In This Edition of The Tumble
Montezuma And The Wabash & Erie Canal
By Carolyn I. Schmidt
Montezuma, Indiana is located on the east bank of the Wabash river on what was originally a Miami Indian village. The village was quite large extending two miles to the southeast. An important trading post in the early 1800s, it was named for the last Aztec emperor of Mexico by the early white settlers. It thrived because of its transportation advantage: the Wabash river and later the Wabash & Erie Canal, the two major bisecting railroads, and the coast to coast highway, which crossed the Wabash at Montezuma.
Founded in 1823, the town was laid out by Whitlock and Majors about 1824. When rumors were heard about building a canal in Indiana, Joseph M. Hayes of Montezuma announced himself a candidate for the Legislature in 1825 claiming he would do much for the canal if he was elected.
The canal did not become a reality until many years later. In anticipation of its coming, in 1846, Col. Erastus M. Benson formed a partnership with John B. Davis, Clerk of Parke county and opened a general merchandise business. It was large and flourished after the canal opened to Montezuma in 1848. It grew into a wholesale buying and selling business and had a big warehouse on the canal basin. It was managed by Septimus Vanlandingham. The basin where the canal boats were stored, loaded with products such as logs, grain and salt pork bound for New Orleans, and turned around, soon became known as Benson’s Basin. Remains of this basin are still visible today and are marked by a Canal Society of Indiana sign.
East side of Benson’s Basin in 2004 and the basin along the Wabash River in 2022.
Photos by Bob Schmidt
In 1849 Whitlock extended the town’s area due to the growth of the canal. It soon rivaled Terre Haute and Lafayette for canal commerce. Many types of craftsmen came to build the canal and its related structures. A young German bridge builder, Frederick Bertram Machledt, came to build the bridges across the canal. Around the same time James Wilson built a large two-story hotel north of the bridge over the canal bed. It was later operated by John and Anna Brady and known during canal days as the Brady Boarding House. Lodging for the night was 25 cents, but it was said Mrs. Brady never turned anyone from her door. She said, “He might be back sometime and pay me.” It was torn down by Paul Bartlow in 1972 after becoming a “hang out.”
Although the steam engine replaced the canal boat in 1857, the canal was in operation as late as 1870. Zimri Maris was a canal superintendent as was James Johnston, who also surveyed parts of the Wabash and Erie Canal. James Mushett was the first man to “drive” a canal boat into Montezuma and later was the captain of a canal boat on which his wife Arvilla Jane Mushett was the cook. Charley Peer and Tom McIntosh owned a canal boat. Peer served as its captain while McIntosh drove a canal boat for E. M. Benson. Rolland “Rawl” Bentley was also a canal boatman. Jedidiah F. Stacey was a produce dealer and canal repairman. He was in charge of the aqueducts and repairing the Wabash and Erie Canal from Sugar Creek to Armiesburg. A wagon bridge No. 79 was built across the canal to reach Burn’s Ferry, which crossed the Wabash river.
In 1906 the Montezuma Sanatorium and Hotel was built on the north side of what had been Benson’s Basin on the Wabash and Erie Canal. It was erected on the same spot that Benson’s canal warehouse was once located. It was about 150 yards north of an artesian well. At this time in the United States people sought the curative powers of water from springs or artesian wells and would travel many miles to take in their restorative powers.
The Sanatorium had forty or more large spacious and beautifully furnished rooms each with an outside exposure, modern appliances and conveniences. It treated rheumatism, rheumatic gout, stomach trouble, chronic inflamed joints, kidney and bladder trouble, disease of the liver, catarrhal, jaundice, dropsy, eczema, and all other diseases of the skin and blood, insomnia, lead and mercurial poisoning, chronic malaria, general debility and all nervous diseases. Its rates, including room, baths and bath attendant and physician’s advice and examinations, ranged from $12.00 to $21.00 per week. The hotel rate, including board and lodging was $2.00 per day. Baths with attendant were 50 cents and without attendant twenty-five cents. Unfortunately less than a year after opening, the Sanatorium burned down in 1907 in less than an hour. An arsonist was suspected. The swimming pool continued into the 1930s. At the time of the pool’s demise, the artesian well was capped.
Today a park is located where Benson’s warehouse and later the Sanatorium once were.
In 1847 a report of the mechanical structures on the Wabash & Erie Canal was made from which we learn a lot about the structures. Upon completion of the canal in 1853 a new report was made to the Trustees of the structures. Those on the canal in the Montezuma area are as follows and are listed from the north to the south.
- Road bridge No. 78 , one mile above Montezuma.
- Road bridge No. 79, upper part of Montezuma.
- Road bridge No. 80, lower part of Montezuma.
- Culvert No. 142, at Montezuma, length 122 feet, 4 by 1½feet clear. Top of culvert 10 feet B.
Benson’s basin was not listed since it didn’t have any mechanical structures.
By Sam Ligget, CSI Director from Terre Haute
Terre Haute, Indiana, was second to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1824 for pork production in the United States. Because hogs were driven down Main Street to packing plants along the Wabash River and later the Wabash & Erie Canal, Terre Haute acquired the nickname “Hogapolis.”
A hog drive would start at a farm the furthest out and that farmer would start driving his hogs down the road in the direction of the packing plant. This procession would gain hogs along the way as other farmers joined in with their hogs. Feral hogs would also be added to the parade. A headsman either on horseback or on foot led the way scattering corn enticing the hogs to follow. “Men were stationed on either side at crossings of streets and ally-ways, to prevent the wayward from escaping. Then came the regular drovers with sticks urging the mass forward”, according to The History of Early Terre Haute from 1811 to 1840 by Blackford Condit D.D.. After these came men prodding along a very fat hog or two and finally wagons for the stragglers.
In the early pioneer times of the Midwest, the easiest means of transporting commodities to market was by a water way. Most of the rivers and creeks flowed south eventually to New Orleans. Canals and railroads would change this situation and allow Midwesterners, including meat packers, easier and more economical access to the east coast markets of the United States. Thus they could obtain a better price for their commodities.
It is worth noting here that Robert Logan, the Scottish born builder of locks #46 and #47 on the Cross Cut Canal in Vigo County, had a pork processing business near the canal at Highbanks, Indiana, in Pike County.
By 1858 Terre Haute would have 6 pork packing houses and 2 slaughter plants. All of these establishments were either along the Wabash River or the Wabash & Erie Canal. Four of these businesses were south of the National Road along the Wabash River and four were north of the National Road along the canal. All four north of the National Road fronted Water Street and the backs of the buildings were right by the Wabash & Erie Canal.
The four processing plants north of the National Road were: J. L. Humaston & Co., J.D. Early’s Pork House, Wilson & Co., and Early & Miller Co. Early & Miller Co. was the lone slaughterhouse. The other plants were pork processors. All of these firms discharged the pork entrails into the river via the Wabash & Erie Canal. The waste weir off the nadir level just to the south of these businesses would have been the course for this waste into the Wabash River. This would not only be unsightly to travelers on the canal, but the stench would have been bad in the warmer months. On January 2, 1963, the last of these packing businesses was destroyed in an explosion that killed 17 employees. The explosion was due to a gas leak and Home Packing never reopened. After this disaster many people said the slime in the Wabash River cleared up.
In 1853 Wilson & Co. slaughtered 14,406 hogs, John Humaston & Co. slaughtered 7,750 hogs and Early’s Pork House slaughtered 22,011 hogs. The pork was packed in hickory barrels for shipment. An extensive cooperage industry grew up around the packing plants. The meat was smoked or salted for packing. Later sugar curing pork was added as a meat preserving technique.
J. D. Early owned a pork packing house, a slaughterhouse, and a residency all by the Wabash & Erie Canal to the north of the National Road. During the early 1840s, Early used his pork packing house as the scene of several theatrical productions. The construction of the canal and its opening would have been taking place during much of this time.
Today much of the area that was once owned by the Wabash & Erie Canal and these packing plants is owned by Duke Energy, River Loft Apartments, CSX Railroad and Indiana State University. Indiana State’s indoor baseball practice facility and outdoor track and field facility take up a large part of this property.
Unable to find a picture of a packing plant on the canal in Terre Haute, I’m using this picture of a packing plant on the canal in Lafayette, Indiana. H. T. Sample & Sons Packing House was on the Wabash & Erie Canal in Lafayette. Notice the canal and canal boat in the picture. H. T. Sample & Sons Packing House became Dryfus Packing & Provisions Co., which was destroyed by fire in 1940.
To learn more about Henry Taylor Sample check out the CSI website; indcanal.org
Look in either Biographies Sample, Henry or Publications “The Hoosier Packet” February 2008, page 3.
CSI’s Early Attempt To Mark Indiana’s Canals
After the founding of the Canal Society of Indiana in 1982, the group had many ideas of projects they would like to do such as taking an inventory of what still remained, marking the routes of the canals, etc. The Indiana State Historical Society had a format marker project in place, but their markers were very expensive. By 1984 it seemed that it might be feasible for the Canal Society to mark the canal routes more cheaply. Thomas Meek, one of the society’s original founders and co-editor of Indiana Waterways, wrote an article in the July 1984 issue of that publication that relates what was happening.
Generic Canal Route Markers by Thomas Meek
The dream of the Canal Society of Indiana being able someday to place markers along the entire routes of Indiana’s historic waterways seems somewhat preposterous at first, when one considers the hundreds of miles of derelict canals, which remain visible and thus markable. Add then the fact that the standard cast-aluminum historical marker now goes for $850.00 each [1984 price], and the reality swiftly recedes to an alarming and discouraging distance.
Good news came wrapped in bad news when Dandelion Screen Printing & Design, which is owned by Thomas and Julia Meek, your Editors, completed an order for a number of aluminum signs, called the customer, and never saw him again.
“He’ll be around,” we thought; “after all, he furnished the metal.” (The metal the signs were printed on had cost about the same as the cost of printing, you see.)
I won’t list all the sordid details that leaked out of the various inquiring phone calls we made, but it should suffice to say that the customer’s business had “went kerflewie,” as the quaint expression goes.
After a decent interval and the required letters, we have laid claim to the metal sign blanks, with the intention of converting them to roadside canal markers.
The idea is to print up a quantity of identical signs, which can be placed at many points along the route of a canal, thus marking the canal itself, rather than the discreet structures such as locks and aqueducts. This is an attempt to address the staggering magnitude of these canals, by treating them as continuous entities, rather than as a series of scattered and unconnected sites.
The beauty of using the printed aluminum signs is that although a single shotgun blast will quite effectively destroy a printed sign, a printed sign can be replaced about eighty five times for the price of a single cast metal marker.
So plans fresh in our heads, we decided to act. The idea was to start with about forty markers, to be placed along County roads where they either parallel or intersect the canal.
Then, it occurred to someone that U.S. Highway #24 runs parallel to the Wabash & Erie Canal from the Ohio State Line to a spot a few miles west of Logansport, being visible from the highway over most of that distance.
We contacted the Indiana State Highway Department, and they had a pretty positive attitude about the plan; they helped us to select two sites, which are suitable to our need for visibility and easy access, while conforming to the Highway Commission’s safety considerations.
We proceeded to design and manufacture four aluminum canal markers. One for each site approved by the State Highway folks, and two spares to sacrifice to the principle of the universal right to bear arms.
These markers for the heavily-travelled Highway #24 are larger than the ones designed for smaller county roads, mostly because of the greater difficulty in finding suitable locations for them. Since only two markers will be seen between the Ohio State Line and Logansport, we felt that these should be as visible as possible. As a bonus from the State Highway Commission, they will place “Point of Interest One Mile” signs at the proper distance each side of the two locations chosen.
Unfortunately, there is considerable “red tape” (and I can think of a few other terms), which must be filled out in quadruplicate, with maps, sketches, etc. When one is not familiar with these forms, mistakes are made, needing corrections, etc.
The proper forms are filed, amended, etc. We got a call from the Highway Commission the other day; they had some questions, and said that everything looks okay, but stopped short of the official “go-ahead.” That, we are currently awaiting.
When permission to install the two Highway #24 markers is granted, it will be time for Phase Two of the project: the County road markers. That’s where YOU come in.
We heed to contact the County Highway departments of the counties through which the canal ruins pass, in order to ask permission to install our markers. We also need to get in touch with the County historical associations to ask if they’d be willing to kick in a few bucks for the posts. (We can get them fairly cheaply if we buy in quantity.)
We’d like to have a contact person in each canal county if possible.
Marker Update — Good news! After communication with the Indiana Historical Bureau, the Indiana State Highway Commission has granted the official Permission for the Canal Society of Indiana to place informative markers at two locations along U.S. Highway 24. One will be located a short distance west of the Ohio State line, on the south side of the road, where the Scipio Roads joins U.S. #24. This is also the location of Lock No. 1 of the Wabash & Erie Canal, also known as Saylor’s Lock; and what we believe to be the old Saylor house still stands on the north side of the highway.
The other marker will be placed about four miles southwest of Huntington, where Silver Creek crosses the highway and enters the Wabash River after passing under the Silver Creek Arch, one of four surviving Wabash & Erie stone-arch culverts.
Both of the above sites would be suitable, and perhaps better served by more specific markers relating to each location’s own significance, but when we applied for permission to erect the markers, we had hoped for more than two sites, and had no idea where they might go, hence the “generic” signs.
Perhaps we can get permission to change the signs at some time in the future, to deal more specifically with these sites, but in the meantime, we’re putting up what we have ready.
Also, Pamela Bennett, the Director of the Indiana Historical Bureau, has expressed interest in learning how the printed metal signs hold up to the onslaughts of the elements of weather and vandalism.
If is unlikely that printed signs will replace the cast-aluminum ones in all cases; after all, cast aluminum is practically indestructible. On the other hand, metal-scavenging is an increasingly popular way to get money (you may have noticed that many of the old-style boulder-type historical markers have their nice bronze plaques missing). The price of aluminum is rising, and the scrap value of the cast markers goes up. Printed signs don’t have so much metal, and are not as tempting: they may turn out to last longer after all.
As can be seen in the above article, CSI today is fulfilling that original dream of marking canal sites. To date we have placed around 80 of them and have more in process for the future. Our markers cost about $125 to make and we ask others to fund the posts and erect them. We can do this much more cheaply than the Indiana State Historical Marker. The website for their markers states: An Indiana State Historical Marker for the 2022-2023 application cycle will cost $3,300. The applicant (an individual or an organization/institution) must raise the full cost of an Indiana State Historical Marker.
The article questions if a cheaper marker will last longer than a more expensive one. CSI has a good success rate with these less expensive markers. Some have been up for over 10 years and are still in good condition. Only a few have been stolen in remote areas.
Canal Notes 11: Chapin’s Warning
By Tom Castaldi
Watching as Wabash & Erie Canal workmen were busy removing his house from the path of the 40-foot wide and four-foot deep channel, the great Miami orator Chapine was overheard muttering, “You people are crazy. The Great Spirit made the rivers. It won’t rain enough to fill this canal of yours”.
Standing there in White Raccoon’s village near present-day U.S. 24 West and the Allen-Whitley county line, the engineers were aware of the annual dry seasons of summer and the old Miami’s observation. Unexpected droughts also occurred and served as another reason whey the longest manmade waterway in the western world was such a wondrous feat.
Water losses would come from natural seepage into the earth; vandals breaking away towpath levees for all sorts of private concerns, destruction by burrowing animals, channels dug to draw away water to power mills or to float boats back into the river, and all relied upon rain for the water that is the medium of the canal building art.
In the mid-1840s, Chief Engineer Jesse Williams noted that too many trees had been cut away from the surrounding forests. Interrupting this natural moisture-holding regulator, a gradual seepage of water no longer provided a dependable year-found water source. Engineers knew there would be water hazards and their Saint Joseph’s River dam was not intended to support the entire project. Between Fort Wayne and Lafayette alone, feeder dams were constructed on the Wabash River at Huntington, Lagro, Peru and Pittsburg as well as in side stream along the way.
The builders knew the importance of collecting river water for their great project. Chapine had simply noted that the source of their water was dependent upon the Great Spirit.
Cranberries, Potash, Staves and Saleratus
By Ben W. Meek
The report of the Wabash and Erie Canal Commissioners of 1848, shows some interesting products that were shipped via canal, and gives some insight into the early economy of Indiana. For instance, in 1848, 267 tons of cranberries were shipped on the Wabash and Erie, mostly from Fort Wayne to Ohio and the east.
Today the wild cranberry is nearly extinct in the Hoosier state, but in the early days they grew in great quanti-ties in the bogs and marshes, which covered much of northern Indiana and northwest Ohio. Cranberries grow only in acid sphagnum bogs, and the large-scale drainage projects, which were started around 1880, ruined the wet lands for cranberries.
The plant is a slender, trailing and creeping shrub, which needs a moist environment. The leaves are dark green and turn a red hue in the fall. The small flowers appear around the last of June and the berries are ripe in the early fall, often remaining on the plant until spring. This gave a long season for harvesting when farm work might not be so demanding.
Potash, pearl ash and saleratus also appear in the reports of products shipped. They were of the clearing and burning on the huge forest, which covered most of the state. The 1850 Federal Census of Fort Wayne lists a saleratus factory, which used 1,500 bushels of coal and 80 tons of pearl ash to product 40 tons of saleratus worth $8,000. Saleratus was used as a leavening agent like baking powder. A recipe for muffins, published in the Ohio Cultivator in 1848, reads; “Stir into a pint of sour or buttermilk, a spoon of saleratus, dissolved in warm water, a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of fresh lard melted, and sifted Indian meal (corn meal) enough to make a thick batter, bake in muffin tins.”
In the 1850 census, an Ashery is listed in Fort Wayne, which used 1,500 bushels of ashes, 300 cord of wood and employed 5 hands. Lye was leached out of the ashes and burned to make pearl ash and potash (potassium carbonate). 240 tons of ashes, worth $7,500 were shipped in 1848; they were used in making soap and in the manufacture of glass. It was possible for a settler to pay for his land with the sale of wood ashes left from burning the trees. Field ashes brought 8 to 10 cents a bushel and fireplace ash 12½ cents.
Quite a number of other forest products were shipped on the canal in 1848: 19,000 cord of wood, which was the ordinary fuel of the time, much oak bark for use in tanneries, wood shingles, laths and 58,428,000 feet of lumber.
There were four cooperage companies in Fort Wayne in 1850, which employed 25 workers and produced as estimated total of 7,000 barrels, used for flour, beer, whiskey, cranberries, etc. (four flour mills were in operation in the town, most using water from the canal for power). Coopers also made tubs, kegs, piggins, etc.
The barrel staves were usually oak, ash, chestnut and maple. Hoop poles were cut from hickory saplings and used to bind the staves together. In addition to barrels produced along the canal, many staves, headers and hoop poles were shipped out of the state. The Indiana Stave Company had two factories in New Haven and one in Fort Wayne.
Northern Indiana would not have developed as rapidly as it did without the canal to provide transportation for these industries. It was just a sleepy little village before the Wabash and Erie was constructed and it might have remained so, or become a small county seat.
The above article first appeared in “Indiana Waterways” in June 1982. This publication helped to start the Canal Society of Indiana and served as its journal for several years.
W & E Canal Lives Again For Fort Wayne Area Fourth Graders
By Margaret Griffin
“How old ARE you?” a little boy asked the volunteer portraying Mrs. Nuck at the Forks of the Wabash History Park in Huntington, Indiana. She’d just told the tour group that she arrived in Huntington County on a canal boat in the 1830s.
Children in the Fourth Grade in area schools visit every Spring and Fall on scheduled tours at The Forks, which is right off US 24. They make several stops in addition to the Nuck House, the original two-story log cabin built by the family. They learn by going through Chief Richardville’s treaty house, a wigwam, a one-room schoolhouse, an archaeological dig, a pottery making station, a music station, and the Wabash and Erie Canal Room.
The Canal Room is inside the museum building, the only modern structure there. Volunteers in costume tell how much the canal was needed. They explain that it was imagined by George Washington, built by Irishmen, had many boats which carried goods and people, and that it isn’t there anymore because of faster railroads. “It was right in the middle of where the parking lot is now, so be careful when you walk out the door!”
In the 2022-23 school year, 2,356 students from 43 schools in ten counties visited the Forks of the Wabash History Park. There were nine private tours of the canal room from June to June, with people from as far away as England and Scotland.
Lowell and Margaret Griffin of Fort Wayne volunteer at the Forks during two seasons of school tours, which run April and May, and again in September and October. Lowell is a tour guide and archaeological dig specialist while Margaret interprets in the Canal Room.
Students are amazed by the murals on the wall, photographs (just a few, because there weren’t many cameras yet), drawings, maps, and facts about the “longest canal in America.” They like to imagine riding on the roof on one of the two models in the room. They listen to the story of Captain Mahon and his brothers who operated a packet from Mahon. “Do you know where Mahon is?” they’re asked. Sometimes a hand will be raised, and they’re sure they’ve been there before. But Mahon, just south of Roanoke, disappeared like many small towns which depended on the Wabash and Erie Canal.
“We didn’t know horses could swim that fast,” one youngster said after he head that boats in the water were pulled by horses.
“Oh, no—the horses aren’t in the water. They’re on the towpath beside the water,” came the quick response.
Some comments from teachers included “Students had an amazing day. They were very excited to share all that they’d experienced.”
“Volunteers did an excellent job of keeping the kids engaged and interested. All the kids in the group told what their favorite stations were, with each station being mentioned.”
“Rave reviews from students and parents who attended.”
Beside school tours, the history park hosts tours during Huntington’s Heritage Days in June and special events for Halloween and Christmas. For more information, contact Beth Stricker, Tour and Events Coordinator, at (260) 356-1903 or forksofthewabash.org.
Visiting The Dismal Swamp Canal
By Carolyn I. Schmidt
Photos by Bob Schmidt
To celebrate our nation’s freedom Bob and Carolyn Schmidt and Sue Jesse went to the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center at 2356 Highway 17 North, near South Mills, North Carolina on July 4, 2023. There they learned more about the Dismal Swamp Canal and the part it played in the Civil War and slavery.
The Dismal Swamp’s Welcome Center is located across the canal from the parking lot of the North Carolina Dismal Swamp State Park. To reach it a movable bridge must be crossed by visitors. From the bridge the canal can be viewed for three miles both up and down stream since the canal was constructed in straight lines.
The Dismal Swamp Canal in North Carolina can be seen from the moveable bridge looking to the south with the Welcome Center on the right hand side. During certain hours of the day a bridge tender is on duty to move the bridge and allow passage of boats down the canal. If a boat is late and wants to pass through after the tender’s hours, he is stuck at the bridge until the following day. About three miles downstream from the Welcome Center there is a lock in the canal that boats pass through.
As we left the Welcome Center and crossed the bridge around 3:45 p.m., the bridge tender took out his binoculars and looked both upstream and downstream to see if he could see a boat in either direction. He was preparing to leave for the day.
The Welcome Center has lots of pamphlets about the swamp, the Civil War Battle of South Mills, etc., and an excellent display of stuffed animals, which are found in the Dismal Swamp. It also has interactive exhibits about building the canal, harvesting trees from the swamp, slave labor, etc. Across from the Center there is a boardwalk with short and long loops through the swamp that have signage along them about the flora and fauna. This side of the swamp is very humid, lush and green with lots of cypress knees and buzzing, biting insects.
The other side of the swamp in Virginia around Drummond Lake is a barren wasteland with dark water, the result of ground water seeping through organic soils surrounding the lake. Note all the ditches that are shown on the map. Signage at the park says:
Canals and ditches provided transportation arteries into the Swamp. Every new canal opened up more of the swamp’s virgin forests to logging. The ditching and draining also dried out the soil by changing the flow of the groundwater through the area. As a result, the swamp today is much drier and smaller. It also contains different habitats.
A second sign says:
The Dismal Swamp Canal
The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest operating manmade waterway in the United States. In the 1800s hundreds of passenger ships, shingle flatboats and schooners used this transportation route. The canal allowed construction of more ditches giving both industry and tourists a greater access to the swamp.
In 1859 the Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal was constructed leading to the decline in boat traffic on the Dismal Swamp Canal. Today, the canal is part of the alternate Intercoastal Waterway and is mainly used by pleasure boats.
Construction of the Dismal Swamp Canal was completed in 1805. The resulting spoil bank acted as a dam and slowly dried out the land east of the canal. Much of this section of the original swamp was then converted to farmland.
Another sign says:
The Story of the Dismal Swamp Canal
The canal plays an important role in the historic and human activities in the Dismal Swamp. The 22-mile-long canal provided a route from the Albemarle Sound to the Norfolk Harbor. The waterway enabled businesses to ship goods and crops to market without having to travel through the treacherous Ocracoke Inlet.
Construction of the Canal
Although the Dismal Swamp Canal Company is credited with constructing the canal, the bulk of the grueling labor fell to free and enslaved African-Americans. Some slaveholders rented out slaves for labor as a way of earning additional income. Digging the Dismal Swamp Canal was treacherous, brutal work. Workers had to cut through dense tangles of vines, cane and trees, and pull stumps out of the peat and standing water. They combated heat, humidity and biting insects. They were often beaten and abused in the work camps as well.
The canal’s connection to the swamp
The canal saw the heaviest traffic in the mid-1800s. It opened the way for construction of more ditches in the swamp, damaged the pocosin and swamp habitat and increased lumber extraction from the swamp. But it attracted more tourist traffic to the area and generated more interest in the swamp. The arrival of steam railroads and the development of shipping options led to the decline of Dismal Swamp Canal’s workload. Today the canal is part of the Intercoastal Waterway and is used mainly for recreation.
The town of South Mills is south of the Welcome Center. A pamphlet found there relates the battle of South Mills as follows:
“The Battle of South Mills”
The dismal Swamp Canal, opened the waterway to traffic in 1805, became a “prize of war” during the Civil War. In the early months of war, southerners used the canal to transport much-needed supplies. W. F. Lynch, Commander of the C.S.S. Sea Bird, a side-wheeler steamer, received naval supplies via the canal when he was in charge of a tiny fleet defending Roanoke Island. After Roanoke Island fell into Union hands of February 8, 1862, Lynch decided to take a position at Elizabeth City. However, on February 10, units of Admiral Goldsborough’s fleet captured Elizabeth City and the SEA BIRD was rammed and sunk by the U.S.S. COMMODORE PERRY. Two other ships fled northward up the Pasquotank River to the Dismal Swamp Canal enroute to Norfolk. While C.S.S. BEAUFORT made it safely through the Canal to Norfolk, C.S.S. APPOMATOX was two-inches too wide to enter the locks. Rather than let his ship be captured by the enemy, the captain set it on fire.
Union forces did not attempt to capture control of the Dismal Swamp Canal until two moths later. According to THE REBELLION RECORD, Frank Moore, Editor, it was known the “Rebel entrenchments and batteries to protect the canal had been installed at South Mills.” Also, this was the time of the “ironclads’, with the battle between the MONITOR and the MERRIMACK at Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862.
Word reached General Burnside, who had established a position in New Bern, that Confederates were building ironclads in Norfolk and intended to bring them south through the Dismal Swamp and Currituck Canals. Therefore, General Burnside ordered General J. L. Reno to move troops to South Mills and blow up the locks there, then proceed to the Currituck Canal and destroy its banks.
General Reno moved his command of 3,000 men from Roanoke Island on April 17 and transported them by water to Elizabeth City. From there, they marched north to South Mills, accompanied by three wagon’s loaded with explosive materials to be used on the locks. After marching all night long, Reno’s men encountered the Third Georgia Regiment, commanded by Colonel A. R. Wright, about three miles below the locks at the edge of the woods at the north end of Sawyers Lane. On April 19th for five hours the 750 defenders withstood all Union assaults. Running low on ammunition, Wright withdrew his troops to a new position about a mile away. Unaccustomed to the oppressive heat, the Union forces did not pursue and, in fact, rapidly withdrew back to their boats, leaving their dead and wounded behind and the Canal intact.
Despite claims to the contrary, The Battle of South Mills was a failure for Federal troops because their mission was not accomplished even though the small Confederate army retreated.
Soon afterwards, however, Norfolk surrendered on May 10, 1862, and Union troops transported goods on the Canal. In a “Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury in reference to the interests of the Government in the Dismal Swamp Canal”, Leroy G. Edwards, Collector of the Tolls for the Dismal Swamp Canal Company, testified: “In the latter part of the summer of 1862, the U. S. forces took possession of the work. They gave us much trouble…Goods were carried through under military permits. I asked payment of tolls, which were refused”.
During this time, a sizable number of Confederate sympathizers and deserted soldiers were in hiding in the Swamp, making periodic raids on Federal boats. Official Army records document on December 5th, 1863, Brigadier General Edward A. Wild led forces from Norfolk to South Mills and Camden Court House to capture these rebel forces. However, the two small steamers carrying supplies for his forces were by “some unaccountable blunder…sent astray through the wrong canal”, and did not catch up with General Wild until he arrived at Elizabeth City. Rebels eluded this expedition in the vastness of the swamp. All settlements discovered on this march were burned and confiscated, innocent men were hanged and women were taken as hostages. North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance referred to General Wild’s actions as a “disgrace to the manhood of the age. Not being able to capture soldiers, they war upon defenseless women. Great God! What an outrage”. The Union forces returned to Norfolk on December 24th, leaving a trail of destruction behind them.
Following the surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the Canal was returned to its owners in a deplorable condition.
The same pamphlet also told about “Slaves in the Dismal Swamp” as follows:
In the nineteenth century, the Great Dismal Swamp was a morass of huge trees towering over dense underbrush and delicate ferns, inhabited by black bears, wildcats, wild cattle and hogs, and poisonous snakes. It was to this inhospitable place many slaves came. The foreboding swamp provided a natural refuge for runaways.
Following the American Revolution, there were numerous instances of slave resistance. While some runaways were able to blend in with free blacks, many chose to seek refuge among a colony of runaways (called maroons) in the Great Dismal Swamp. The very nature of the swamp made it possible for a large colony to establish a permanent refuge. It was difficult to capture a slave once they reached the swamp although occasional forays were made into the swamp to recapture runaways with specially trained dogs.
Colonies were establish on high ground in the swamp where slaves built crude huts. Family life evolved, and the abundant animal life provided food and clothing. Some earned money by working for free black shingle makers, who hired the maroons to cut logs, paying them with small amounts of food, money or precious clothing.
Sometimes runaways were betrayed by the Negro lumbermen. Renegade fugitives often raided nearby towns or preyed upon travelers along the stage road. Others stole from boats anchored along the canal. These violent rebels were a dreaded menace to the whole swamp community. Slave disturbances in the early 1800s caused much alarm among residents living near the swamp. Tidewater Virginia residents were greatly concerned about reported unrest among slaves in nearby Camden, Elizabeth City and Currituck County, North Carolina. In the spring of 1823 the situation was so serious a large militia force with dogs was sent to wipe out the colony of slaves in the swamp. Even though some were captured or killed, most of the maroons escaped.
To learn more about the Dismal Swamp and the Dismal Swamp Canal go to the CSI website indcanal.org, look under CSI past publications, Hoosier Packet 2015 #8 August, Dismal Swamp Canal. This article tells more about the surveying and building the canal from 1793-1805, Lake Drummond, reducing 5 locks to 2 in 1899, and dredging to widen and deepen it in 1933.
Replacing Old Miami & Erie Canal Culvert
In previous articles we have featured rebuilding a stone arch canal culvert to pass a stream beneath the canal so that during heavy rains the stream wouldn’t wash out the canal. In the picture below we can see a wooden box canal culvert, which had the same purpose, being replaced with a concrete one.
The Allen County Museum in Lima, Ohio, has this good 1904 photo taken by John Hoverman, of Spencerville, Ohio, showing a canal crew replacing the old wooden Miami & Erie Canal culvert with concrete near the northern line of Spencerville. This replacement was all done by hand, except for a small team of horses. Pictured in the photograph are;
Left side of culvert front to rear: Nathan Bowers, Samuel Davis, Amos Briggs, Van Robinson, Joseph Blair, George Fenneman, and unknown.
Right side of culvert: David Norbeck (in the trench), unknown, and Jim Kohn, nicknamed the “Canal Boss.”
Although the canal era ended around 1872 in Indiana, Ohio’s era ran until 1913 and ended due to extreme flooding. Since their era lasted longer, they had concrete to use when rebuilding canal structures.
Bonnie (Kinerk) Andrews
Bonnie Joan (Kinerk) Andrews was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in June 1933 and attended South Side High School. She was a lifelong resident of the city. She passed away in May 2023. Her obituary was on line on May 19-20, 2023.
Bonnie joined the Canal Society of Indiana in 2006 and was a member until her death. She was interested in the history of the Kinerk family. Around 1820 Edward Kinerk came to the United States from Ireland and worked on building the canal in New York. In 1829 he sent for his mother, two brothers and two sisters. The sisters settled near Detroit, but the mother and three sons moved to Ft. Wayne and worked on the Wabash & Erie Canal as far as Wabash, Indiana. They used their wages to buy land near Wabash. Ed married Selina, a 17 year-old English girl he had met in an eating house in Fort Wayne. He was in charge of 100 men and a section of canal construction. Selina went with him and cooked for the 100 men. The meals mostly consisted of sow-belly, beans, and corn meal mushy. In 1835 forty Irish canal men applied for citizenship in the Wabash County court. Edward, Timothy and Patrick Kinerk were able to sign their names when many others couldn’t. Bonnie and her daughter, Tamara Brown, attended a CSI tour.
Bonnie was proceeded in death by her daughter Tamara I. (Andrews) Brown. She is survived by Tamara’s children: Anthony Payne, Jr., Antonette Payne, Collis and Belinda Wallace, and William and Sharonna Washington; and eight grandchildren: Cadell, Corte, Aliyah and Collis Wallace, Jr.; Aria, Adianna and Tamera Payne; and William Washington, IV.
A Celebration of Life was held at 1 p.m. on June 24, 2023 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 5310 Old Mill Road, Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
Randall J. Elliott
Randall J. Elliott, 69, died unexpectedly of natural causes at his home in Columbia City, Indiana on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Born in Columbia City to Robert and Esther (Reeg) Elliott of Larwill, he was graduated from Whitko High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Ball State University. On September 12, 1987, he married Angela L. Noll.
Randy spent 40 years in the history field. On CSI’s “Up and Over” spring tour of the Wabash & Erie Canal summit on April 13-14, 2018, twenty-nine CSI members and friends traveled from Fort Wayne to Huntington, Indiana. Registration was held on Friday night at the Aboite Township Trustees Office and hall. Randy was the speaker for that night’s program, “Restoration & Observations: The Chiefs’ House LaFontaine & Richardville.” He spoke and showed slides about the part he played in the restoration of several treaty houses built for the Miamis. This gave us information about the early people who lived in the area prior to the Wabash & Erie Canal and the wealth the chiefs’ accumulated as they controlled the portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River systems. It prepared us for our visit to the Chiefs’ house at the Forks of the Wabash on Saturday. We also learned a lot about architecture and using the proper types of wood in restoring old buildings. Currently he has volunteered at the Forks of the Wabash Historical Site and Historic Fort Wayne. He recently authored articles for the Whitley County Historical Society.
Besides history, Randy enjoyed spending time outdoors with his wife and dog. Those who knew him loved his sharp sense of humor.
He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Angela; a sister, Roberta (Tom) Jackson of Indianapolis; a brother, Robert Elliott of Larwill; nieces, Jocelin and Courtney; a great-niece Celeste; and many in-laws.
Visitation was at the Smith & Sons Funeral Home, 207 North Main Street, Columbia City, Indiana from 1-3 p.m., May 23, 2023 with the Rev. Barry Faucett officiating. From there a procession of over twenty-five cars drove to Lakeview Cemetery in Larwill, Indiana for his interment. Memorials may be made to the Humane Society of Whitley County.
Webster F. Hall
Webster (Web) Foster Hall passed away on July 20, 2023, at Friends Fellowship, Richmond, Indiana at almost 98 years of age. He was born in Detroit, Michigan on August 2, 1925. He met and married Dorothie Harding, his wife of 72 years, while living in Royal Oak, MI.
Web was graduated from Lincoln High School (Ferndale, Michigan) in 1943, joined the Navy and served on the U.S.S. Antietam until his honorable discharge in 1946. He then attended the University of Michigan and earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After working at companies in Detroit and Cincinnati, he and his family moved to Richmond, Indiana in 1964 where he worked in engineering and sales management positions at NATCO until he founded his own consulting business in 1977.
Web and Dottie, sometimes accompanied by family members, traveled and explored many places around the world. Web was active in various civic groups and local organizations including the Boy Scouts (he was an Eagle Scout) and the Boys and Girls Club. He was a member of Forest Hills Country Club, the Central United Methodist Church where he served as an usher for 30 years, and the Canal Society of Indiana.
He loved to fly and was an instrument rated pilot who flew all across the continent, including the Bahamas, Mexico, and Hawaii. In his spare time, he was an avid stamp collector and traveled to many stamp conventions. He also loved playing bridge and being with friends and family.
Web was predeceased by his parents, Foster and Delma Hall and his wife, Dottie. He is survived by their three children – Linda (Charles) Borrenpohl, Ralph Hall, and Pam (Andrew) Howard; 9 grandchildren – Krista (Craig) Lenzmeier, Craig (Teresa) Borrenpohl, Tracy Braun (Elizabeth Adams), Mike Braun, Stephanie Hall (John Koolage), Diane Hall, Emma Howard-Young (Jordan), Natalie Howard, Lauren Howard; and 9 great grandchildren.
A private service was held for Webster Hall.
Memorial contributions may be made to: Boys and Girls Clubs of Wayne County, 1717 South L Street, Richmond, IN 47374 or Central United Methodist Church, 1425 East Main Street, Richmond, IN 47374
Canal Clippings From Old Newspapers
Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana
September 18, 1851
FATAL ACCIDENT. — An old man named Maiden, living about six miles from the city of the Canal met with a fatal accident last Monday evening. He started from here in the afternoon with a wagon laden with provisions &c. for the Canal laborers, drawn by an ox team. When several miles out, and under the influence of liquor, he fell from his wagon, the wheels of which passed over his body, killing him almost immediately. Such are the particulars as told to us.
Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana
November 28, 1851
The First Canal Boat. Last Tuesday night the first Canal Boat destined for this end of the Wabash and Erie Canal, arrived at Evansville. She is a neat, new and pretty packet, intended for the passenger trade. She was built at Dayton, O. by Mr. Robert Webber, and floated from Cincinnati to this place. She will be placed on the Canal directly the water is let into the first nineteen miles, which will be about the first of February. This packet is called the Visitor, and a strange looking visitor she is in these parts. She will commence running as a packet, if the prospects are good, on the finished part of the line next February. Mr. W. lived in Evansville eight or ten years back, and built then a Canal boat here. We wish him success in this enterprise.
Weekly Indiana State Sentinel, Indianapolis, Indiana
October 6, 1853
From Evansville Enquirer, Evansville, Indiana
September 23d, 1853
FIRT BOAT THROUGH !—We had the pleasure this morning of entering the corporate limits of the city of Evansville on the next passenger packet Pennsylvania, Capt. Alexander Sharra. She is the first boat that has ever reached this point from Lake Eire. She came within a short distance of the city yesterday evening, but there was not water enough to let her down further until this morning, when by the aid of a few yoke of oxen, tendered by the proprietor of the saw mill, Mr. Iglehart, she was brought into the city this morning with a good trip of passengers, who had gone up to meet her.
This boat was built fifty-six miles above Pittsburgh, Pa. and was brought down the canal to the Ohio river, and then down the Ohio to Cincinnati; at Cincinnati she entered the Miami canal and proceeded up that canal to the junction of the Wabash and Erie canal; by that canal she proceeded to Lake Erie from which point she came direct to this city. At this point she entered the Wabash and Erie canal about the first of last April, and this morning, the 23d day of September, we had the pleasure of boarding her a mile back of town, and entering on board of her on her first trip to this city. She had not, however, been all this time on the one trip—having been engaged in the packet trade above Terre Haute.
She was received to-day at the Main Street bridge, by firing of cannon, and excellent music by the Brass Band and general cheering and rejoicing from a large crowd of people.
Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana
June 12, 1854
Petitions have been circulated at Terre Haute, as we learn from the Journal, and numerous signatures obtained, to secure a tri-weekly mail between that city and Evansville. The canal runs through the counties of Vigo, Clay, Greene, Daviess, Pike Gibson, Warrick and Vanderburgh, and touches at the towns of Lockport (Riley P.O.), Kossuth, Johnstown, Worthington, Point Commerce, Fairplay, Newberry, Owl Prairie, Maysville, Kinderhook, Petersburgh, Dongola, Francisco, Reservoir, Port Gibson, Boston, Millersburgh, Newark Warrickton, Smyrna to Evansville. The Journal thinks there is not a mail route in Indiana where a small expenditure would confer a greater public convenience, or where a mail route would be hailed with greater approval than this. We agree with the Journal, and hope the prayer of the petitioners will be answered. We call the attention of our Representative to this matter.
Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana
September 19, 1855
The Canal. —The Canal yet continues out of order. — We understand that the Engineer has let the water out of a level above for the purpose of clearing out a sand reef which requires two or three weeks delay, as we have been informed. We should think the water had been out of every level on the Canal long enough this summer to clear out the bed of any such impediments—or have there been heavy rains up there the last few weeks? A notice was put out by authority a short time since that the Canal would in a few days be in good running order and men up the line prepared their freight with much trouble—but have been disappointed. — The owner of a boat just taken from the river to the Canal is going to take it back again if he can get a load to New Orleans, which he has already partially engaged.—Another is about to follow suit. If this remarkable ditch can’t be made to hold 2 feet of water by the united means of capital and science, we think it had better be filled up and sold out in lots.
Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana
May 19, 1856
Canal Items — No sounding taken at this point since Friday. A lad wading across at Petersburgh, last Friday, reports over shoe top in the channel, and knee deep in the basin. Freight is accumulating at the different ports. At Smyrna, A Dutchman has been waiting several days with a half barrel of krout, to be shipped so soon as the “canawl” rises. The wharf at Petersburgh is crowded. Through the kindness of our Petersburgh correspondent we are furnished with the following list of freight at this place, waiting to navigation to open, viz: 1 peck of potatoes, 2 doz. onions, ⅓ peck shorts, 1 passenger (who wants to work his passage), and 1 paper of tacks.
Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana
December 13, 1856
It is suggested, that at the canal meeting to be held here or some place else, some time or other, a committee be appointed to invite Abra Cadabra, the celebrated water prognosticator, to visit this neck of the works, and ascertain with his forked wand, at what place in the canal, water may be found by digging.
Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana
December 17, 1856
Canal. — The ditch is almost entirely dry. Ducks run hard aground and not being able to push off, are caugtht in the ice, as the little drops of water which they attempt to navigate, freezes up. Water two inches in the channel and froze to the bottom.
Evansville Enquirer, Evansville, Indiana
February 21, 1857
Our friend Lutz, we understand, has purchased the canal boat Visitor and intends running her as a packet between here and Petersburg. The boat has been in dry-dock and thoroughly overhauled—every rotten piece of timber taken our of her and replaced with sound wood, she has been lengthened twenty and widened two feet and she will now carry about forty tons, We hope that she will meet with due encouragement from the shippers on both ends of her route.
Daily Sun, Kendallville, Indiana
November 9, 1909
PLAN CANAL FROM CHICAGO TO TOLEDO — Matter will be discussed at Indianapolis convention. Fort Wayne, Ind. , Nov. 9 — Freight by canal from Chicago to Toledo is the ultimate purpose of the Toledo, Fort Wayne and Chicago Deep Waterways association which will hold a convention here this week.
Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Cincinnati, Toledo, Defiance, and other cities will have representative at the convention. United States Senators Beveridge and Shively of Indiana will be among the speakers.
The Michigan and Erie canal, as planned from Chicago through Fort Wayne to Toledo, will be 270 miles long and 400 miles shorter than the present all water route from Chicago to Toledo by way of the great lakes. The estimated cost is near $100,000.
Celebration Of Connersville Canal Signage
Friday, September 8, 2023 at 5:15 p.m.
Whitewater Valley Railroad Yard
Grand Avenue (SR 121) then turn left on S. Eastern Ave. south of town
- Welcome to Connersville: Brad Colter, Mayor of Connersville
- The Importance of Remembering the Canal: Robert Schmidt, Canal Society of Indiana
- Proceed to enjoy the signage that marks the Whitewater Canal in Connersville – Fayette County, Indiana
In this celebration of thanksgiving we will look at the unique partnership between government and non-profits (both state and local) to enhance historical transportation tourism. Please join us in a celebration of markers that showcases the outstanding commitment that Connersville has made to remembering the past. This marker program makes Connersville a model of historical interpretation in eastern Indiana. Please invite your stakeholders (Indiana Landmarks affiliates, historical societies, county historians, newspapers, and community foundations) to allow them to share in the celebration.
Ronald V. Morris, Ph.D.
Professor Department of History
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306
Note: Dr. Ron Morris, CSI Director from Centerville, has worked with the City and County Street and Roads Departments to place 14 CSI signs at the sites where the locks of the Whitewater Canal were located in Fayette County. These departments have donated the posts and the time of their crews to erect these signs. We have much to celebrate thanks to Ron’s leadership.
CSI Directors Meeting
Saturday October 7, 2023
10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Vigo County Historical Society & Museum
929 Wabash Avenue
Terre Haute, Indiana
Hosts: Sam & Jo Ligget
Each director is asked to E-mail a report of his or her canal activities since our last meeting to CSI headquarters by September 1, 2023. Please let CSI headquarters know if you and your spouse are planning to attend. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dog Days of Summer
By Preston Richardt
Have you ever wondered where certain words or phrases that we use come from, such as “Dogwood Winter”, “an apple a day will keep the doctor away”, or “we are in the Dog Days of Summer”?
You may think it has something to do with the heat because you see man’s best friend lying around during the heat of the day trying to stay cool, but it really has nothing to do with the heat or a literal dog for that matter, it is all astronomical. Yes, to understand where this phrase comes from you must look up at the night sky for the answer, astronomy and a little understanding of Greek history.
Orion was a giant; supernaturally strong hunter and he needed a hunting companion, his was his dog Sirius. The star Sirius, more commonly known as the Dog Star was in Greek poetry as early as 700 BC. It appears in the night sky between July and August (depending on where you are on the earth) and at times it may be the brightest star in the night sky, even challenging the brightness of Venus. Sirius may appear to be changing colors and is easily seen just before sun rise in the southeastern sky from Indiana. This is a natural occurring sign that I use to tell me Autumn is close at hand and with that cooler weather is not far off.
And for those of you with Sirius Satellite Radio, it is named after Orion’s dog, so it you think about it you are listening to the dog days of summer radio.