Canals Of The Connecticut River
At Hartland And Wilder
 

 

In the improvement of the Connecticut river for navigation purposes, a little over a century and a quarter ago, there were two canals built north of Bellows Falls, but of much less importance than the one here. This was chartered by the Vermont legislature in 1791, the first of any canal in this country to be built for navigation purposes. The other two were at Hartland and at Wilder.

The falls near Hartland, which were thus overcome, are located just above that railroad station and behind a hill so that few people have in late years known anything of them. For many years past the locality has been known as "Sumner's Falls." The charter was granted by the Vermont legislature October 22, 1794, under the cumbersome name of "Company for Rendering Connecticut River Navigable by Water-Quechee Falls." The New Hampshire charter was dated in December, 1796. The Vermont charter was granted to Perez Gallup, a prominent farmer of Hartland, who owned the farm contiguous to the falls. This canal was very short, the two locks being at the Vermont end of the dam and the fall of the river at that point was but twelve feet. Remains of a portion of the dam could be seen until very recently. The New Hampshire charter named Joseph Kimball with Mr. Gallup, but Mr. Gallup was the sole owner and manager, controlling all matters pertaining to the canal until March, 1805, when he sold an eighth interest each to David Fuller and Abner Mack of Gilsum, N. H., Leonard Pulsipher of Plainsfield, N. H., and Oliver Gallup, Elias Gallup and Hugh Campbell of Hartland. These parties completed the canal and operated it some years, when it passed into the hands of David H. Sumner, or at least was managed by him.

The charters of the canal were similar in their terms to that of the Bellows Falls canal, except the price named for tolls was upon a basis of "eighteen pence per ton of freight." The charter granted by New Hampshire named the following: "For each boat loaded or not loaded, five cents per ton according to the weight of goods it will carry ; for every ton of goods, wares and merchandise not exceeding five tons, ten cents; for every additional ton above five, six cents; and each thousand of clapboards eight cents ; shingles, two cents ; boards, twelve cents, and each ton of timber, six cents.

In addition to managing the locks, Mr. Sumner erected an extensive lumber mill and for many years he was the largest dealer in lumber in this section of New England, owning at one time over 6000 acres of woodland in Vermont and New Hampshire. He also had an extensive lumber yard in one of the Connecticut cities located on the river, to which he sent large amounts of dressed lumber by rafts, employing a large force of rivermen to drive it down. He died in 1868 at the age of 90 years.

The mills and the locks were carried away for the second time in 1856, and from that time the place has been entirely deserted except as a resort for picnic parties. In August, 1881, all water rights and lands in its vicinity were purchased by Daniel H., John C. and Moses Newton of Holyoke, Mass. After these men had expended large sums in arranging the foundations of an extensive paper industry, the Ottauquechee Woolen Company, located at North Hartland and having water rights near the mouth of the river of that name, enjoined the Newtons from rebuilding the dam. After litigation the injunction was dissolved, but in the interim the Newtons had located their extensive works at Readsboro and Wilmington on the Deerfield river, and the expectations of the Hartland location being utilized by them vanished. July 31, 1886, all power rights on the Connecticut at that point were sold to the late Hon. William A. Russell of Lawrence, Mass., who had 16 years earlier purchased the water rights at Bellows Falls and was busily engaged in building up his extensive mills here. It is understood that as a part of his estate the title at Hartland went to the International Paper Company, and, like the Bellows Falls plant, may sometime be utilized as a part of the New England Power system now being developed at various points on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers.

During the years of the navigation of the river by flat boats and steamers, the Hartland landing for freight and passengers was always known as "Short's Landing," and was located below the locks only a few rods east of the present Central Vermont railroad station, but not in sight from it.

The most northerly of the chain of canals along the Connecticut river, making possible for over 50 years the passage of freight boats as far north as Mclndoes Falls in Barnet, was the one at Wilder. It was chartered by the Vermont legislature October 21, 1796, under the name of "The Proprietors of White River Falls Bridge," giving rights to build both the canal and the bridge.

The canal was to be built two miles north of the mouth of White river, and the bridge across the Connecticut at what is now White River Junction. The bridge was to be completed in four years and the canal in seven, which was done. The incorporators were Ebenezer Brewster and Rufus Graves of Hanover and Aaron Hutchinson of Lebanon, N. H.

There were two separate canals, with locks in each, and with but a few rods between them. They were used but little after the Passumpsic railroad was built in 1852, and a few years later the dam was carried away by a freshet. From that time until about 1880 the locks and power were in disuse and falling to decay, visited only by picnic parties. Since then the power has been utilized by the paper and pulp mills of the International Paper Company, and a village of about 2,000 inhabitants has grown up about them. These mills were in 1928 closed down, probably permanently, the same as the previous year had been done at Bellows Falls, with the prospect that the fall in the river will be turned later to generating electrical power for distribution throughout New England.

 

Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.

 

 

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