News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 10, 2013

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Wabash-Erie Canal, second longest in world

By Michael Moroz
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — This week’s Historical Treasure is an Indiana-Ohio region map of the system of canals, specifically the Wabash-Erie canal, which was constructed between 1832 and 1853. It ultimately connected Toledo, Ohio, to Evansville, Ind., and provided a commercial thoroughfare to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The dog-leg portion of the canal that bi-sects Vigo County was known as the “Cross-cut” section which joined with the White River near Worthington. The entire 469 miles of the Wabash-Erie cost nearly 18 million and when finished was the second longest canal in the world.

A system of locks provided a means of raising and lowering boats as the elevation varied. Photos of the remnants of the locks near Riley, taken in 1993, are included in the Museum’s exhibition. These were constructed of stone, wood, concrete, or a combination of the former. Boats guided upstream by a team of animals coursing along a parallel tow-path would enter gates that could be manned by one person, closed and a sluicegate would be opened to fill the lock and allow the boat to rise to the subsequent water-level and allow for passage to another lock or further down the canal.

Tolls were collected on the canal, but the venture was never profitable for the bondholders who finally got the government to relinquish control of the canal by 1847.

Difficulties with labor disputes and economic recessions did cause delays in its construction, but the advent and quick adoption of rail eventually led to the canal’s obsolescence. Since the Vigo portion wasn’t finished until about 1850, and the Terre Haute-Richmond Rail was built by 1852, there was very little southern commercial use. However, northern travel on the canal remained for nearly a decade after.

Stop in and see this, along with every other transportation time-piece in the museum’s current exciting and informative exhibition.