Thursday, June 25, 2020

Chenango Canal, Eaton, Ellis Morse, and New History

Some interesting information on the Chenango Canal!

     “Dear Sir: I am waiting very impatiently for instructions from the committee whether to remain here and try to get the bill through or return home and let it take its course.”  This excerpt is from a newly discovered letter written on March 18, 1835 from Albany by Robert Henry of Eaton.

     Eaton had introduced an Act in Assembly on March 13, 1835 to make the proposed West Branch Feeder of Chenango Canal navigable to the Hamlet of Eaton.  In a letter to Ellis Morse and others from Carbondale, dated January 23, 1835, we find that Mr. William McAlprin had made an estimate of the cost involved and found that of the two routes proposed, one using “Pettis’s Pond” the other the proposed feeder, that they would be about the same both in distance and in lockage and in cost. ($20,000 for one $21,000 for the other.)

     A main factor involved with the success or failure of this plan, however, must be somehow realized, it was politics.  Though this feeder would certainly benefit the public interest (which was a main criteria in the Legislative Act), the politics that were still somewhat in power at that time and involved with the Chenango Canal (though supporters of this venture throughout) was the Anti-Masonic Party.  

The Anti-Masonic movement in New York State had gathered great political force and power, and it was well known that Ellis Morse and Eaton had remained a hot bed of loyal Masons who had remained active while other lodges and orders had closed from political and public pressure.  This canal improvement would have made it easy for Ellis Morse’s (high ranking Mason) large distillery in Eaton to get needed grain and for him to ship his product.  I believe that this is why the act was not passed!

     Eaton would latter connect to the canal via Peck’s Port and an area now referred to as “Fiddler’s Green.”  Peck’s Port in its prime had as many as four barges docked at one time.  Peck’s Port was literally the most active port on the canal because of the Town of Eaton goods and businesses.

     The Chenango Canal opened in May of 1837 with limited success which gained and waned as the years went on.  Some of the original problems included porous canal walls which had to be sealed (flooding occurred in the basements of some communities where the canal was put through its many streets because of the loose soil.) higher loses of water through lock gates that became less than tight when closing because of sediment and loose gravel and, the inability of the Canal Authority to accurately gauge the tonnage of the canal boats, since there was no weight locks on the cnal and the shipper’s figures had to be used.

     In spite of this all, before 1859 the canal ran quietly with ordinary repairs and maintenance of its bridges and tow banks.

     The 1860’s, however proved costly as extensive repairs could not be more to the dilapidated locks.  J. P. Goodsell the Resident Engineer of the Middle Division of the State Canals in his 1861 report said: “I have made a personal and thorough examination of all the locks upon this canal and find that those from the summit (Peck’s Port) North which are built of lime and sandstone of that vicinity, have retained their original proportions entire, with the exception of a few of the lower wings.


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