Hydraulic Canal

Hydraulic Canal Built To Power Industry

On the north side of White River, a few yards west of County Road 500 East, there is a small body of water, hardly noticeable today because of the larger farm pond located immediately to its north.  This body of water is what remains of a reservoir that was built to be a back-up water supply for what was called the Hydraulic Canal.  It was never used for this purpose.

The story of the canal begins December 19, 1868, when the Anderson Hydraulic Co. was organized.  Capital stock, amounting to $64,000, was subscribed, with the City of Anderson subscribing an additional $20,000.  The board of directors, chosen by the stockholders, included the following:  Peter Suman, William Crim, H. J. Blacklidge, N. C. McCullough, George Nichol, Samuel Hughel and James Hazlett.  I am sure it’s more than coincidence that the canal would cross land owned by a couple of these prominent Anderson businessmen.  Their idea was to create a flow of water that would be a source of power.

This hydraulic power would be used to power the industries along its path, such as mills and factories the stockholders hoped would develop.  The canal was to begin opposite the village of Daleville, on the river’s north bank, and follow the general course of the river eight miles to Anderson.  In that distance, the ground elevation dropped 40 feet, providing the necessary water flow.  The company planned to use the bed of the old feeder canal begun in 1838.  The “feeder” was to be a link to the Central Canal being constructed in Indiana and unite Anderson and Muncie.  It is not clear how much of the “feeder” was ever completed, as the whole Indiana canal system failed due to economic pressure in 1839.  Apparently enough of it remained to provide a nucleus for the new canal.

Contracts were let for reconstructing the canal and large force of hands was soon employed.  Dug completely by hand, the canal was to be 40 feet wide at the top and 26 feet wide at the bottom, with sloping sides to a water depth of four feet.  A large pool of water, called “slackwater,” located in White River was necessary at the beginning of the canal.  This was accomplished by building a dam across the river at Daleville.  Work progressed slowly on the canal and it wasn’t until July4, 1874, that the wicket or gate, to regulate the flow of water, was opened across from Daleville.  Disaster struck immediately as the banks gave way in numerous spots, making it necessary to turn off the flow and make repairs.  However, when the water flow was begun a second time, the resulting damage was the same.

Frustrated by failure and discouraged by monetary losses, the work was abandoned, with losses of $80,000.  The property was sold by the sheriff to Edward H. Rogers to satisfy the judgments held by him against the company for labor and materials.  The old canal remained idle, never to be used again.  The river and development along it have erased much of what was once a grand plan.  Nevertheless, traces of the canal can be found today.  In addition to the reservoir, the canal can be viewed where Indiana 32 crosses White River.  Located on the right bank of the river, beginning at the west end of the bridge, the viewer will see the river and to the left of it a ridge.  To the left of the ridge is a wide, shallow depression next to the river bluff.  This depression is the canal bed, and it runs parallel to the river almost to Lindberg Road.

A small section of the canal can be seen at the south end of Lennox and Brookline Streets and, once again, where Scatterfield Road crosses the river.  Here it can be best viewed at the north end of the bridge, on the east side.  Caution should be observed at both bridge locations, as these are heavily traveled roads.  The canal turned away from the river and followed, what is today Grand Avenue, through Park Place.  Sections of what remains of Grand Avenue can be found between East Tenth and East Eighth streets and Central and Milton Avenues.  The old canal bed became a place used for picnics and other activities until it was filled in and Grand Avenue was created.

Finally, the canal reentered White River near the present intersection of Third street, Grand Avenue and Alexandria Pike.  This was accomplished by a means of stair-step locks.  Several locks, perhaps four or five, would have lowered the canal into the river at its bend, just south of West Maplewood Cemetery.  In the years before Third Street was extended through the Anderson University Campus, traces of the lock excavation were visible on the east side of Milton Avenue, just south of High Street;  silent reminders of a once ambitious idea.

By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian

 An article that appeared in the Sunday, March 15, 2009, The Herald Bulletin



Published in: on April 24, 2009 at 3:56 am  Comments Off on Hydraulic Canal  
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