Creation of the Whitewater Canal

27 January 1836. An act was passed through the Indiana General Assembly that would create what would become the Whitewater Canal. Talk of a canal had been circulating the Whitewater River valley since 1822 or before. It was 1822 when articles about such a canal were being published. Around this time, delegates from Franklin, Wayne, Union, Randolph, Fayette and Dearborn Counties held a meeting at Harrison to look at the possibilities of creating a canal.

The talk of a canal had progressed to the point that a survey was started in 1824. The original surveyor, a Colonel Shriver, passed away while performing this function. A Colonel Stansbury took over the job of surveying the potential route of a canal. But winter set in before he could really start work, and the survey was put on hold. Until June 1834. That was when a survey performed by William Gooding was completed. That survey routed the potential canal down the Whitewater valley from Nettle Creek, near Cambridge City, to Lawrenceburg.

Support for all things transport would heat up in 1835. Work began on a large internal improvement bill to build railroads, roads and canals throughout the state. This would be the known as the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act (MIIA) of 1836. This law would create several projects that would help form early Indiana…and help bankrupt it, as well. This one bill helped push the state to create a commission to write a new state constitution in 1851…one that forbade the state going into debt.

The MIIA would specifically create what would become the Whitewater Canal. It was mentioned in section one of the act. “The Whitewater Canal, commencing on the west branch of the Whitewater river, at the crossing of the national road, thence passing down the valley of the same to the Ohio river at Lawrenceburgh, and extending up the said west branch of Whitewater above the National road as far as may be practicble.”

Anyone that has looked at a map of Indiana will notice one minor detail. The Whitewater River doesn’t go to Lawrenceburg. It actually connects to the Little Miami River northeast of Elizabethtown, Ohio. Those that wrote the MIIA noticed this, as well. It was mentioned in the bill that “if the state of Ohio shall ultimately refuse to grant leave for the construction of that part of the Whitewater Canal which passes through her territory” a railroad should be built from Harrison (Ohio) to Lawrenceburg. That railroad would have to stay within the borders of Indiana.

A total of $1.4 million was set aside for the creation of the Whitewater Canal. The act also allowed for a connection between the Whitewater and Central Canals (the Central Canal would connect through Indianapolis) somewhere in Madison or Delaware Counties.

Section 16 of the MIIA allowed for the board of Canal Commissioners “to enter upon and take possession of, and use any singular lands, streams, and materials of any and every description necessary for the prosecution and completion of the improvements contemplated by this act.” This gave the Commissioners, and anyone assigned by them, the right to take whatever was necessary to complete the Whitewater Canal, and the other projects listed in the MIIA.

The original minimum dimensions of the Whitewater Canal were later determined to be at least 26 feet wide at the bottom, 40 feet wide at the top, and have at least four feet of water depth. This was, however, subject to increasing, if such increase could be done without increasing the cost of construction. The tow path was to be at least 10 feet wide, with the berm bank (opposite bank) being at least six. Both banks would have to have sufficient footing at the bottom to allow a slope of 21 inches for each 12 of height. And the two banks would have to be built two feet above the canal’s waterline. The total right-of-way for the canal would then total 63 feet from outside shoulder of one bank to the outside shoulder of the other.

By 1839, the first section of the canal, from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, was opened. The first boat, the “Ben Franklin” owned by Long and Westerfield of Lawrenceburg, arrived at Brookville on 18 June 1839. Two more boats, the Litlle Western and the Niagara, arrived the next day.

1840 found the state in bad financial shape. The canal had been completed from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, and half of the work from Brookville to Cambridge City had been completed. This cost the state, to that point, $664,665. It was at this point all work on the projects listed in the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act was discontinued.

The Board of Internal Improvements, the government agency tasked with completing all of the MIIA projects, was abolished in January 1842. The plan was to move those projects from public works to private companies. The same month, on 20 January 1842, the Whitewater Valley Canal Company was chartered. The state then turned over all property involving the canal to the new company. The new company was to complete the canal to Cambridge City and receive, as compensation, all revenues from tolls, water power, rents and other incomes for 15 years after the completion of the project.

The canal slowly increased its length. By 1843, it had reached Laurel. Connersville became an active canal town in 1845. The end of the line at Cambridge City would be reached in 1846. The Whitewater Valley Canal Company spent a grand total of $500,000 to complete the original scope of the canal’s purpose.

Unfortunately, the hopes that the canal would prove a boon to the area were dashed relatively quickly. Most of the problems stemmed from bad engineering. By 1848, two aqueducts were swept away, and several feeder dams were nearly destroyed. Once fixed, navigation began again…lasting a year until the normal Indiana floods caused suspension of canal traffic once again.

The canal was put back into operational shape for a time. But things didn’t go well for the company that continued to lose money on the enterprise. It all came to a head on 26 November 1862 when the Cincinnati & Indiana Railroad Company took over the property under Indiana’s condemnation laws. The canal’s receivers were paid $55,000 for the property, and the railroad became the owner of the old canal. All property of the canal company within the state of Indiana would be deeded to the railroad. Ultimately, the railroad would become the White Water Valley Railroad, a part of the Big Four and the New York Central.

Knightstown and Rushville State Road

I have mentioned many times about the creation of the original Indiana state roads. Those roads were passed into law by the General Assembly, built by the state, then turned over to county officials upon creation. Often times, these roads connected smaller Indiana towns to one another. Today, I want to focus on the Knightstown and Rushville State Road.

First, a little history. For starters, the very existence of Knightstown is a treasure trove of transportation history…due to its name. The town was named after Bucks County, Pennsylvania, native Jonathan Knight. Mr. Knight spent a great deal of his life working on transportation facilities. In 1816, he was appointed to map Washington County, Pennsylvania. While there, he became a county commissioner for three years. He was involved in the preliminary surveys of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and National Road between Cumberland, Maryland, and Wheeling, (West) Virginia. The National Road would be laid out to cross Washington County, Pennsylvania, connecting to the county seat at Washington. In 1828, he went to work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which used some of the same right of way as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. From 1830 to 1842, he was the Chief Engineer for the company. He later represented southwestern Pennsylvania in the U. S. House of Representatives.

Knightstown itself was built along the National Road in 1827. It was located north of the already in place state road connecting Indianapolis to Centerville. The National Road would also connect those two mentioned towns, although more directly. (Keep in mind that most early state roads were just the state improving roads that were already in place…so they tended to be more winding than later roads that were purposely built.) The old road would be located basically along the line separating Rush and Henry Counties.

The road that is the subject of this entry, the Knightstown-Rushville State Road, would leave Knightstown on what is now called Jefferson Street. An astute map reader will notice that today it is known as SR 140. It maintains that designation to a point south of what was the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home, now the Hoosier Youth Challenge Academy. The road then continues to the south southeast, twisting and turning its way to Rush County Road 550 North. The old road then turned east along that county road, then veered southeast on what is marked on Google Maps as either Rush County Road 140 West or Rushville Road.

After almost two miles, the old state road turned east again, this time along Rush County Road 400 North. And again, it veers south, where it is once again known as Rushville Road. It winds its way through the Rush County countryside, passing old School Number 5 at Rush County Road 300 North. Another twist and turn, the old road becomes an extension of Rushville’s Spencer Street. Roughly halfway between County Roads 200 North and 100 North, the old road’s route turns southeast along what is now Foster Heights Road. The road then turns due east before it connects to what is now Main Street in Rushville. Turning south completes the old state road’s route.

Rushville itself became the county seat of Rush County shortly after it was created from Delaware County (unorganized – and no relation to the current Indiana county of the same name) on 1 April 1822. But the time the county was created, and the town started being platted the following July, there was already a school at the location. The Post Office in the town opened teh same year the county was organized. Just like Knightstown, Rushville (and Rush County) was named after an eastern Pennsylvanian. This time, Benjamin Rush.

Toll Roads, and State Takeover

There was a point in Indiana transportation history when the majority of “improved roads” in the state were toll roads. The National Road, for instance, originally built across Indiana in the 1830’s, fell, by 1842, into the maintenance responsibility of the counties through which it passed. Congress turned over the National Road to the state in 1848. In 1852, the entire road was let to a toll road company.

The National Road wasn’t the only one. Almost every major road in the state went through the toll road treatment. It wasn’t only the “state” roads that ended up being made into turnpikes. Land owners could, and did, by law create their own toll roads.

In 1883, a law was passed by the Indiana General Assembly that allowed for the “Appraisement, Purchase and Conversion of Toll Roads into Free Roads, and for their Maintenance as Free Roads.” This allowed counties to purchase toll roads when :they have been petitioned to do so by a majority of the land owners and stockholders in said toll road.” Often times, it would be put to a vote by the residents of the county. From what I have seen in newspapers, Cass County (Logansport) tried at least three times to get a positive vote. It would take several years for this law to become fully used by the counties of the state.

The Richmond Item of 10 February 1893 reported that the county had issued its list of purchase prices for toll roads in Wayne County. (For instance, The National Road was appraised at $12,000. This would end up not being the original road east of Richmond, having been replaced by the Richmond-Eaton Pike. That road is now called “Old National Road.”) The Fort Wayne Daily News of 13 December 1897 reports that Allen County has finally appraised the Fort Wayne and Little River Turnpike, the last toll road in Allen County.

Indianapolis News, 25 October 1889. List of toll roads that
were purchased by the Marion County commissioners
to become “free gravel” roads.

The purchases were going on all over the state. Looking through newspapers.com, with a search of “toll road” from every available newspaper in Indiana, the number of newspapers is fairly large. That only includes entries between 1800 and 1940.

Indianapolis News, 25 October 1889. List of roads that still
collect tolls, but have been petitioned to be purchased.

The attached snippets show the toll and free road situation in Marion County in October 1889. The bottom of the picture to the left shows that, at this time, Marion County contained 215 miles of gravel road, 70 being toll roads. Looking at a map of Marion County of that period, this is just a very small percentage of the roads in the county.

Until the counties started taking over the turnpikes (or toll roads, you decided which to use), toll houses were not only a common sight all around Indiana, they were basically landmarks. There is still one in existence along the old Michigan Road northwest of Indianapolis. Another Jim Grey entry, “For sale: Michigan Road Toll House” covers this quite well.

Now, the only toll road in the state is the Indiana Toll Road that runs across the top tier of counties. It is basically an extension of one toll road (or turnpike in Ohio and Pennsylvania) from Chicago to Philadelphia. This may change in the future. No one can ever be sure.