United States. Inland Waterways Commission.

Preliminary report of the Inland Waterways Commission. Message from the President transmitting a preliminary report online

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kno\\Ti under the name of Cumberland and Gaule}" mountains from
its southern extremity near the great bend of t^lie Tennessee River
until it becomes in Virginia the principal or dividing mountain;
thence, in its northerly course, towards the State of New York, it
discharges westwardly the Green Briar River, which, by its junction
with the New River, forms the Kanawha and the rivers Monongahela
and Allegany, which, from their confluence at Pittsburg, assume the
name of Ohio. Eastwardly it pours into the Atlantic Ocean, James
River, the Potomac, and the Susquehannah. From the northern-
most and less elevated spurs of the chain the Genesee flows into
Lake Ontario; and in that quarter the northerly branches of the
Susquehannah seem to take their source from amongst inferior
ridges, and, in their course to the Chesapeake, to break through all
the mountains. From the Susquehannah the principal chain
assumes a more eastwardly direction, and washed on the north by
the lateral valley of the river Mohawk, whilst it gives rise southwardly
to the Delaware, it terminates under the name of Catskill Mountain,
in view of the tide w^ater of the Hudson.

This description has been introduced for the double purpose of
pomting out all the rivers wdiich can afford the means of communica-
tion and of showing the impracticability, in the present state of
science, of eftecting a canal navigation across the mountains.


The most elevated lock canal of wliicb a correct description has
been given is that of Languedoc; and the highest ground over which
it is carried is only six hundred feet above the sea. It is not believed
that any canal has been undertaken, or at least completed in Eng-
land, of an elevation exceeding four hundred and thirty feet above
the waters united by it. The Allegany Mountain is generally, and
from observations made in several places, about three thousand feet
above the level of the sea. The precise height of the dividing ridge
was ascertained by the commissioners who laid out the United States
road from Cumberland on the Potomac to Brownsville on theMonon-
gahela, at two thousand two hundred and sixty feet above the first,
and at two thousand one hundred and fifty feet above the last river.
Cumberland, from the levels taken b}^ the Potomac Company, is
itself seven hundred and thirty-five feet above tide water. Although
some more advantageous and less elevated places may be found,

Particularly amongst the ridges which divide some of the upper
ranches of the Susciuehannah from the corresponding streams
emptying into the river Allegan}^, there is none which is not of an
elevation much beyond what has ever been overcome by canals in
any other country. The impracticability arises from the prmciple
of lock navigation, which, in order to effect the ascent, requires a
a greater supply of water in proportion to the height to be ascended,
whilst the supply of water becomes less in the same proportion.
Nor does the chain of mountains through the whole extent v»^here it
divides the Atlantic from the western rivers afford a single pond,
lake, or natural reservoir. It may be added as a general feature of
American geography that except in the swamps along the southern
seacoast no lake is to be found in the United States south of 41°
north latitude and that almost every river north of 42° issues from
a lake or pond.

The works necessary in order to facilitate the communications
from the sea-ports across the mountains to the western waters must,
therefore, consist either of artificial roads extending the whole way
from tide water to the nearest and most convenient navigable west-
em waters; or of improvements in the navigation of the leading
Atlantic rivers, to the highest practicable points, connected by arti-
ficial roads across the mountains, with the nearest pomts from which
a permanent navigation can be relied on do\^^l the western waters.
The principal considerations in selecting ])roper directions for those
communications are the distance from the navigable western waters,
both to tide water, and to the nearest navigable Atlantic river, and
the extent of navigation, either natural or susceptible of improve-
ment, which may be aft'orded by the rivers; distance alone is men-
tioned, so far as relates to roads, because the mountains, however
insuperable for canals, offer no important impediment to land com-
munications. So far from being an insurmountable barrier to com-
mercial intercourse between the two great sections of the Union, it
is now ascertained that those mountains may, almost in every direc-
tion, be crossed by artificial roads as permanent, as easy, and less
expensive than similar works in the lower country ; for Congress hav-
ing, contrary to current opinion, directed that the road from Cumber-
land to Brownsville should be laid out so that its ascent should not
in any place exceed an angle of five degrees wdth the horizon, no


(lilliculty has been experienced in eHecting the object witiiout cutting
through hills; and, although the road thus laid out be, in a distance
of seventy-two miles, two or three miles shorter than tliat heretofore
in use.

Although the distance from the sea to the principal dividing
mountain, through its whole length, between the western sources of
the Sus(|uehannah and those of the Savannah, be nearly the same,
yet the Atlantic bays penetrating the coast at different depths and
in different directions, the distance from the sea})orts to the nearest
western navigable waters varies considerably. Taken in straight
lines from each port to the nearest branch, beyond all the mountains
of each of the four great western rivers, they may be stated as follows:

From Philadelphia to the confluence of Conemaugh and Loyalhannon, branches

of the Allegany 220

From the city of Washington to the confluence of the rivers Mouongahela and

Cheat 150

From Richmond to Morris's on the Kanawha, below all the falls of that river 210

From Savannah or Charleston to any na\agable branch of the Tennessee, the dis-
tance exceeds 300

The distance from the same western points to the upper naviga-
tion of the corresponding Atlantic rivers can not be stated with pre-
cision, as the upper points, to which the navigation of these rivers
may be improved, are not yet ascertained. The shortest portage
between the waters of the Potomac and those of the Monongahela,
in their natural state, from West Point on the Potomac to Cheat
River below the falls, is about fifty miles in a straight line; but, in
order to secure a tolerable navigation, particularly on the Potomac,
the route from Cumberland to Brownsville (Red Stone 'Old Fort)
has been preferred, and the distance by the road lately laid out is
seventy-two miles. The portage between the north fork of the
Juniata, a branch of the Susquehannah, and the corresponding waters
of the river Allegany is somewhat shorter. That between Patton-
borough, on James River, and the falls of the Kanawha, exceeds one
hundred miles.

The most prominent, though not perhaps the most insuperable
obstacle in the navigation of the Atlantic rivers, consists in their
lower falls, which are ascribed to a presumed continuous granite ridge,
rising about one hundred and thirty feet above tide water. That
ridge from New York to James River inclusively arrests the ascent
of the tide; the falls of every river within that space being preciseh^
at the head of the tide; pursuing thence southwardly a direction nearly
parallel to the mountains, it recedes from the sea, leaving in each
southern river an extent of good navigation between the tide and the
falls. Other falls of less magnitude are found at the gaps of the
Blue Ridge, through which the rivers have forced their passage.
Higher up, the rapidity of the northern rivers, which penetrates
through the inferior ridges of the great western chain, increases as-
they approach the dividing or Allegany Mountain, and their sources
being nearly at the same elevation, their rapidity increases in pro-
portion to the shortness of their course. For that reason the naviga-
tion of the Susquehannah, above the Blue Ridge, is better than that
of the Potomac, wdiich affords, as has been stated, the shortest com-
munication from tide water to the nearest western river. The levels



of the last mentioned river having been taken by the Potomac Com-
pany, the general result is annexed, as giving a more correct idea of the
navigation of the Atlantic rivers than could be conveyed in any other
manner :



Rate of fall.

From the mouth of Savage River down to Cumberland

Thence to .the Blue Ridge

Harpers Ferry or Shenandoah Falls

Thence to Great Falls

Great and Little Falls to tide water










Feet per mile.



The papers, marked C, contain the information which has been
collected respecting the works executed or contemplated on the great
rivers already enumerated. It has not been understood that any
improvements of importance had been yet attempted on the Savannah
ana Pedee, nor on any of the tributary streams of the Oliio; and the
communications received under this head relate only to the Santee,
Roanoke, James River, Potomac, Susquehannah, and Ohio.

I. Santee.

The Santee or Catawba is said to be occasionally navigable for near
three hundred miles as high up as Morgantown, in North Carolina.
Two companies have been incorporated by that State and the State
of South Carolina, for the purpose of improving its navigation. The
Lower Falls are above Camden, and not far from the arsenal of the
United States at Mount Rock. A canal had been commenced there,
but, either from want of success in the commencement, or from want
of funds, the work appears to be suspendecL The market for the
produce brought down that river is Charleston; and the river boats
were obliged, at the mouth of the river, to enter the sea, and to reach
that port b}^ a navigation along the seashore for which they were
not calculated. To remedy that inconvenience, and to ensure a per-
manent navigation, a canal has been opened by another company,
uniting the Santee with Cooper River, which empties into the harbor
of Charleston.

The distance between the points united is twenty-two miles; the
highest intervening ground was fifty-two feet above the Santee, and
eighty-five feet above the river Cooper; but it has been reduced seven-
teen feet by digging. The descent to Santee being thirty-five feet,
effected by four locks, and that to Cooper sixty-eight feet, effected
by nine locks.

The principal supply of water is afforded by springs arising from
the marshy ground at the bottom of the canal, and by several drains
which collect and bring from an adjacent swamp the sources of the
river Cooper. The quantity is said to be seldom deficient; yet a
steam engine has been contemplated as perhaps necessary in order
to raise from the Santee an adequate supply.

The canal was carried over some small streams by means of aque-
ducts; inconsiderable ravines have been filled, and the ground was
dug in some places to the depth of sixteen feet in order to preserve


the level. But it appears that the roots of trees were the greatest
obstacle encountered in dij^ging the canal. Its breadth is twenty
feet at the bottom, and thirty -five feet at top; the depth of the water
is four feet, and it admits boats of twenty tons. The locks made of
brick, faced with marble, are sixty feet long and ten feet wide.

The capital expended is stated at $650,667, including sixty negroes
and some tracts of land belonging to the company. The canal has
been completed six years; the annual tolls had never exceeded S13,000
before the year 1807, and the annual expenses are stated at $7,000.
The want of success in this undertaking, wliich, though completed,
is very unprofitable, may be ascribed to several causes. The expense,
compared with the work, is much greater than might have been ex-
pected, and probably than was necessary. The locks are too small
for large boats, which are therefore obliged to pursue the former
route down the Santee, and by sea to Charleston ; and the want of water
is allegecTas a suflicient reason for the size of the locks. But a canal
in that situation can not, in America, be profitable, unless the naviga-
tion of the main river with wliich it communicates is rendered safe
and permanent; and whenever that of the Santee itself shall have
been improved, the utility and profits of the canal will be consider-
ably increased.

II. The Lower or Great Falls op Roanoke.

Consist in a succession of rapids, wliich, in a distance of fifteen
miles, have a fall of ninety-three feet. This obstruction is such that
almost all the tobacco of that river is transported by land to Peters-
burg, on the Appdmatox branch of James River. A canal has been
contemplated ftom the upper end of the falls to Murfreesborough,
situated on the tide water of a branch of Chowan River, twenty -five
miles above the mouth of Bennets Creek, which has been before
mentioned as one of the lines of communication between Albemarle
Sound and the Chesapeake. The level is said to be favorable without
any obstructions or valleys in the way. The distance is thirty-eight
miles, and the expense of a small canal for boats drawing two feet
and a half of water may be estimated as follows :

Digging thii-tv-eight miles, at $6,000 a mile... .'. $228, 000

Lockage ninetv-three feet, at $800 a foot 74, 400

Feeder, land, &c 47, 600

350, 000
The capital for this canal has never been subscribed, and it has
been suggested that it would be practicable to open one to Peters-
burg. It is not believed that any hills intervene in that course; and
the greatest obstacle will be found in crossing the branches of Chowan

III. James River.

A company incorporated by the State of Virginia for the improve-
ment of the navigation of the river generally has removed some
obstructions in the upper part of the river, and is bound by the charter
to render it so far navigable that there may never be less than twelve
inches of water over any of the shoals or rapids, from the upper end
of the Lower (jr Great Falls to Pattonboroug-li, a distance of two hun-
dred and twenty miles. The natural navigation of the river through


that extent is considered as better than that of any other Atlantic river
above the falls.

A communication has been opened by the company from Westham,
at the upper end of the Great Falls, to Shockoe Hill, in the city of
Richmond, in the follo\\dng manner: The water is drawTi at West-
ham from the river into a canal two hundred yards in length, at the
end of which boats descending thirty-four feet through three locks
reenter the river, and, after using its natural navigation tliree miles,
are brought by a canal tliree miles and a half in length to a basin on
Shockoe Hill, where the navigation terminates

That basin is about eighty feet above tide water, and one mile and
a half from Rockets, the port of Richmond. The whole fall from the
upper end of the canal at Westham to the basin may be stated at
fort3'-eight feet, and the distance at six miles and a half. The canal
is twenty-five feet wide, and admits boats of eight tons dra'\jing tlu^ee
feet water. The locks, eighty feet long and sixteen feet \\ade, are
of solid masonry; but the cement is defective. The aqueducts have
been thrown across valleys intervening in the course of the canal,
and some difficult digging was necessary on the side of the hills and
through ledges of rocks.

The canal, according to the charter, was intended to have been
brought doAVTi to tide water. The performance of that condition is
now suspended by an act of the legislature of Virginia, and there
seems to be a considerable diversity of opinion on that subject. In
a national point of \aew, the plan which will, at the least expense, put
coals on board vessels lying at Rocket's, deserves the preference.
For coal is in no other parts of the United States found in abundance
in the vicinity of tide water. At present the expense of transporta-
tion by the canal is already reduced to one-third of the land carriage.

The original capital of the company amounted to $140,000, of which
the State of Virginia owns S50,000, and $91,000 arising from the pro-
ceeds of tolls had, before the 1st of January, 1805, been applied to the
work, making together an expenditure of $231,000. The annual
tolls raised on fourteen thousand tons of countr}' produce, and on two
thousand coal boats, have amounted to $16,750; and the annual
repairs and expenses are estimated at $5,000. But as the company
draw also a revenue from the rent of water, applied to mills and other
waterworks erected along the canal, the}^ have been able in some
years to make dividends of $16,800, being at the rate of twelve per
cent on the original capital, but of only about seven per cent if cal-
culated on the sum of $244,000, the amount of capital expended, and
interest accrued before any dividend was made.

IV. Potomac.

The company incorporatetl by the States of Marvdand and Virginia
for improving the navigation of that river has executed the following
works :

1. At a distance of twelve miles above the head of the tide which
ascends about three miles above the cit}^ of Washington, the river
is one hundred and forty-three feet higher than tide water. At that
place, designated by the name of Great Falls, the boats passing
through a canal one mile in length, six feet deep, and twenty-five feet
wide, descends seventy-six feet by five locks, one hundred feet long,


and twelve feet wide each, and re-entering the river, follow its natu-
ral bed eight miles and a half. Another canal, of the same dimensions,
and two miles and a half in length, brings them then tlirough three
locks, and by a descent of thirty-seven feet to tide water. This
last fall is distinguished by the name of Little Falls. The two lower
locks of the Great Falls, excavated out of the solid rock, have each a
lift of eighteen feet; the three upper locks of solid masonry are of
unequal height, and have, together, a lift of forty feet. The three
locks of the Little Falls are each one hundred feet in length, and
eighteen feet v.ide. That breadth is unnecessary, and consumes too
much water, a defect which will be remedied when stone locks will be
substituted to those now in use, wliich, being of wood, will soon be

Three other canals without locks have been opened around three dis-
tinct falls: The principal at the Shenandoah Falls, below Harper's
Ferry; and at the place where the Potomac breaks through the Blue
Ridge is one mile in length around a fall of fifteen feet. Between
this and the Great Falls another canal three-fourths of a mile in length
is opened around the Seneca Falls. The third, fifty yards in length,
has been cut around Houres Falls, five miles above the Shenandoah
Falls. Above this place the navigation has been improved by deep-
ening occasionally the channel, raising the water in shallow places
by small dams, and opening sluices along the shore. It is believed
that, by multiplying the number of those low dams, by tlirowmg the
channel along the shore, and when necessary opening canals with or
without locks around the prmcipal rapids, the navigation may be
improved perhaps as high up as Cumberland, one hundred and eighty-
eight miles above tide water, to such a degree as to render the river
passable for boats the greater part of the year. And if this be found
practicable on the Potomac, which is the most rapid of the great Atlan-
tic rivers, the same improvements may, with greater facility, be
effected on any of the others. It will be indispensable in order to
attain that object on the Potomac, that additional canals with locks
should be opened at the Shenandoah or Blue Ridge Falls, which, as
has already been stated, fall forty-three feet in the distance of five

2. The Shenandoah, a river nearly as large as the Potomac itself,
after a course of two hundred and fifty miles through the great Lime-
stone Valley, unites its waters with those of the Potomac at Harpers
Ferry, just above the Blue Ridge. From Port Republic, till within
eight miles of the Potomac, a distance of near two hundred miles, it
affords a good navigation, the fall of the river being at the rate of less
than two feet a mde. In the last eight miles it falls eighty feet, and
was impassable before the improvements completed last year by the
Potomac company. Six dift'erent canals twenty feet wide, four feet
and a half deep, and extending altogether two thousand four hun-
dred yards, have been opened around the most diflicult falls. Through
those and five stone locks one hundred feet long and twelve feet wide
each, and effecting together a descent of near fifty feet, the communi-
cation is now opened, and will render the undertaking much more
productive than heretofore. The water in all those canals and locks,
as well as in those executed on the Potomac, is uniformly supplied by
the river itself,


The capital originally subscribed amounted to $311,560, divided
into seven hundred and one shares, of which the State of Maryland
owns two hundred and twenty, and the State of Virginia seventy.
The total amount expended, including an additional payment received
from late subscribers, $38,000, arising from tolls which have been
applied to the work, and a debt of about $67,000 contracted by the
company, amounts to $444,652. The annual tolls raised on eight
thousand tons of sundry articles, valued at more than half a million of
dollars, have not before the opening of the Shenandoah exceeded
$15,000; and the annual expenses and repairs are stated at $5,000.
One hundred shares of £145 sterling each remain open for subscription.


This river has no perpendicular or altogether impassable falls;
but, from the head of the tide up to the Pennsylvania line, a distance
of ten miles, the navigation is impeded by a succession of dangerous
rapids; and these, though occasionally separated by sheets of smooth
water, continue forty miles higher up, at least as far as Columbia;
the whole fall from this place to the head of the tide being estimated
at about one hundred and fort}^ feet. The navigation, through that
distance, at all times dangerous, is practicable only during the high
freshets, when rafts and flat bottomed boats, eighty feet long and
seventeen feet wide, may descend from the several widely extended
upper branches of the river. Less dangerous falls are found at the
place where it breaks through the Blue Ridge; above which the natu-
ral navigation from Middletown upwards, whether up the Juniata,
the West Branch, or the East Branch, is much better than that of the
Potomac, and has been improved in several places at the expense of
the State of Pennsylvania. A canal one mile long and four feet
deep, with two brick locks, has also been opened around the Cone-
wago Falls in the gap of the Blue Ridge, $14,000 having been paid for
that object by the same State. Its entrance is difficult, and it is
used for water works, being free for navigation, tlirough private
property. From Columbia down to the Maryland line considerable
improvements in the bed of the river have also been made at the
expense of the two States, and the descending navigation has, on the
whole, been improved; but few boats ever attempt to ascend. Nor is
it believed that the natural advantages of the most considerable
Atlantic river will ever be fidly enjoyed until a canal shall have been
opened the whole way from Columbia, either to tide water or to the
Delaware and Chesapeake Canal.

A company incorporated by the State of Maryland for opening a
canal around the falls in that part of the river which extends from the
Pennsylvania line to tide water, has completed that part of the work,
the utility of which is but very partially felt, whilst the bed of the
river remains the only communication from its upper extremity up
to Columbia.

The canal, thirty feet wide and three feet deep, and admitting boats
of twenty tons, is nine miles in length, wdth a fall of fifty-nine feet.
The descent is effected by eight stone locks, each of which is one hun-
dred feet in length and twelve feet wide. The water is supplied by
the river itself; and, in order to cross the rivers Conawingo and

Online LibraryUnited States. Inland Waterways CommissionPreliminary report of the Inland Waterways Commission. Message from the President transmitting a preliminary report → online text (page 63 of 83)