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Title: The Wabash and Erie Canal
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As early as 1822 Indiana and Illinois jointly began to adopt measures, which were intended to make provisions for the improvement of the grand rapids of the River Wabash; and by 1823 the subject of connecting the Maumee river and the Wabash river, by canal navigation, had attracted the attention of the legislative authorities of these two states.

In a message addressed to the General Assembly of Indiana, in December 1822, Governor Hendricks said: "We ought to have free and unshackled as far as we can our resources for improvement purposes, which the interests of the state may hereafter require, if not at our hands of those who succeed us. Let us not lose sight of those great objects to which the means of the state should at some future day be devoted. The navigation of the falls of the Ohio river, the improvement of the Wabash and White rivers, and other streams, and the construction of the national and other roads thruout the state."

Governor Ray in a message, delivered before the legislature in 1836, said: "On the construction of the roads and canals, then we must rely as the safest and most certain state policy to relieve our situation, place us among the first states in the Union and change the cry of hard times into an open acknowledgment of contentedness. We strike at the internal improvements of the state or form our minds to remain poor and unacquainted of the state or form our minds to remain poor and unacquainted with each other"- A fine compliment to our railroads, interurbans, public highways and automobiles!

Governor Noble in his inaugural address before the General Assembly, in 1831, said: "It is obvious then that while the general government is preparing the great national thorofares and creating consumption by fostering manufactories, if is our interest and duty faithfully and economically to apply the means placed at our control by the national government to the legitimate objects and to exert ourselves to call into request the latent resources and energies of the state, to improve our rivers and by making lateral roads and canals, to facilitate the conveyance of the various commodities of our state." And the construction of that part of the Wabash and Erie canal which lies within the borders of Indiana was commenced in 1812.

In 1836 the financial affairs of the country seemed to be in sound condition, and the minds of the people of Indiana were fully prepared to regard with favor the commencement of an extensive system and internal improvements. The adjustment of the details of the system was, however, a matter of great difficulty and the legislature was, in some instances, forced to make special provisions for the construction of needless and costly works, in order to prevent the defeat of the general system. Ten millions of dollars was appropriated to carry on the system. In fixing the mode of organizing a state board of internal improvement and defining the duties and powers of this board, the General Assembly of 1836 committed several material errors. On account of the errors and for other reasons the internal improvement law of 1836 encountered strong opposition among the people of those counties thru which the lines of the proposed public work did not pass. These public improvements continued, until the summer of 1839 when a period of financial embarassment thruout the United States caused the contractors on public works in the state of Indiana generally to suspend operations and soon afterwards to abandon their contracts. And the Senate bonds could not be sold.

In December 1839 Governor Wallace in his annual message to the legislature said: "The failure to procure funds, as we had a right to expect from extensive sale of state bonds effected in the early part of the season, has lead to great and unusual embarrassments, not only among the contractors and loboreres but also among the people. What shall be done with the public works? Shall they be abandoned together? I hope not. In my opinion, the policy of the state in the present emergency should be first to provide against the dilapidation of those portions of the public works left in an unfinished state; and secondly, as means can be procured, to finish some entirely and complete others at least to points where they may be rendered available or useful to the country."

In order to provide means for the payment of the contractors and other public creditors, the legislature authorized an issue of state treasury notes to the amount of one million five hundred thousand dollars. These notes formed a circulating medium, which, for a bried period, passed at its nominal value. But early in the summer of 1842 when there was almost about one million of dollars of this currency in circulation among the people, it suddenly depreciated in value from forty to fifty cents.

At the clost of 1841 the total length of the railroads, turnpike roads and canals embraced in the internal system of 1836 amounted to 1,289 miles, of which 281 miles had been completed. One million seven hundred and twenty-seven thousand dollars had been spent for the construction of the Wabash and Erie canal.

In January 1847, during the administration of Gov. Whitcomb, provisions were made for the adjustment of the debt due to the holders of Indiana state bonds and for the completion of the Wabash and Erie canal to Evansville.

Work was immediately begun and contracts were let, surveys were made along the entire length of the canal. The work was pushed rapidly from Ft. Wayne to Lafayette to Attica. The building of the canal was let out in sections and a section of five to ten miles would be taken by contact. The contractors employed thousands of men to excavate the channel for the great waterway. Most of the men, who were employed in this work, came from the Green Isle of Erin.

Tha canal was finished to Attica in 1848. In the spring of that year Asiatic scholars appeared among the laborers and they died like flies in trap. These laborers lived in camps along the waterway. There was a large camp at old Fulton, where Flint is now. Among those Irishmen there was a sturdy young blacksmith, named Hugh Martin, who sharpened the plows and shod the horses for the contractors. A Mrs. Donnelly had the contract for cooking for all the camps from the county line to Attica and among her most trusted aides was a handsome young Irish lassie, Ann Crouch. The camp below Fulton was Maysville and Ann Crouch did the cooking for her countrymen in the camp at Maysville. Their tools were taken there to be shod and Miss Crouch went with them to get counsel from her mistress, Mrs. Donnelly. And Cupid was there, with his bow and quiver; and when Hugh Martin, from the county of Cork, and Ann Crouch, from the county of Killarney, met, Cupid sharpened the point of his arrow at Martin's forge. This Irish laddie and lassie loved and wooed and married, and lived their lives in Davis township. Mrs. Martin lived there from 1847 until she died, June 16, 1911, and was one of the most interesting women that I have ever known. Her daughter, Mrs. Nels Lowry, still lives there. Mrs. Martin told me there were not nearly so many persons died from the cholera at Maysville and Fulton as there were further down the canal. As I have stated in a former article, many of those Irish made their permanent homes at Maysville.

There was another camp very near where the Fix schoolhouse now stands. There were about six hundred men, women, and children in this camp, about four hundred of whom died of cholera. About two hundred of them were buried in the old graveyard at Attica, and then a long trench was dug in a marl bed near the camp and the rest were thrown into this trenh as they died and covered with a soft lime or marl.

By the fall of 1848, inspite of the cholera and other misfortunes that befell them, the contractors finished the canal and boats began to ply upon it, - packet boats, carrying passengers, gaudily decorated, and pulled by horses with some speed, also tug boats and heavy boats for mercantile purposes, pulled by mules and heavy horses. Soon this waterwaywas lined with hundreds of boats carrying all kinds of merchandise, freight, and passengers. Warehouses, mills, packing houses and many other houses of commerce were built along its banks. Some of these old structures are still standing and in use yet today, the Jones elevator and the Stafford elevator being notable examples. The old Martin elevator, torn down three or four years ago, was another, and the foundation outlines of another can be traced in the sod across the street from the office of the Fountain Produce Co. It was, indeed, a waterway of much importance and served a splendid purpose. When it would freeze over in the winter it would be as smooth as glass and hundred of young people would gather along this waterway to skate. In the winter time skating parties were very common. There was an elopement that attracted considerable attention at Maysville- a young couple gliding one night on their skates from a skating party, down the canal to Terre Haure, where they were married before the irate father of the bride could overtake them.

I recall a little incident that will illustrate the attitude of people towards these imported laborers, and as it happened just below Attica it will be of local interest. The greatest difficulty which the builders of the canal encountered in this vicinity was getting thru the great gravel beds south of town, where the Carmichael and other pits are now located. The difficulty was to get the canal to hold water as it wasted thru the gravel very rapidly. In order to overcome this a feeder dam was built at Shawnee creek and the entire volume of water from that stream turned into the canal. The remains of this earthwork can yet be seen there. The contract for building that portion of the canal from the gravel beds to Portland, (now Fountain), and for building the feeder dam on Shawnee was taken by Col. McManomy of Covington; and Douglas Trott, father of John Trott now of Williamsport, worked for him. While completing the approaches of the feeder dam and the waterway from the dam into the canal, one Monday morning they found their Irish laborers coming late to work. Mr. Trott reproved them and a dispute arose. Still arrogant from the effects of their Sunday carousal, a big Irishman took a position on the gangway scaffold across which they had been wheeling dirt and disputed Mr. Trott's right to pass. Without arguing the case Mr. Trott struck the fellow with his fist and knocked him off. When he landed at the bottom he failed to arise and when Mr. McManomy and Mr. Trott went to help him imagine their surprise to find that his neck was broken and that he was dead.

Word was sent to the camp, where the dead man's wife was one of the cooks. She came down and at once set up a great lamentation. But the burden of her grief was not in the loss of her husband but in the fact that he had nothing but an old dirty shirt in which to be buried! Mr. McManomy had on a new shirt- just put on that morning- and without hesitation he pulled it off, gave it to the weeping widow and with the aid of some of the Irishmen it soon graced the dead man's form. A grave was dug and he and the boss' new white shirt were buried near the canal. His wife went on cooking for the workmen and doubtless eventually to acquire another husband.

This story came to me from the lips of a gentleman to whom it was related by Mr. McManomy himself, so there is no doubt of it authenticity. The death of the Irishman was never investigated by the coroner nor the grand jury.

The Wabash & Erie canal was found a much more convenient and rapid means of conveyance of the products of the farm and the output of the factories within its reach than were the river and the wagon roads which had proceeded it.

In 1850, after it had been in operation two years, there was a census taken of the town of Attica, now in the possession of Charles Haller, on the first page of which is the following attachment:

"Census of The Town of Attica- An enumeration of all the males over 20 years of age in the Town of Attica. Also, the number of married males and females, the number of unmarried males and females over the age of 18, and the number, in-so-much of each school district as lies within the limits of the town, of children of both sexes, between the ages of 5 and 21 years. Taken by W. McK. Scott under authority of the Town Council, March 20, 1850."

This record finished with the following statement in regard to the canal and river:

This statement of Mr. Scott shows conclusively that the canal met the expectations of its most sanguine supporters as means of increasing production and facilitating transportation. For ten years it had no competition in the way of transportation; it was ten years before the Wabash Railroad was built and during these ten years the canal prospered. The exact population at that time, according to this census, was 1,006.

On the side of the canal next to the river was the tow-path,a dn the other side was known as the heel path. The horses and mules which drew the boats walked the tow-path. The packet boats were usually two stories, had a captain who looked after the fares and general interests of the passengers of the boat and the welfare of the boat, and a pilot whose business it was to stand on the top of the second story and operate the steering gear, whcih was on the back part of the boat. Many a householder, with his family, who had left the eastern country, came over the lakes to Toledo or down the Ohio to Evansville and took passage on the canal boat for some point in the Wabash Valley where they would make their home.

Lottie Wolf and Gus Lif came with their fathers from Sweden to New York, and from New York to Toledo by rail, and from Toledo to old Granville, in Tippecanoe county,on the canal boat. They had tomatoes on the canal boat as an ornament, which the children called love apples. The children of this Swedish family became interested in those tomatoes and were going to taste them but were told by the officials of the boat that they were poison. Many of the first Swedish and German families who came to Attica came in a canal boat. After the railroad came the passenger traffic first left the canal, and many a packet boat stood tied up along its bank going down into decay.

I remember one very well that was attached for some reason and pulled ashore near where Ignatz Pritscher lived, about three miles above Attica, and stood there until it finally rotted away.

The freight boats lasted until about 1875 or 1876, and an occasional scow was in use up to that time. I remember my uncle, George C. Worthington, and John McKnight, who died recently, at Veedersburg, built a scow on land that was afterwards owned by my father. I was very much interested in the construction of this boat and when they finished it they called in the neighbors to turn it up-side-down to calk the bottom; I watched the process with great interest. They calked it with hot tar and some kind of lint, dipping the lint into the hot tar and driving it into the cracks of the bottom. I was present when this boat was launched and watched them lay down the plank and slide the boat into the canal. Mr. McKnight had a daughter by the name of "Aetney" for Mr. McKnight's duaghter. So far as I know, this was the last boat built for use on the old Wabash & Erie canal.

The merchant boats were much larger than the scows and were built with a cabin on the back and a place on the back of the cabin for the pilot to stand as he worked the steering gear. My father purchased a boat of Douglas Trott; it was called the "Hoosier Boy." In the spring of 1883, the men of the neighborhood east of Attica hitched a team to this boat and went to Covington to pay their taxes, and I went with them. This was my first trip to the county seat. I remember that my father talked with three men on this trip, one of whom was Homer Sewell. John Glascock was teaching inthe The Bend school near the Nebeker plcae, and Frank Glascock, a relative of his, was with us. We stopt for a short time and Mr. Glascock went to the schoolhouse to visit with his relative. The other man was Mr. Haupt. John Glascock is still living and each of these men looked exactly the same to me the last time I saw them as they did the first time.

Homer Sewell, after I came to manhood became one of my best friends and we often talked of our first meeting. I was not yet ten years of age and was frail in health, and my family and the doctors had concluded that I could not weather the storm. However, owing to the truthfulness of the old adage that the good die young, even then I was assured of a ripe old age.

In the fall of that year I made two trips to Lafayette with my father on "Hoosier Boy." On the first trip we took cordwood on that boat. It was body hickory and brot $7.50 a cord in Lafayette. A few weeks later I took another trip and we took potatoes. The weather was cold. We covered the potatoes in straw and reached Lafayette alright, about six o'clock in the evening. That night it froze and the next morning I helpt in gathering the frozen potatoes of the top of the cargo. The men worked very rapidly to get the potatoes out of the boat before night. About five o'clock they finished unloading and we started back home at once for feat that the canal would freeze over. We got as far as Riverside, aiming to take the boat to hear where Ignatz Pritscher lived, but there was so much ice in the canal that we left the boat in the "widewater" at Riverside, about where the Independence road now crosses the canal. So far as I know this was the last trip taken by a canal boat to Lafayette. Soon after this the canal went down and my father's boat stood for many years in the "widewater" at Riverside. We finally tore it to pieces and used it in making cribs and bins about the barn.

It is recorded in a history of Fountain county publisht in 1883 that the last boat to clear from Covington for Lafayette was the "Goodman," on Nov. 13, 1875. The last boat that cleared thru from Lodi to Toledo was the Rocky Mountain, under command of David Webb, which toucht at Attica October 26, 1872.

Near Flint there was what was called "The Aqueduct" where Flint creek ran under the canal and then there were locks at Flint and at Attica; in going to Covington we went thru the locks at Attica, and in going to Lafayette we went thru the locks of Flint. The Attica lock was located just back of where the old handle facotry building now stands.

I remember very well of the boat being pulled into these locks and the gates shut back of them, and the water being turned in from above, until the boats were raised from the level of the water below the lock to the level of the water above thelock. In coming the other way they would let the gates down first, fill the locks with water, run the boat in, raise the lower gates and let the boats go down to the lower level. The canal was level from one lock to another and the fall of the canal was all taken up in the locks.

I would stand at the back of the boat and watch the fish swim from under it, and then there was a green moss that grew in the canal in long ropy strings, and as a boy I enjoyed very much watching those strings floating behind the boat.

The town of Riverside was named for the Riverside schoolhouse, now known as the Fix schoolhouse. They used to have subscription school there in the summer, and when the boats would come up or down the canal the teacher would let us children go to the canal and watch them pass. This was a great treat for us and we kept a sharp look-out for the boats.

The farmers along the waterway would have rafts made of two logs fastened together, and with a pole one could get on these logs and push across the canal. Every farm had a raft.

In summer the canal would be full of frogs and turtles and always full of mudcat and sunfish, with a few other varieties. Of an evening one could easily catch in a few hours a large string of fish. I used to nearly keep the family in fish in the spring and fall. The canal ran close to the Riverside school and our principal sport in winter was skating on its glassy surface. As quick as school was dismissed for recess or noon every pupil gathered his skates and with the teacher made for the canal to skate during the short period of rest. In the summer we boys would hunt the gravelly fords and bathe and swim.

While the canal had its uses and is pleasures it had its faults too. The mosquitos were a great pest along this waterway, and every fall one shook with ague. We were not as well acquainted with the mosquito and his habits them as now, and did not attribute the malaria to his bit, but with the passing of the canal the malaria and ague passed from the Wabash Valley.

The canal company kept a dredge and a gang of men with it, who worked continually dredging the canal to keep it deep enough so that the boats could travel on it. I became well acquainted with the family that operated the dredge and spent many pleasant day with the other boys on the dredge, watching it dip mud from the bottom of the canal. The good lady whose husband was the boss of the dredge cooked for the hands and when we boys wanted to spend the day watching the work she was very kind to us. Often she would have a soft turtle shell out of which she would make soup and we were very fond of this. With fish and turtle soup she won the affection of every boy along the canal.

As the Wabash railroad improved the canal grew les and less of service until at last the bond-holders closed their mortgage and the canal was sold in the United State Cicuit Court. The Fountain county right-of-way was purchased by Nebeker &McManomy and they sold it to the Wabash Railroad company from the towpath to the low water mark of the canal. That portion of it below the low water mark was sold to the farmers along the way, who finally cut the banks and let the water out and it eventually reverted to farm land. When they cut the "widewater" near the Pritscher place, the farmers in that locality took out tons of fish.

Had man known of the gasoline engine the canal would have been maintained and made profitable for boats propelled by gas engines, and the mosquito pest could have been overcome with oil. I believe that this waterway would have ben of value enough to the commonwealth in differnt ways to have justified its maintenance.

The flint from the flint bar was hauled to Lafayette from the improvement of that city's streets on canal boats from the opening of the canal utnil it went out of use. They would often gather boat loads of boulders and haul them to Lafayette and Attica to make gutters for the streets.

There was a very dense undergrowth in a swamp near Flint; Henry Butts was driving the horse on the tow-path that pulled a boat for my uncle, James Whicker. One evening when they passed this swamp they heard a panther screaming. Henry's hair stood on end and he ordered a halt, but my uncle told him to drive right on as no one was in danger but Henry himself, as the animal would either have to fly or swim to get the rest of them. Henry obeyed and as the panther probably was scared as badly as he was he is still with us today to verify incident.

Date: 1/1/1916
Origin: Historical Sketches of the Wabash Valley
Author: J. Wesley Whicker
Record ID: 00001121
Type: Book
Source Archive: Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Entered By: Amber M Knipe

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