Indiana’s Canals

CanalBoat1

CanalBoat2
Courtesy of Carroll County Wabash & Erie Canal, Inc. Illustrated by Terry Lacy, researched by Tom Castaldi.

Erie & Michigan Canal 1836-1839
(7 miles / 110 planned)

Authorized by the 1836 Internal Improvement Bill, only the Northport feed reservoir (Sylvan Lake) and a few miles nearby were constructed.  Work stopped in 1839.

Cross-Cut Canal 1836-1839
(42 miles)

This waterway between Terre Haute and Worthington that connected the Wabash and White Rivers lifted canal waters 78 feet over a summit level.

The Eel River feeder and the Birch Creek and Splunge Creek Reservoirs supplied water for this summit.  Begun in 1836, the works were abandoned in 1839 only to later be completed in 1850 as part of the Wabash & Erie Canal.

Central Canal 1836-1839
(8 miles / 296 planned)

This canal was to extend from Peru, down the Mississinewa River Valley to the White River, through Indianapolis, and on to Worthington. Here it would meet the Cross-Cut Canal and proceed 111 miles to Evansville. Construction stopped with the financial collapse of 1839. The 24 miles from Broad Ripple to Port Royal was watered, but only 8 miles in downtown Indianapolis was operational. The entire 80 miles from Anderson to Martinsville was left in various stages of completion. Today, portions are used as a water source for Indianapolis and have been modernized.

Click here to read a brief commentary on the Central Canal.

Wabash & Erie Canal 1832-1874
(468 miles)

On March 2, 1827, Congress provided a land grant to encourage Indiana to build the Wabash & Erie Canal.  The original plan was to link the navigable water of the Maumee with the Wabash through the seven mile portage at Fort Wayne.  Work began five years later on February 22, 1832 in Fort Wayne.  Construction proceeded west as the canal reached Huntington by 1835, Logansport in 1838, and Lafayette in 1841.  Work was also performed east toward the Ohio line, but the canal did not open to Toledo until 1843.  A second federal land grant enabled the canal to reach Terre Haute by 1849.

At Evansville, 20 miles of the Central Canal had been completed north by 1839.  The W & E was extended south in the late 1840’s through the abandoned Cross-Cut Canal works to Worthington and then south following the old proposed Central Canal route.  The connection with the Evansville segment was completed in 1853 forming the longest canal in the United States.  By 1860, portions south of Terre Haute were closed and the process of decline continued northward.  In 1876, the canal was auctioned off by the trustees.

Click here to read the text on the state marker titled “Wabash and Erie Canal.”

Whitewater Canal 1836-1865
(76 miles)

Construction began at Brookville in 1836 as part of the statewide Mammoth Internal Improvement Bill. With its southern terminus at Lawrenceburg on the Ohio River, the Whitewater Valley Canal Co. reached Connersville in 1845.  The next year 69 miles of canal were completed to Cambridge City which was on the National Road.  In 1847, the merchants of Hagerstown financed their own 7 mile canal extension.  At Harrison, the Whitewater also connected with the 25 mile Cincinnati and Whitewater Canal of Ohio, completed in 1843.  Destructive floods in the narrow valley, inadequate financial returns, and the railroad doomed the waterway.

Richmond-Brookville Canal 1839
(33 miles planned)

This privately financed effort by local citizens on the East Fork of the Whitewater began with about four miles of diggings between Richmond & Brookville and died shortly thereafter.

Ohio Falls Canal 1805, 1817-1819, 1824-1825
(3 miles planned)

Three ventures at canal building on the Indiana side of the falls failed. The first Indiana lottery was attempted to raise capital. In 1826 Congress helped Kentucky fund its Louisville & Portland Canal, which remains in use today.

 

Click here to access a spreadsheet of the mileages of each canal and prominent locations along their routes.