter, the ascent from Medford bridge to the Concord river at Billerica was found to be 68 1/2 ft.; the actual difference in level, as found by Weston, was 104 ft. By Thompson's survey there was a further ascent of 16 1/2 ft. to the Merrimac, when, in fact, the water at Billerica bridge is almost 25 ft. above the Merrimac at Chelmsford.

Colonel Baldwin, who superintended the construction of the canal, removed the first turf, Sept. 10, 1794. The progress was slow and attended with many embarrassments. The purchase of land from more than one hundred proprietors demanded skilful diplomacy. Most of the lands used for the canal were acquired by voluntary sale, and conveyed in fee simple to the corporation. Sixteen lots were taken under authority of the Court of Sessions; while for thirteen neither deed nor record could be found when the corporation came to an end. Some of the land was never paid for, as the owners refused to accept the sum awarded. The compensation ranged from about $150 an acre in Medford to $25 in Billerica. The numerous conveyances are all in Sullivan's handwriting.

Labor was not easily procured, probably from the scarcity of laborers, as the wages paid, averaging $10 a month and board, which was $2 a week, were presumably as much as could be earned in manual labor elsewhere. ‘An order was sent to England for a levelling instrument made by S. & W. Jones, of London, and [p. 37] this was the only instrument used for engineering purposes after the first survey by Weston.’ Two routes were considered; the rejected route was forty years later selected for the Lowell railroad. The canal, 30 ft. wide, 4 ft. deep, with twenty locks, seven aqueducts, and crossed by fifty bridges, was in 1802 sufficiently completed for the admission of water, and the following year was opened to public navigation from the Merrimac to the Charles. The cost up to this was but little more than the estimate, amounting to about $500,000, of which one-third was land damages.

The canal demands more than a cursory notice in the records of the Medford Historical Society. Of the nine petitioners for a charter, seven, including the chairman and clerk of the preliminary meetings, were citizens of Medford. In the first board of directors, three—John Brooks, Ebenezer Hall, and Jonathan Porter—were Medford men. Of the eight hundred shares into which the capital stock was divided, more than one-fifth of the entire issue was taken in Medford; and, though the stockholders never received an adequate return for their investment, the town was enriched by the development of a great shipbuilding industry along the banks of the Mystic.

Beginning at Charlestown mill-pond, with which it communicated by a tide-lock, the canal passed under Main street, across the Neck. Dipping under the Medford turnpike, it followed the edge of the marsh, along Mt. Benedict, to the base of Winter Hill, which it closely skirted on the northerly side, through the present Mystic Trotting Park, by the Royal House, to Main street, at which point it sent off a branch canal connecting by two locks with the Mystic. Passing under Main street, it ran along the line of Summer street, under South street, a little further on, in its later days, under a railroad bridge (the lateral walls of which are still visible in the embankment) to the Mystic, which it spanned by a wooden aqueduct of 100 feet, [p. 38]



[p. 39] resting on stone piers which now support Boston-avenue bridge. Following nearly the line of Boston avenue, it kept along the Mystic ponds, passing through Winchester west of Wedge pond to Horn pond in Woburn. Traversing Woburn and Wilmington, it crossed the Shawsheen by an aqueduct of 137 feet, and struck the Concord, from which it received its water at Billerica mills. Entering the Concord by a stone guard-lock, it crossed, with a floating tow-path, and passed out on the northern side through another stone guard-lock, thence it descended 27 feet, in a course of 5 1/4 miles, through Chelmsford to the Merrimac, making its entire length 27 1/4 miles.

The proprietors made Charlestown bridge the eastern terminus for their boats, but ultimate communication was opened with the wharves and markets upon the harbor through Mill creek, over a section of which Blackstone street now extends.

As the enterprise had the confidence of the business community, money for prosecuting the work had been procured with comparative ease. Such representative men as Oliver Wendell, John Adams, of Quincy, Peter C. Brooks, Andrew Craigie, Ebenezer and Dudley Hall, James Sullivan, and John Hancock were stockholders. The stock had steadily advanced from $25 a share in the autumn of 1794 to $473 in 1803, the year the canal was opened, touching $500 in 1804. Then a decline set in, a few dollars at a time, till 1816, when its market value was $300 with few takers, although the canal was in successful operation, and in 1814 the obstructions in the Merrimac had been surmounted, so that canal boats, locking into the river at Chelmsford, and making use of various locks and short canals, had been poled up stream as far as Concord.

Firewood and lumber always formed a very considerable item in the business of the canal. The navy-yard at Charlestown and the ship-yards on the Mystic for many years relied upon the canal for the greater part [p. 40] of the timber used in ship-building; and work was sometimes seriously retarded by low water in the Merrimac, which interfered with transportation. The supply of oak and pine about Lake Winnipiseogee, and along the Merrimac and its tributaries, was thought to be practically inexhaustible. In the opinion of Daniel Webster, the value of this timber had been increased $5,000,000 by the canal. Granite from Tyngsborough, and agricultural products from a great extent of fertile country, found their way along this channel to Boston; while the return boats supplied taverns and country stores with their annual stock of goods. The receipts from tolls, rents, etc., were steadily increasing, amounting

in 1812 to$12,600
“1813” 16,800
“1814” 25,700
“1815” 29,200
“1816” 32,600

Yet valuable, useful, and productive as the canal had proved itself, it had lost the confidence of the public, and, with a few exceptions, of the proprietors themselves. The reason for this can easily be shown. The general depression of business on account of the embargo and the War of 1812 had its effect upon the canal. In the deaths of Governor Sullivan and Colonel Baldwin, in the same year 1808, the enterprise was deprived of the wise and energetic counsellors to whom it owed its existence.

The aqueducts and most of the locks, being built of wood, required large sums for annual repairs; the expenses arising from imperfections in the banks, and from the erection of toll-houses and public-houses for the accommodation of the boatmen, were considerable; but the heaviest expenses were incurred in opening the Merrimac for navigation. From Concord, N. H., to the head of the canal the river has a fall of 123 feet, necessitating various locks and canals. The Middlesex Canal Corporation contributed to the building of the [p. 41] Wiccasee locks and canals $12,000; Union locks and canals, $49,932; Hookset canal, $6,750; Bow canal and locks, $14,115; making a sum total of $82,797 to be paid from the income of the Middlesex canal. The constant demand for money in excess of the incomes had proved demoralizing. Funds had been raised from time to time by lotteries. In the ‘Columbian Centinel and Massachusetts Federalist’ of Aug. 15, 1804, appears an advertisement of the Amoskeag Canal Lottery, 6,000 tickets at $5, with an enumeration of prizes. The committee, consisting of Phillips Payson, Samuel Swan, Jr., and Loammi Baldwin, Jr., appealed to the public for support, assuring the subscribers that all who did not draw prizes would get the full value of their money in the reduced price of fuel.

In 1816 the Legislature of Massachusetts granted the proprietors of the canal, in consideration of its usefulness to the public, two townships of land in the district of Maine, near Moosehead lake. This State aid, however, proved of no immediate service, as purchasers could not be found for several years for property so remote. Appeals to capitalists, lotteries, and State aid proved insufficient; the main burden fell upon the stockholders.

In accordance with the provisions of the charter assessments had been levied, as occasion required, up to 1816, 99 in number, amounting to $670 per share; and the corporation was still staggering under a debt of $64,000. Of course, during all this time, no dividends could be declared.

Under these unpromising conditions a committee, consisting of Josiah Quincy, Joseph Hall, and Joseph Coolidge, Jr., was appointed to devise the appropriate remedy. ‘In the opinion of your committee,’ the report reads,

the real value of the property, at this moment, greatly exceeds the market value, and many years will not elapse before it will be considered among the best of all practicable monied investments. The [p. 42] Directors contemplate no further extension of the canal.

The work is done, both the original and subsidiary canals. . . Let the actual incomes of the canal be as great as they may, so long as they are consumed in payments of debts and interest on loans, the aspect of the whole is that of embarrassment and mortgage. The present rates of income, if continued, and there is every rational prospect, not only of its continuance, but of its great and rapid increase, will enable the corporation—when relieved of its present liabilities—at once to commence a series of certain, regular, and satisfactory dividends.

They accordingly recommended a final assessment of $80 per share, completely to extinguish all liabilities. This assessment, the one hundredth since the commencement, was levied in 1817, making a sum total of $600,000, extorted from the long-suffering stockholders. If to this sum the interest of the various assessments be added, computed to Feb. 1, 1819, the date of the first dividend, the actual cost of each share is found to have been $1,455.25.

The prosperity of the canal property now seemed fully assured. The first dividend, though only $15, was the promise of golden showers in the near future, and the stock once more took an upward flight. From 1819 to 1836 were the palmy days of the canal, unvexed with debts, and subject to very moderate expenses for annual repairs and management.

It is difficult to ascertain the whole number of boats employed at any one time. Many were owned and run by the proprietors of the canal; and many were constructed and run by private parties, who paid the regular tolls for whatever they transported. Boats belonging to the same parties were conspicuously numbered, like railway cars to-day. From ‘Regulations Relative to the Navigation of the Middlesex Canal,’ a pamphlet published in 1830, it appears that boats were required to be not less than 40 feet nor more than 75 feet in [p. 43] length and not less than 9 feet nor more than 9 1/2 feet in width. Two men—a driver and a steersman—usually made up the working force. The boats, however, that went up the Merrimac required three men, one to steer, and two to pole. The Lowell boats carried 20 tons of coal; 15 tons were sufficient freight for Concord. When the water in the Merrimac was low, not more than 6 or 7 tons could be taken up the river. About 1830 the boatmen received $15 per month.

Lumber was transported in rafts of about 75 feet long and 9 feet wide; and these rafts, not exceeding 10 in number, were often united in ‘bands.’ A band of 7 to 10 rafts required the services of five men, including the drivers. Boats were drawn by horses, and lumber by oxen; and ‘luggage boats’ were required to make two and a half miles an hour, while ‘passage boats’ attained a speed of four miles. Boats of the same class, and going the same way, were not allowed to pass each other, thus making ‘racing’ impossible on the staid waters of the old canal. Whenever a boat approached a lock, the conductor sounded his horn to secure the prompt attention of the lock-tender; but due regard was paid to the religious sentiment of New England. Travelling in the canal being permitted on Sundays, ‘in consideration of the distance from home at which those persons using it generally are, it may be reasonably expected that they should not disturb those places of public worship near which they pass, nor occasion any noise to interrupt the tranquillity of the day. Therefore, it is established that no Signal-Horn shall be used or blown on Sundays.’

The tariff varied greatly from year to year. In 1827 the rate from Lowell to Boston was $2.00 the gross ton; but many articles were carried on much lower terms.

On account of liability of damage to the banks of the canal, all navigation ceased at dark; hence, at every lock, or series of locks, a tavern was established. These were all owned by the corporation, and were [p. 44] often let to the lock-tender, who eked out his income by the accommodation of boatmen and horses. The Bunker Hill Tavern, in Charlestown, situated so as to accommodate both county and canal travel, was leased, in 1830, for $350; in 1838 it let for $500. The Horn Pond House, at Woburn, in 1838, was leased for $700. In 1825 a two-story dwelling-house, 36 × 18, built at a cost of $1,400, for the accommodation of boatmen and raftsmen, at Charlestown, rented, with stable attached, for $140. In all these cases, the real estate was supposed to pay 10 per cent. Some of these canal taverns established a wide reputation for good cheer, and boatmen contrived to be overtaken by night in their vicinity. Sometimes 15 or 20 boats would be detained at one of these favorite resorts, and a jolly crowd fraternized in the primitive bar-room. The temperance sentiment had not yet taken a firm hold in New England. ‘Flip’ was the high-toned beverage of those days; but ‘black-strap,’ a compound of rum and molasses, sold at 3 cents a glass, was the particular ‘vanity’ of the boatmen. In the smaller taverns a barrel of Old Medford, surmounted by a pitcher of molasses, scorning the flimsy subterfuges of modern times, boldly invited its patrons to draw and mix at their own sweet will. ‘Plenty of drunkenness, Uncle Joe, in those days?’ we queried of an ancient boatman, who was dilating upon the good old times. ‘Bless your heart, no!’ was the answer. ‘Mr. Eddy didn't put up with no drunkards on the canal. They could drink all night, sir, and be steady as an eightday clock in the morning.’

When the feverish haste born of the locomotive and telegraph had not yet infected society, a trip over the canal in the passenger-packet, the ‘Governor Sullivan,’ must have been an enjoyable experience. Protected by iron rules from the dangers of collision, undaunted by squalls of wind, realizing that should the craft be capsized he had nothing to do but walk [p. 45] ashore, the traveller speeding along at the leisurely pace of four miles per hour had ample time for observation and reflection. Seated, in summer, under a capacious awning, he traversed the valley of the Mystic, skirting the picturesque shores of Mystic pond. Instead of a foreground of blurred landscape, vanishing, ghostlike, ere its features could be fairly distinguished, soft bits of characteristic New England scenery, clear cut as cameos, lingered caressingly on his vision—green meadows, fields riotous with blossomed clover, fragrant orchards and quaint old farmhouses, with a background of low hills wooded to their summits.

Passing under bridges, over rivers, between high embankments and through deep cuttings, floated up hill by a series of locks, he marvelled at this triumph of engineering, and if he were a director pictured the manufactures that were to spring up along this great thoroughfare, swelling its revenues for all time.

The tow-path of the canal was a famous promenade. Upon Sunday afternoons especially, numerous pedestrians from the dusty city strolled along the canal for a breath of air and a glimpse of the open country, through the Royal estate in Medford, by the stone bridge on the Brooks estate, the most picturesque surviving relic of canal days, past the substantial, old-fashioned mansion house of Peter C. Brooks, as far, perhaps, as the Baldwin estate and the birthplace of Count Rumford, in Woburn. ‘I love that old tow-path,’ said Uncle Joe. ‘'Twas there I courted my wife; and every time the boat went by she came tripping out to walk a piece with me! Bless you, sir, the horses knew her step, and “twa'n” t so heavy, nuther!’

Meanwhile, under the direction of Caleb Eddy, who assumed the agency of the corporation in 1825, bringing great business ability and unquenchable zeal to this task, the perishable wooden locks were gradually [p. 46] replaced with stone, a new stone dam was built at Billerica, and the service brought to a high state of efficiency. The new dam was the occasion of a lawsuit brought by the proprietors of Sudbury meadows, claiming damages to the extent of $10,000 for flooding their meadows. The defendants secured the services of Samuel Hoar, Esq., Concord, assisted by the Hon. Daniel Webster, who accepted a retaining fee of $100 to ‘manage and argue the case in conjunction with Mr. Hoar. The cause was to have been tried November, 1833. Mr. Webster was called on by me and promised to examine the evidence and hold himself in readiness for the trial, but for some time before he was not to be found in Boston, at one time at New York, at another in Philadelphia, and so on from place to place, so that I am satisfied no dependence can be placed with certainty upon his assistance, and,’ plaintively concludes the agent, ‘our $100 has gone to profit and loss account.’

On the other side was the Hon. Jeremiah Mason, assisted by Franklin Dexter, Esq. This case was decided the following year adversely to the plaintiffs.

With the accession of business brought on by the corporations at Lowell, the prospect for increased dividends in the future was extremely encouraging. The golden age of the canal appeared close at hand; but the fond hopes of the proprietors were once more destined to disappointment. Even the genius of James Sullivan had not foreseen the railway locomotive. In 1829 a petition was presented to the Legislature for the survey of a railroad from Boston to Lowell. The interests of the canal were seriously involved. A committee was promptly chosen to draw up for presentation to the General Court ‘a remonstrance of the Proprietors of Middlesex canal, against the grant of a charter to build a railroad from Boston to Lowell.’ This remonstrance, signed by William Sullivan, Joseph Coolidge, and George Hallet, bears date of Boston, Feb. 12, 1830, and conclusively shows how little the [p. 47] business men of fifty years ago anticipated the enormous development of our resources consequent upon the application of steam to transportation:

The remonstrants take pleasure in declaring that they join in the common sentiment of surprise and commendation, that any intelligence and enterprise should have raised so rapidly and so permanently such establishments as are seen at Lowell. The proprietors of these works have availed themselves of the canal, for their transportation of all articles except in the winter months, . . . and every effort has been made by this corporation to afford every facility, it was hoped and believed to the entire satisfaction of the Lowell proprietors. The average annual amount of tolls paid by these proprietors has been only about $4,000. It is believed no safer or cheaper mode of conveyance can ever be established, nor any so well adapted for carrying heavy and bulky articles. To establish therefore a substitute for the canal alongside of it, and in many places within a few rods of it, and to do that which the canal was made to do, seems a measure not called for by any exigency nor one which the Legislature can permit, without implicitly declaring that all investments of money in public enterprises must be subjected to the will of any applicants who think that they may benefit themselves without regard to older enterprises which have a claim to protection from public authority. With regard, then, to transportation of tonnage goods, the means exist for all but the winter months, as effectually as any that can be provided.

There is a supposed source of revenue to a railroad from carrying passengers. As to this, the remonstrants venture no opinion except to say that passengers are now carried at all hours, as rapidly and safely as they are anywhere else in the world. . . . To this the remonstrants would add that the use of a railroad, for passengers only, has been tested by experience, nowhere hitherto; and that it remains to be known [p. 48] whether this is a mode that will command general confidence and approbation, and that, therefore, no facts are now before the public, which furnish the conclusion that the grant of a railroad is a public exigency even for such a purpose. The remonstrants would also add, that so far as they know and believe, there never can be a sufficient inducement to extend a railroad from Lowell, westwardly and north-westwardly, to the Connecticut, so as to make it the great avenue to and from the interior, but that its termination must be at Lowell2 and, consequently, that it is to be a substitute for the modes of transportation now in use between that place and Boston, and cannot deserve patronage from the supposition that it is to be more extensively useful. . . .

The remonstrants, therefore, respectfully submit: First, that there be no such exigency as will warrant the granting of the prayer for a railroad to and from Lowell. Secondly, that, if that prayer be granted, provision should be made as a condition for granting it, that the remonstrants shall be indemnified for the losses which will be thereby occasioned to them under pretext of the public weal.

This may seem the wilful blindness of self-interest; but the utterances of the press and the legislative debates of the period are similar in tone. In relation to another railroad, the Boston Transcript of Sept. 1, 1830, remarks:

‘It is not astonishing that so much reluctance exists against plunging into doubtful speculations. . . . The public itself is divided as to the practicability of the Rail Road. If they expect the assistance of capitalists, they must stand ready to guarantee the per centum per annum; without this, all hopes of Rail Roads are visionary and chimerical.’

In a report of legislative proceedings published in the Boston Courier of Jan. 25, 1830, Mr. Coggswell, of Ipswich, remarked:

‘Railways, Mr. Speaker, may do well enough in old [p. 49] countries, but will never be the thing for so young a country as this. When you can make the rivers run back, it will be time enough to make a railway.’

Notwithstanding the pathetic remonstrances and strange vaticinations of the canal proprietors, the Legislature incorporated the road and refused compensation to the canal. Even while the railroad was in process of construction, the canal directors do not seem to have realized the full gravity of the situation. They continued the policy of replacing wood with stone, and made every effort to perfect the service in all its details; as late as 1836 the agent recommended improvements. The amount of tonnage continued to increase; the very sleepers used in the construction of the railway were boated, it is said, to points convenient for the workmen. The strange spectacle was thus presented, perhaps for the first time, of a corporation assisting in the preparations for its own obsequies.

In 1832 the proprietors declared a dividend of $22 per share; from 1834 to 1837, inclusive, a yearly dividend of $30.

The disastrous competition of the Lowell railroad was now beginning to be felt. In 1835 the Lowell goods conveyed by canal paid tonnage dues of $1,975.-51; in 1836 the income from this source had dwindled to $6,195.77. The canal dividends had been kept up to their highest mark by the sale of its townships in Maine and other real estate; but now they began to drop. The year the Lowell road went into full operation, the receipts of the canal were reduced one-third; and in 1840 when the Nashua & Lowell road went into full operation, they were reduced another third. The board of directors waged a plucky warfare with the railroads, reducing the tariff on all articles, and almost abolishing it in some, till the expenditures of the canal outran its income; but steam came out triumphant. Even sanguine Caleb Eddy became satisfied that longer competition was vain, and set himself to the difficult task of saving fragments from the inevitable wreck. [p. 50]

At this time (1843) Boston numbered about 100,000 inhabitants, and was dependent for water upon cisterns and wells. The supply in the wells had been steadily diminishing for years, and what remained was necessarily subject to contamination from numberless sources. ‘One specimen which I analyzed,’ said Dr. Jackson, ‘which gave three per cent. of animal and vegetable putrescent matter, was publicly sold as a mineral water; it was believed that water having such a remarkable fetid odor and nauseous taste could be no other than that of a sulphur spring; but its medicinal powers vanished with the discovery that the spring arose from a neighboring drain.’

Here was a golden opportunity. Eddy proposed to abandon the canal as a means of transportation, and convert it into an aqueduct for supplying the city of Boston with wholesome water. The sections between the Merrimac and Concord at one extremity and Charlestown mill-pond and Woburn at the other were to be wholly discontinued. Flowing along the open channel of the canal from the Concord river to Horn-pond locks in Woburn, from thence it was to be conducted in iron pipes to a reservoir upon Mt. Benedict in Charlestown, a hill eighty feet above the sea level.

The good quality of the Concord-river water was vouched for by the ‘analysis of four able and practical chemists, Dr. Charles T. Jackson, of Boston; Prof. John W. Webster, of Cambridge University; S. L. Dana, of Lowell, and A. A. Hayes, Esq., of the chemical works at Roxbury.’ The various legal questions involved were submitted to the Hon. Jeremiah Mason, who gave an opinion, dated Dec. 21, 1842, favorable to the project. The form for an act of incorporation was drawn up, and a pamphlet was published in 1843 by Caleb Eddy, entitled an ‘Historical Sketch of the Middlesex Canal, with Remarks for the Consideration of the Proprietors,’ setting forth the new scheme in glowing colors. [p. 51]

But despite the feasibility of the plan proposed, and the energy with which it was pushed, the agitation came to naught; and Eddy, despairing of the future, resigned his position as agent in 1845. Among the directors during these later years were Ebenezer Chadwick, William Appleton, William Sturgis, Charles F. Adams, A. A. Lawrence, and Abbott Lawrence; but no business ability could long avert the catastrophe. Stock fell to $150, and finally the canal was discontinued, according to Amory's Life of Sullivan in 1846. It would seem, however, that a revival of business was deemed within the range of possibilities, for in conveyances made in 1852 the company reserved the right to use the land ‘for canalling purposes,’ and went through the form of electing an agent and collector as late as 1854.

‘Its vocation gone, and valueless for any after service,’ says Amory, ‘the canal property was sold for $130,000. After the final dividends little more than the original assessments had been returned to the stockholders.’ Oct. 3, 1869, the Supreme Court issued a decree, declaring that the proprietors had ‘forfeited all their franchises and privileges by reason of nonfeasance, non-user, misfeasance and neglect.’ Thus was the corporation forever extinguished.

at one of the public social functions of the D. A.R. a member of the Historical Society was conversing with the dignified and gracious daughter of Col. Asa Law. One of the financial managers of the evening approached and remarked to the gentleman, ‘I see that you are busy.’ ‘Yes,’ said the historical member, ‘I am looking after the Law, and you can take care of the profits’ (prophets). [p. 52]

Responsive. Have you swayed with the swing of the surging sea

As it kissed the rocks at your feet;
     And caught the songs of the long ago
In the voices from the deep;
     While melodies of a slumbering past
O'er dreamy senses creep?

Have you silently stood under star-lit skies
     In the shadows of forest trees,
And heard the note of the whip-poor-will
     Borne on the murmuring breeze;
While rhythmic sounds from choirs unseen
     Enraptured fancies please?

Have you learned the sweet lesson of loyal love
     Which hallows the heart like a dream,
And feels the deep throb of an answering sense
     When memory pictures gleam
Like sails on a stretch of shimmering sea,
     Where silvery moonbeams stream?

If the sea, and the stars, and songs of the night
     Waken melodies hid within;
Be the songs without words, chords without notes,
     Yet with tears our eyes shall be dim;
'Tis the voiceless thrill of responsive hearts
     To Nature's antiphonal hymn.

C. H. L. On the Rocks. Magnolia.

1 this sketch in its original form appeared in the ‘Bay State Monthly,’ November, 1884. as it now stands it was read before the Medford Historical Society in January, 1897. authorities consulted: complete records of the corporation, in the county Commissioners' office at Cambridge; ‘Historical sketch of the Middlesex canal,’ by Caleb Eddy, 1843: Amory's ‘life of Governor Sullivan,’ 1859.

2 italics our own

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Medford (Massachusetts, United States) (7)
Concord (Massachusetts, United States) (7)
Lowell (Massachusetts, United States) (6)
New England (United States) (5)
Chelmsford, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (5)
New Hampshire (New Hampshire, United States) (3)
Billerica (Massachusetts, United States) (3)
Mount Benedict (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
Middlesex Canal (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
Massachusetts (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
John Brook (Connecticut, United States) (2)
Horn Pond (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
Concord, N. H. (New Hampshire, United States) (2)
Winter Hill (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Windsor, Vt. (Vermont, United States) (1)
Wedge Pond (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Vermont (Vermont, United States) (1)
Tyngsborough (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Sudbury, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Roxbury, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Ponders Corner (Washington, United States) (1)
Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Mystick River (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Mystic Pond (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Moosehead Lake (Maine, United States) (1)
Middlesex Village (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Merrimack (United States) (1)
Maine (Maine, United States) (1)
Magnolia, Fla. (Florida, United States) (1)
Ipswich, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Canada (Canada) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: