James Mulligan

During the navigation of the Connecticut River by steam, a steamboat of large size was drawn through the streets of Bellows Falls, because the size of the locks was not large enough to allow it to pass in the water. An interesting fact connected with the episode was that it was the same steamer on which James Mulligan, whom every railroad official of 40 years ago knew as the president of the Connecticut River Railroad, began his transportation experiences as its engineer.

The steamer “William Hall,” familiarly spoken of in those days as the “Bill Hall,” was built in 1831, and, early in its history, it came to Bellows Falls as a trial trip, it being supposed it could pass the locks here and go farther north. It was intended to take its place regularly towing the flat boats of the river as far north as Barnet. It came up the river without trouble as far as here, but it was found that these locks were too small, and it was decided to have it drawn around the falls from the lower landing to the upper landing at the head of the canal. Eight yoke of oxen accomplished this, and the event was often spoken of in later years. The route was up through Mill Street to the Square, and then through the entire length of Canal Street. It was set afloat again in the broad river above the north end of the canal.

After leaving Bellows Falls on her way north, she was able to go as far north as Ottaquechee Falls, near Hartland, and the trip proved a failure. She came back a few days later, and was again drawn through the Square to the lower landing, and never came as far north again. She was a stern wheel boat, similar to those in use on the Mississippi River, and was used many years below here for towing and passenger business.

In 1839, James Mulligan, as a boy of 20 years, became engineer on the steamer and used to talk interestingly, in his later years, of his experiences “on the Bill Hall.” It was then used as a towboat between Hartford and Williamansett. His boat would hitch on to five or six river scows, take them up to the rapids at Holyoke, and then drop back to Hartford. It was a seven- or eight-hour trip up the river, but they could go back in half that time. They made two or three trips each week, and Saturday nights, they usually calculated to get up to Holyoke to stop over Sunday as the captain and fireman lived there in “Ireland Parish.” They had a cook, and lived on the boat. When the south wind blew, the river scows set their sails and made their own way up the river, the “Bill Hall” being used only when there were head winds or a calm.

Later, Mr. Mulligan secured a place on the passenger boat “Phoenix” which ran between Hartford and Springfield. They left Hartford every morning at 8 o’clock, and it was a four hours trip going against the current, while the trip south, starting at 2 o’clock, took a little less than three hours. He ran on this boat until November 1842, when he began work in the newly established Boston & Albany shops in Springfield. In the succeeding January, he began his railroad experience as a freight engineer on that road, being promoted in 1848 to a passenger train between Springfield and Worcester. He became master mechanic of the Connecticut River

Railroad in 1852, and his advances on that road were frequent, until he served it many years as its president and general manager. All railroad men of his day between White River Junction and Springfield, Mass., knew him intimately.


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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