Board OKs historical marker for 1st & Eagle streets

City resident Sam Ligget wants everyone to know that Terre Haute holds a unique spot in the history of the Wabash & Erie Canal.

The city rests in the far south end of the lowest level of the canal between Fort Wayne and the town of Riley, known as the Nadir Level, which extends for 123/4 miles.

On Monday, the Terre Haute Board of Public Works and Safety approved a request from Ligget, a board member of the Canal Society of Indiana, to erect a historical sign at First and Eagle streets.

“The Canal Society is out of Fort Wayne, but we are going around the state of Indiana to put up signs to mark historical places in the canal,” Ligget told the board. “The Canal Society will pay for the sign. Terre Haute was the lowest level between Fort Wayne and Lockport, which is now Riley.

“The water for the canal went downhill from Fort Wayne to Terre Haute and water flowed from Riley to Terre Haute, so when you have water coming from both directions, you have to do something with it, so it went out into the Wabash River by Eagle Street and First Street … near where [Indiana State University’s] track is located,” Ligget said.

The canal extended for 468 miles from Toledo, Ohio to Evansville and was completed in 1853. Terre Haute served as headquarters for the canal from 1847 to 1876. The first canal boats arrived in Terre Haute on Oct. 25, 1849.

“It was an important point, when you look at a map of the city in 1858,” Ligget said after the meeting. “There were a lot of pork packing plants on the canal. They faced First Street and had a back side on the canal. There was a turning basin there to turn around the canal boats. There was what canal people call a waste weir, which is a gate. So, when there was too much water in the canal they would open the gate and let water out into the Wabash River.”

That gate at First and Eagle, Ligget said, and was near Lock No. 41 and Lock No. 42, “which was the only double lock on the whole canal system. It changed the level of the canal by 19 feet, which is easily the largest change in water level of any lock on the whole system, so the city of Terre Haute was 19 feet higher than this Nadir level,” Ligget said.

It was not far from a dry dock area at Chestnut and Second streets where canal boats could be repaired, Ligget said.

The Wabash & Erie Canal was 40 feet wide at the top, 26 feet wide at the bottom, and 4 feet deep. Canal boats were pulled by mules or horses along a 10-foot wide tow path at a speed of 3 to 5 mph.

Indiana State University in 2016 also erected a marker for the canal near the corner of Second and Chestnut streets in Terre Haute.

Other business

In a separate matter, the board approved transferring ownership of a decades-old fire truck to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Fire Chief Bill Berry told the board the engine has had its pumper and tank removed and was only used for parades. The fire truck was painted pink, a task paid for by the cancer foundation, Berry said.

Additionally, the foundation installed pink colored fire hoses on the vehicle. Berry said the fire engine “has no value to us other than as a parade apparatus.” Additionally, Berry told the board he would have to pull a firefighter from a work rotation or pay overtime to a firefighter to drive the vehicle during parades. The fire truck can be driven without a special license, he told the board, and the ownership transfer would save the city money.

The board also:

• Approved a request from 12 Points Revitalization to close Maple Avenue from Lafayette Avenue to 13th Street for an annual tree lighting event from 4 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 3.

• Approved a request from the YMCA to close First Street from Farrington Street to Eagle Street from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Feb. 12 for a Heart Throb 5K run.

• Approved a request from the IU School of Medicine to close Seventh Street from Ohio Street to Cherry Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on April 23 for a Community Health Fair. The health fair is slated to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• Approved a change order of $6,851 to add an additional traffic flow detection camera for the intersection of 25th and Margaret, where the city is installing a new stoplight system.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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