Connecticut River Canals #4
Of all the canals associated with the Connecticut River, the most important and the longest was the Windsor Lock (WL) Canal. It was located about 12 miles upriver from Hartford. The canal had a length of 6 miles, and it was built between 1827 to 1829. It was opened for navigation somewhere in 1829. The chief engineer of the project was Canvass White. White was a well-known engineer at the time, who had learned his trade on the Erie Canal, and later became the chief engineer for the Lehigh Canal and the Delaware Canal, and was one of the contributing engineers on the Union Canal.
The purpose of the WL Canal was to provide a safe passage up and around the Enfield Rapids and Falls. This obstruction in the river was indeed a wicked one and the canal was badly needed to extend the navigation of the Connecticut into the upper river area. This canal is still in use by the pleasure craft on the big river and has, by so doing, survived all other canals associated with the Connecticut River. In addition to the pleasure craft, the canal still supplies water to the factories at Windsor Mills. Unchanged is the old towpath and visitors will find that the canal is little changed in the century and half that has gone by since the design and construction of the work.
Prior to the construction of the canal, Warehouse Point, at the city of Windsor was considered to be the head of navigation on the Connecticut River. One of the main reasons for the building of the canal was the anticipated rise of the city of Windsor as a major, booming inland river-port. Unfortunately the dream was really never brought into realization, however, the peaceful and rural world of the Connecticut River Valley was changed in such a way, as little else could have done.
The late Stewart Holbrook one of the most knowledgable of the Connecticut River historians wrote the following about the canal;
“What the Locks did was to bring all river traffic to a halt, briefly, and in doing so gave rise to taverns on both sides of the river to cater to the Captains and crews of the boats, as well as, to the passengers, drovers, and the army of river drivers who accompanying the rafts and booms of logs that were cut far up the Connecticut River in Vermont, and New Hampshire, and floated downriver to the mills.”
If you have ever seen a crew of reckless men, catlike in their movements, running and leaping on the rolling deck of a million feet of spruce logs as they rode such down the river highway, you would also be able to see the spirit and violence, in their off-time, when it came to adult play and / or fighting. These people worked hard for their money, drank hard, and played hard in the same way. Considering this aspect of the river-men you can further understand their actions when the met the powder-men who were just as tough as any river-men. These were the men who moved the tons of explosives downriver from the Hazard Powderworks, at Hazardville several miles from Enfield. The powder was packed in twenty-five pound kegs, and twelve hundred kegs was the usual load to be loaded onto the barges for the trip downriver. There were not a great deal of accidents in this movement of the powder, but the possibility was always there, just one careless action away. The task of working that closely with the possibility of a quick and agonizing death led to the toughening of any men working with the powder transfer and frightened away all but the hardiest of them.
Then, the rival settlements were almost immediate in their coming into existance at Windsor Locks, Windsor Hill, and Point Rocks. This spreading of low groggeries, rowdy dance halls, and the inevitable dens of harlotry doing business cheek and jowl with each other resulted in the oft circulated saying that there was little that could not be found, that men wanted at Windsor Locks. Adding to all of that, overhead the intoxicating fumes of the distilleries at Warehouse Point tainted the air.
Warehouse Point is located in the heart of the region in which tobacco is king. It was said that the very finest broadleaf tobacco was grown there. A favorite legend that was told around, was that General Israel Putnam, a favorite folk hero of the state, returned from a trip with, “. . . three donkey loads of Havana Cigars.” which were greeted by the inhabitants and river-men with such enthusiasm that a tobacco grower, one Simeon Viets from Suffield imported a professional from Havana, to show the women of Suffield how to roll a cigar. Up to that point cigar-smoking had not been thought to be quite respectable. However, the cigars put on the market by master Viets caught on within a very short time with those who frequented the adventures of the surrounding hangouts. The deluxe brand of the cigars were known as Windsor Particulars, however, these were more expensive and less affordable for most people who were smokers. However, the Short Sixes or “Twofers” as they were known were within the financial reach of everyone sporting the rock bottom price of two for a penny!!
>> Harry Sinclair Drago, “Canal Days In America,” (Bramhall House, New York, MCMLXXII;
Ian McKay, BG, CS, CE, TE