Front Page Titles (by Subject) COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN THE ATLANTIC RIVERS, AND THE RIVER ST. LAURENCE AND GREAT LAKES. - Report of the Secretary of the Treasury; on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals
Return to Title Page for Report of the Secretary of the Treasury; on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN THE ATLANTIC RIVERS, AND THE RIVER ST. LAURENCE AND GREAT LAKES. - Albert Gallatin, Report of the Secretary of the Treasury; on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals 
Report of the Secretary of the Treasury; on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals; made in pursuance of a Resolution of the Senate, of March 2, 1807 (Washington: R.C. Weightman, 1808).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN THE ATLANTIC RIVERS, AND THE RIVER ST. LAURENCE AND GREAT LAKES.
Vessels ascend the river St. Laurence from the sea to Montreal. The river Sorel discharges at some distance below that town the waters of lake George and lake Champlain, which penetrate southwardly within the United States. From Montreal to lake Ontario, the ascent of the river St. Laurence is estimated at about 200 feet. From the eastern extremity of lake Ontario, an inland navigation for vessels of more than 100 tons burthen, is continued more than one thousand miles, through lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron, to the western and southern extremities of lake Michigan, without any other interruption than that of the falls and rapids of Niagara, between lake Erie and lake Ontario. The descent from fort Schlosser to Devil’s hole, a distance of four miles, which includes the perpendicular falls of Niagara, has by correct measurement been ascertained at 375 feet. The whole fall from lake Erie to lake Ontario, is estimated at 450 feet, making the elevation of lake Erie above tide water, six hundred and fifty feet.
Lake Superior, the largest of those inland seas, communicates with the northern extremity of lake Huron, by the river and rapids of St. Mary’s. The fall of these is not ascertained: but it is said that a small canal has been opened around the most difficult part, by the North West Fur company.
Five of the Atlantic rivers approach the waters of the St. Laurence; viz. The Penobscot, Kennebeck, Connecticut, the North, or Hudson river, and the Tioga branch of the Susquehannah. This last river will afford a useful communication with the rivers Seneca, and Genessee, which empty into lake Ontario. The length of the portage has not been precisely stated; and the general navigation of the Susquehannah has already been noticed. It may however be observed, that it is the only Atlantic river whose sources approach both the western waters, and those of the St. Laurence.
The three eastern rivers, afford convenient communications with the province of Lower Canada, but not with that extensive inland navigation, which penetrates through the United States, within two hundred miles of the Mississippi. No statement has been received of any improvement having yet been made on the Penobscot, or Kennebeck; and a very imperfect account has been obtained of some short canals opened around the several falls of the river Connecticut. One at Bellows’ falls, in the state of Vermont, has been particularly mentioned, and is the highest improvement on the river.
What is called the North river, is a narrow and long bay, which in its northwardly course from the harbor of New York, breaks through, or turns all the mountains, affording a tide navigation for vessels of 80 tons to Albany and Troy, 160 miles above New York. This peculiarity distinguishes the North river from all the other bays and rivers of the United States. The tide in no other ascends higher than the granite ridge, or comes within thirty miles of the Blue Ridge, or eastern chain of mountains. In the North river, it breaks through the Blue Ridge at West Point, and ascends above the eastern termination of the Catskill, or great western chain.
A few miles above Troy, and the head of the tide, the Hudson from the north, and the Mohawk from the west, unite their waters, and form the North river. The Hudson in its course upwards, approaches the waters of lake Champlain, and the Mohawk, those of lake Ontario.
Hudson and Champlain, or Northern Navigation.
A Company was incorporated several years ago by the state of New York, for the purpose of opening this communication, and a survey taken by Mr. Weston, a copy of which has not yet been obtained. From collateral information, it appears that it was proposed to open a canal 12 miles long, with a lockage of 106 feet, from Waterford, at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk, to the upper end of the great falls of Stillwater. This was considered as the most difficult part of the whole route, and the expense estimated at 275,000 dollars. Another canal and lock would be necessary around the falls of fort Miller: but the remainder of the navigation up the Hudson to fort Edward, does not require any material improvement.
At some distance above fort Edward, it was intended to connect by a canal and locks, the Hudson with the North Wood creek, at fort Ann. The navigation down the creek to Skeensborough is used, but requires to be improved. At this place, where falls render another canal necessary, North Wood creek empties into the south bay of lake Champlain; and thence is a natural sloop navigation through the whole extent of the lake. The expense of the works from fort Edward to Skeensborough, had been estimated at 200,000 dollars.
The funds of the company were insufficient, and have, it is said, been expended without much permanent utility at Stillwater and Skeensborough.
The distance in a straight line from Waterford to Skeensborough is fifty miles; and the expense of opening a permanent boat navigation on a proper plan through the whole line, is from imperfect materials estimated at about 800,000 dollars. This communication would divert to a port of the United States the trade of one half of the state of Vermont, and of a part of that of New York, which is now principally carried through the channel of the St. Laurence, and of the province of Canada.
Mohawk and Ontario, or Western Navigation.
A Company incorporated by the state of New York, for the improvement of this navigation, has made considerable progress, and an accurate survey having been taken of the distances and levels of the greater part of the route, the result will in the first place be stated.
The elevation of the summit level between the Mohawk and the waters of lake Ontario, being only 390 feet above the tide water at Troy, and 190 feet above lake Ontario, a canal navigation is practicable the whole distance. Whether this should be attempted for a sloop or boat navigation, must depend principally, if not altogether, on the supply of water. It is stated that the canal from the summit level to Troy, must necessarily follow the valley of the Mohawk, and perhaps occasionally enter and cross the river. Calculated for a boat navigation, the expense may be estimated as followeth:
It is not believed that a sloop navigation, if practicable, could be effected for a less sum than five millions of dollars. The following works have already been completed by the company:
At the Little falls a canal three quarters of a mile in length, has been opened, and a descent of 42 feet effected by six locks of solid masonry, each of which is 70 feet long, and 12 feet wide. At the German flats, four miles above the Little falls, another canal one mile in length, with two stone locks of the same materials and dimensions, effects a descent of ten feet.
On the summit level a canal one mile and three quarters in length, and supplied with water from the river Mohawk by a short feeder, unites that river and Wood creek, by means of two locks of the same dimensions and materials, one at each extremity of the canal. All those canals are 2 feet and a half deep, 24 wide at bottom, and 32 at top, and admit boats of ten tons. It is proper to state, that at first, wooden locks had been erected at the Little falls, and brick locks on the summit canal. At both places they had become totally unfit for service at the end of seven years, and it was necessary to replace them by stone locks: a circumstance which encreased considerably the expense of the undertaking.
Several minor improvements have been made on the Mohawk; and the navigation of Wood creek, of which the principal defect is want of water, has been improved by raising dams, and by the erection of four temporary wooden locks. But until a canal shall have been opened the whole distance from the summit level to lake Oneida, the navigation will be imperfect, and the profits inconsiderable.
The funds of the company do not enable them to undertake the necessary improvements at the two extremities of the line, a canal around the Cohoes falls to tide water, and another canal from lake Oneida to lake Ontario. The usual portage at the first place is from Schenectady to Albany; and a very good and expensive artificial road of 16 miles, made by another company, unites the two towns. Another company has lately been incorporated, for the purpose of making an artificial road at the other extremity of the line from Rotterdam, on lake Oneida, to Salmon creek on lake Ontario.
The capital of the company is 232,000 dollars, of which the state of New York owns 92,000; but with the exception of one dividend of 3 per cent. all the tolls have been applied to the works; and including these and a debt of 20,000 dollars due by the company, the whole expenditure amounts to 370,000 dollars. The annual tolls do not yet exceed 13,000 dollars.
The fall from lake Erie to lake Ontario has already been stated at 450 feet. A company had also been incorporated by the state of New York, for the purpose of opening a canal at this place: but it does not appear that any thing ever was attempted after the survey had been made. The intention seems to have been to open a canal navigation for boats only, from fort Schlosser to Devil’s hole; the lake itself and Giles’s creek would have supplied the water, and the expense was estimated at 437,000 dollars.
It is however evident that the canal, in order to be as eminently useful as the nature of the undertaking seems to require, should be on such scale as to admit vessels which can navigate both lakes. Considering the distance, which in that case must be extended to about ten miles, and the lockage of 450 feet, it is not believed that the expense can be estimated at less than 1,000,000 dollars.
The works necessary to effect water communications between the tide water of the North river, the St. Laurence, and all the lakes, (lake Superior only excepted) are therefore estimated at four millions of dollars, viz.
The papers relative to those communications will be found under the letter (B.); but the utility of these will not be confined to the extensive navigation of the lakes themselves. For the mountains being completely turned, when arrived into lake Erie, the ridge which separates the waters emptying into that and into lake Michigan, from the northern branches of the Ohio, and from the waters of the Mississippi, is of a moderate elevation, and is gradually depressed in its course westwardly. There is no doubt of the practicability of opening canals at a future period, between several of those waters, either by selecting proper levels, or by means of short tunnels across favorable parts of the ridge. It will at present be sufficient to point out the principal communications now in use.
The distance from lake Erie to lake Chetoughe, an extensive and important elevated reservoir, which is the source of the Canowango branch of the Allegheny, is seven miles by a continual ascent, the elevation of which is not ascertained.
From Presq’ isle on lake Erie, to Le Beuf on French creek, another branch of the Allegheny, the distance is sixteen miles, and a company is incorporated by the state of Pennsylvania, for making an artificial road across that portage.
The navigation from lake Chetoughe, and from Le Beuf to Pittsburgh, offers no impediment whenever the waters are high; and the greater part of the salt now consumed in the north-west counties of Pennsylvania, as far as Pittsburgh, and some distance down the Ohio, is brought from the salt springs of New York, by Oswego, through lake Ontario; then across the portage of Niagara to lake Erie, and thence by either of the two last mentioned portages to the waters of the river Allegheny.
The distance from the place where the Cayuga, a river emptying into lake Erie, ceases to be navigable, to the navigable waters of the Muskingum, which empties into the Ohio 170 miles below Pittsburgh, is only six miles; and a company is said to be formed for the improvement of that communication.
Sandusky river and the Scioro take their sources in the same swamp. The navigation of the Miami of lake Erie is interrupted by some falls; but its upper branches approach those of the Miami of the Ohio, and of the Wabash, and are stated as being nearly on the same level.
The Illinois river, which empties into the Mississippi above St. Louis, rises in a swamp, which when the waters are high, affords a natural canoe navigation to the sources of Chicago creek, a short stream, which falls into lake Michigan, at its southern extremity.
Another communication generally used by the Indian traders is that from Green bay, also in lake Michigan, to the Mississippi, by Fox river, and tho Ouisconsing. Nor is there any doubt that if the inland navigation between the North river and the lakes was completely opened, the whole Indian trade either of the Mississippi by lake Michigan, or of the north-west by lake Superior, must necessarily center in an Atlantic port of the United States; a consideration of minor importance as a commercial object, when compared with the other advantages of that great communication, but of great weight in its relation to the political intercourse of the United States, with the Indians.