Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hibernicus - Letter XXIX

Submitted by Dick Palmer

Montezuma, July, 1820.

My Dear Sir,

I consider navigation on a canal, not only the least expensive, but the most secure mode of travelling that can be adopted. Here is no bursting of boilers nor any other accident to which steam-boats are exposed. You can neither be burnt nor drowned, and your horses cannot run away with your carriage and dash it to atoms; but then you must be on the constant look out to avoid a fracture of the head from the low and ill constructed bridges: why, in this country of wood, stone should be used for erecting bridges; why they should be made so low as just to avoid the boat; why they should contain abutments jutting out into the canal, and for ever striking the boat; and why the stones should be piled upon each other without mortar, are questions which I must refer to the decision of the Canal Board and their engineers.

If the bridges had been sufficiently elevated, then the boat could have been drawn from a mast instead of the side, as is practiced in Flanders, and an unceasing and pernicious wearing of of the banks by the drag rope would have been prevented. I know of no other accidents that can happen, except from the falling of trees across the boat, or from the carelessness of the men who have the management of the locks.

I saw at Jordan, which is 80 miles from Utica, two loaded boat, which had left Schenectady seven days before. This would average 25 miles a day, and part of the way is on a difficult ascending navigation up the Mohawk. Again; a vessel of 50 tons went from Utica to Trumansburgh on the Cayuga Lake, 130 miles in three days, loaded with merchandise, and without change of horses. A loaded boat can go on this canal without difficulty at the rate of 40 miles a day.

I have just learned that the state is about to purchase the rights of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company. This is a very just and proper measure. The works of the Company are out of order, and the toll is exorbitant. Every bushel of wheat has to pay a duty of 59 cents before it reaches Schenectady.

The canal of this Company at Rome is one mile and three quarters long, thirty-two feet wide at the top, and from two and a half to three feet deep. It has two locks 73 feet long, and 12 feet wide. The lift of the one on the Mohawk is ten feet, and on Wood Creek eight. This work was made under the direction of Mr. Weston, an English engineer, who had, besides his expenses, a salary of a thousand guineas a year. The superintendent of the laborers had a salary of 2,500 dollars; and this short canal took two years to make.

What a difference in management; proceeding at the same rate, it would take two centuries to complete the Erie Canal. The water cement was imported. The lock at the German Flats was made of terras, and at Little Falls of Welsh lime. The former has answered best.

The tolls of this Company are so oppressive, that boats frequently unload and pass through the locks empty and resume their load afterwards. It is indeed well that the state has purchased it. I am persuaded that the markets of New York will now be supplied with western, instead of southern flour, and that the displacement of the latter from the market will greatly affect the agriculture of the south.

In looking at the great results which must arise from it - it is impossible to keep out of view some of the revolutions which will take place in the internal trade of the country. There is a certain class scattered all over, who unite in one profession, the calling of iron mongers, grocers, druggists, and shop keepers, and who are continually offering temptations to purchasers. The facility of conveyance by the canal, will induce people to resort to villages for supplies. The thrifty housewife will take her cheese and her butter to market, and return with her sugar and tea.

A considerable deal of trade will be carried on by exchange, and more scope and greater encouragement will be afforded for the operations of industry and economy. A vast capital will be employed to more advantage. A canal boat of 40 tons can be purchased for 400 dollars, which, with two horses, will be cheaper than a heavy wagon of six horses, and will convey ten times as much. The comparative cheapness of canal barges to river sloops as well as wagons, will supersede the necessity of very large investments of capital.

With all these and other important advantages staring the community in the face, it is not extraordinary, that there should be an organized opposition against the canal that wretches should be encouraged to instill poison into the public mind, and to destroy its embankments? By the bye, can you tell me why accidents in the bursting of embankments and mill-dam occur more frequently in the night time than in the day?


No comments: