Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Middlesex Canal

Middlesex Canal @
Baldwin Mansion
2 Alfred St.
Woburn, Mass.

On June 22, 1793 Governor John Hancock of Massachusetts, signed a document authorizing the construction of the Middlesex Canal. Built with private funding, the canal was to run from the Merrimack River at Middlesex Village (Lowell) to Medford. A later addition to the canal extended its length to Charlestown. This was a very ambitious civil engineering project for its time and a precursor to the more famous Erie Canal in New York.

Built under the direction of Loammi Baldwin, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, the canal was to be some 27 miles long, 3o feet in width, 3 feet in depth and have 20 locks and several aqueducts. The colorful wooden barges that floated down the canal carried both passengers and freight. Farmers and proprietors in New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts no longer had to depend upon the tides of the Merrimack River or the poor roads to get their products to Boston markets. The return trip supplied manufactured goods from Boston, Medford etc. to the interior

The Middlesex Canal began its operations in 1803 and continued to operate successfully until the 1840's. Having put regular freight and stage companies at a competitive disadvantage, the canal was unable to compete against the newest transportation technology - the railroad. The directors of the Middlesex Canal were forced to shut down operations and declare bankruptcy in 1851.

Falling into disuse the canal has mostly been filled in or paved over. Portions of the old canal are still visible in Woburn and in Billerica, where the Middlesex Canal Association makes its home. This association is dedicated to preserving the memory of this late 18th - early 19th century "engineering marvel".

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