Connecticut is the longest river in New England, and has been more generally
navigated, and to a longer distance from tidewater, than any other river in
the same territory. Its length from the source among the Connecticut Lakes
in northern New Hampshire to the mouth, Saybrook Point on Long Island Sound,
is 335 miles, measured by the railroad lines along its banks. The river's
winding course makes its entire length a somewhat greater distance. The fall
in the water from the Connecticut Lakes to the Sound is 1,589 feet.
Bellows Falls Canal
The first of these canals to be chartered, and upon which work was commenced, was at Bellows Falls. It was in 1791 and was the first canal started on this continent to be used for navigation purposes. The charter was granted at Windsor in that year, and it is interesting to note that it was the first Vermont legislature after the admission of the state into the Union. Its corporate name was " Company for Rendering Connecticut River Navigable by Bellows Falls." Three brothers from London, England, John, Francis, and Hodgdon Atkinson furnished the capital for its construction. They expended $105,338.13 in building the dam and canal before a boat passed through, and, because of the natural obstructions, and great fall of the river (52 feet), it took ten years before the first boat passed through it in August of 1802. It remained in the ownership of the Atkinson family for seventy-two years, or until June 16, 1866, and was then sold by them for $65,000 to Ex-Gov. S. W. Hale and E. F. Lane of Keene, N. H. In 1871, the property was acquired from them by the purchase of the stock by Hon. William A. Russell, of Lawrence, Mass., who associated with him other enterprising and aggressive men, and from that time its more general utilization for water power has been an important factor in the business and growth of Bellows Falls.
Turners Falls and South Hadley Falls Canals
A charter to "The Proprietors of the Locks and Canals of the Connecticut River" was granted by the Massachusetts legislature February 23, 1792, to build canals by the falls at Turners Falls and South Hadley Falls. The names of many prominent citizens were among the incorporators, but the capital for the building of these canals was furnished largely in Holland, through the medium of the Dutch trading firms of the Connecticut Valley. Two years after the charter was granted, the company was divided and the South Hadley Canal was built by the company of the above name. The Turners Falls Canal was built by a corporation named "The Proprietors of the Upper Locks and Canals on Connecticut River," the stockholders of the two companies being practically identical. The South Hadley Canal was 21/2 miles long, having eight locks, and the Turners Falls Canal was 3 miles long and had ten locks as finally completed. The cost of the two canals was $81,000 and the first boats passed through in the spring of 1795. In the early days of river navigation, the Turners Falls Canal was known as "Millers, " and many misunderstandings have been caused.
The Canal At Hartland, Vermont
The canal and dam at Sumner's Falls, midway between Hartland and North Hartland, seven miles south of White River Junction, was chartered by the Vermont legislature in 1794 under the name " Company for Rendering Connecticut River Navigable by Water-Quechee Falls." Perez Gallup, who owned the farm contiguous to the canal on the Vermont side of the river, was named as the sole incorporator, although the New Hampshire legislature in 1796 named Joseph Kimball with Mr. Gallup. This canal was short, there being only two locks, remains of which can still be seen. Mr. Gallup controlled the franchise until 1805 when he deeded a partial interest to several local citizens. They owned it until it passed into the hands of David H. Sumner, who built an extensive lumber mill, and sent large amounts of lumber and shingles to the down-river markets. The locks and mills were carried away for the second time in 1856, and the entire locality is deserted, nothing having been done toward rebuilding. The New England Power Association now controls the land and power rights.
The Canal At Wilder
The most northerly of the series of canals that were built was that at
Olcott's Falls, now Wilder, Vt., two miles north of White River Junction.
This canal had two sections, with locks in each, and was cut at the New
Hampshire end of the dam. Each of the other canals was cut on the Vermont
side of the river. This charter was granted by the Vermont legislature,
October 21, 1795, but no work was done until incorporated by New Hampshire
under an act approved June 12, 1807. This latter act was entitled "An Act
Granting to Mills Olcott the Privilege of Locking White River Falls." It
gave Mr. Olcott and his associates "the exclusive privilege of cutting
canals and locking said falls and rendering Connecticut River navigable for
boats and lumber from the head of said falls at the upper bar so called to
the foot of the falls at the lower bar of the same, commonly called `Phelps
Bar,' " provided the same be completed within six years from the passage of
Canal At Windsor Locks, Connecticut
The sixth, last, and most southerly of the canals built upon the Connecticut River was that at Windsor Locks, Conn. At the foot of this canal, the tides of the Sound rise and fall, while the descent of the river overcome by the canal is about thirty feet in its length of six miles. It was built by the " Connecticut River Company" under a charter of the state of Connecticut, secured in 1825, and completed in 1828. It was a part of a large scheme of the corporation to buy up all the canals and dams on the river; to spend large amounts in the improvement of the river bed; to erect other dams and canals, thus making navigation of the river more feasible, and freighting cheaper.
Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.
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