The idea of having a canal is a simple visualization, boats floating down stream or being towed through canal channels and across aqueducts, but the reality is that a commodity was needed for its success – WATER.
The original surveyors believed that the vast majority of the water supply for the canal could be easily garnered from a town at the canal’s summit.
A study of building the feeders and reservoirs was commenced with an eye toward its eventual cost, since a cap of $1,000,000 had been basically set by the New York State Legislature. The study returned a finding that 9 reservoirs or lakes could be established or drawn from for the purpose of filling the canal and keeping it full; of the nine, seven of the water bodies would be located in the Town of Eaton.
The total cost was estimated at $l32,349.26. The annual supply was gauged to be 510,298 M c. feet (M represents 1000 X) (later Kingsley (Lebanon) Reservoir would be added for more water.)
The contracts for these reservoirs and feeders were issued in June of 1834 and needed to be completed by the fall of 1835 which would give the summer of 1836 for testing the quality of work and their ability to fill the distance of over 90 miles.
Here the author notes that of the 510,298 M cu. feet estimated, about 400,000 M cu. feet of water would be supplied by Eaton’s reservoirs or lakes.
To quote Michelle McFee, who had published a book entitled Limestone Locks and Overgrowth, “The amount of time and effort required to build the feeder and reservoir system was enormous, and the changes the engineers proposed were extraordinary. The three year long construction plan involved building dams with rudimentary equipment, digging miles of feeders and directing their flow, flooding farms and mills, and draining swamps.”
The canal was unable to open in 1836 and Kingsley Brook feeder would not be completed until 1837, so that canal opening would wait. At this time the canal consisted of 114 composite (wood, quicklime and stone) locks, 2 stone lift locks (at either end of the canal), one guard lock, 19 aqueducts, 52 culverts, 21 waste-water-weirs, 56 road bridges, 106 farm bridges, 53 feeder bridges, 12 dams, and 11 lock houses, this in the year 1836.
Here our long hidden story of Eaton and the canal is recorded for the first time in 150 years. Eaton in 1835 set to work to gain support for the deepening and widening of the West Branch Feeder in order to make it able to be navigated.
The great need for this was the foundries and distilleries of Eaton, the Hamlet, and their need for iron ore from Clinton and grain from the state. Ellis Morse was a prime voice in trying to bring the measure to fruition. The Morse distillery, woolen mills, grain mills, and lumber mills were a major industry in the area. The foundries (though they did not include Wood, Taber & Morse at that time) still produced the Winchester Axe and was home to the early cast plow factory of Alpeous Morse and the famous Payson and Burch Foundry.
This proposed branch would also connect it with the settlement and commerce of Eaton, the Town, via its turnpikes.