The Herald Bulletin

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April 6, 2013

Jim Bailey: Better look round for a job old gal, 296 miles on the Central Canal

If Madison County is looking at water for part of its future, it may be taking a chapter out of its past.

Indiana’s Central Canal project in 1836 was touted as something of a revolution in commercial transportation. Railroads were in their infancy. Horses and wagons could only transport limited loads, and roads were problematic. Waterways were considered the way to go.

And according to historical pieces, among them one by Madison County historian Stephen T. Jackson, Anderson was right in the middle of the planning. The Central Canal was to link central Indiana with other canal systems within and beyond Indiana’s borders. The system was to connect to the Wabash & Erie Canal between Fort Wayne and Logansport, connect Muncie and Anderson with Indianapolis and extend southward to Evansville on the Ohio River. A total of 296 miles was in the planning stages.

The Indiana General Assembly passed the Internal Improvement Act in 1836, and construction began in several locations. In Madison County, private contractors were employed, digging sections of the waterway. The canal measured 40 feet wide at the top and 26 feet wide at the bottom.

Exactly eight miles of the canal eventually became operational. That is primarily in downtown Indianapolis where it still stands today, utilized now for drinking water and recreational purposes.

Sections of the canal still can be found in Madison County by those who know what they are looking for and where to look. According to Jackson, one of the most prominent sections runs several hundred yards east of Indiana 9 north of Anderson, beginning on the south side of 800 North and running south for about three miles to become part of Little Killbuck Creek just above 500 North. Other sections were from Park Place east along the north bank of White River and west of Anderson near where 600 West crosses the river.

So what happened? Much of it was a matter of money. With the panic of 1837 and the depression that followed, funding dried up. The community’s first boom was over. Its growth would later be tied to the gas boom and then the auto industry.

Waterway transportation, other than along major rivers, of course, may be an idea whose time has come and gone. Railroads crisscrossed the country. Then came interstate highways and major truck routes. Now air travel has added a new dimension.

But Madison County now is looking to come full circle. The reservoir proposal has landed like a ton of bricks.

A reservoir provides a different twist on the not-in-my-backyard syndrome. With many folks, a manmade lake is fine in their back yard. The front yard, however, is a different story.

Time will tell if the reservoir becomes a more permanent part of the Madison County scene than did the canal project.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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