Wabash And Erie Canal

On 2 March 1827, the Congress of the Unites States at Washington granted land for the states of Ohio and Indiana to build a canal from Toledo, Ohio, to Evansville, Indiana. That canal, following the Maumee and Wabash Rivers, it would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Along the way, many important towns would be included, not limited to Fort Wayne, Logansport, Lafayette, Terre Haute and Evansville. What was to be an important part of Indiana transportation ended with a thud not long after construction would be completed.

The land grants given to Indiana were acted upon almost a year later with, on 5 January 1828, the General Assembly appointed three commissioner to lay out the route of the canal. Disagreements between railroad and canal interests would delay the groundbreaking for the longest canal in the United States until 22 February 1832.

Construction would be slow on the canal. Part of this would be attributable to the sheer length of the project: 460 miles. Another contributing factor would be the fact that canal building, by its nature, is a slow process requiring lots of both manual labor and engineering. By 1837, construction was moving along when the economic Panic of that year hit the United States. The canal had reached from Fort Wayne to Logansport by that time. Most of the internal improvement projects in Indiana came close to a halt. The Wabash & Erie was no exception. Construction continued…but on a very curtailed pace.

Further construction would continue, however. By 1843, the canal connected Toledo to Lafayette. Five years later, it reached Terre Haute. And five years after that, in 1853, construction was completed to Evansville. This marked the completion of the entire canal, and water traffic, albeit slowly, could traverse from Lake Erie to the Mississippi River and beyond unencumbered. This would not last, however. It should be noted here that the section from Worthington to Evansville had the original name of the Central Canal, and as such would be included as part of the Wabash & Erie.

Dawson’s Fort Wayne Weekly Times of 20 November 1859 reported that the canal would be closed soon to navigation. Whether that would be for the winter or for good was never explained in the short blurb in the newspaper. This was after citizens along the canal route had written a letter to the General Assembly in February 1859 commenting that the state should give money to the canal company in an effort to shore up its horrible finances to keep it open. Their argument being that even though the canal has been a financial failure, it has served a vital function in opening up, and maintaining markets to, the towns along its path.

Another argument is that the federal government gave the state 1.6 million acres of land to build the canal, which the state did sell excess portions of. The state owes it to the canal, and to the people along the route, to make good on their duties to keep the canal running.

It would fall on mostly deaf ears.

Most of the problems with the canal were natural. The soft topsoil of Indiana led to a lot of dredging needed along the entire route. This along required a lot of money. Add to it the native animals of Indiana, especially muskrats, that would burrow through the canal walls. Keeping the canal open was a constant, and expensive, job.

While portions of the canal would start closing to traffic as early as 1859, the ultimate end came at Terre Haute in 1876, when the canal company, then based there, decided to start selling off canal lands. The last canal boat would make its run from Huntington in 1874. By then, a majority of the canal had fallen into disuse and disrepair. Parts of it were filled in to create wagon trails. Other parts were sold to railroad companies (read Wabash, among others) for the railroad right-of-way. Parts would, in 1926, become part of US 24.

There are several places in which the canal route is marked or even sections of the actual canal maintained. In 1991, while construction I-469 near Fort Wayne, an original canal lock was found buried in the ground. That lock, Gronauer Lock No. 2, would be partially preserved. Parts of that lock are in the Indiana State Museum.

Another remnant of the canal age, and a piece of what was to become the southern part of what became the Wabash & Erie, is the Central Canal through Indianapolis. The Central Canal was to connect the Wabash & Erie at Logansport, through Indianapolis, to Worthington and beyond to Evansville. When the original Central Canal project fell through, the southern part of that project became lumped with the Wabash & Erie.

Michigan Road at Logansport

The Michigan Road. Indiana’s first true state road that connected Lake Michigan at Michigan City to the Ohio River at Madison, through Indianapolis. As was typical of the time, the state would build the road to the edges of towns, allowing the towns along the way to decide where the route would actually travel. The last outpost of “civilization” along this grand old road between Indianapolis and South Bend, when it was built, was the town of Logansport. And tracing the old road through the town is a decidedly interesting business.

A brief history. The original plat of Logansport, from the point where the Eel River enters the Wabash to Fifth Street was dated 1828. The town grew quite rapidly from there, adding Sixth through Ninth Street was added by 1835. This corresponds with the coming of both the Wabash & Erie Canal and the Michigan Road. The map that is used for sources in this entry comes from a real estate sales map. The town of West Logan was platted on the north bank of the Eel River in 1835.

1835 map of Logansport showing the crossing of the
Wabash River by the Michigan Road.

For starters, the entry into Logansport from the south has really never changed over the years. The road was built heading northeast along what is now Burlington Avenue. It crossed the Wabash River to Biddle Island, then left the island in a straight line over to Logansport’s Third Street. It still, to this day, follows the same path. The one thing that makes the first crossing of the Wabash different than normal crossings is that the bridge was not built perpendicular to the river. Most bridges at that time were, so to make them more stable and cost less to build. According to a map of 1835, the bridge is angled across the Wabash to Biddle Island, but straight across the Wabash north of the island.

But once inside the town, which at the time was in the area between the Wabash and Eel Rivers, it was a good guess. Based on maps of the area, it moved at least a couple of times. The state really wasn’t concerned with the town’s streets that the road followed, just where it would connect to the northeast bound Michigan Road that started along the northern bank of the Eel River.

1835 map of Logansport showing the bridge across the Eel River to connect the Michigan Road on the north side of the river to Logansport’s (now) downtown.

The same 1835 map mentioned above shows a bridge at what is now Fourth Street. One thing that should be noted here is that the lines forming the Michigan Road and Third Street are solid…not open at each of the street intersections in the town. This leads me to believe that the route of the Michigan Road followed (originally) Third Street to what is now Eel River Avenue, then crossing the Eel River at Fourth Street. This is shown in the map to the left. Two other important features that should be noted are the aqueduct over the Eel River that carried the Wabash & Erie Canal and the bridge over the canal along the north bank of the Eel River. The road running along the bank of the river is also marked with solid lines, with no “access” to roads that meet this path.

A current Google Map satellite image of the Fourth Street end at the Eel River shows that there is no house on the corresponding north bank of the river. I am not going to say that there never was a building there. Just that there isn’t one now.

1835 map of Logansport showing the Third Avenue and the Wabash & Erie Canal.

In relation to the Wabash & Erie, it crossed through Logansport along Fifth Street, turning easterly south of Market Street. That turn is now under Erie Avenue.

1835 map of Logansport showing the northern route of the “Great Michigan Road.”

The old road still makes its way north out of Logansport along its original path, as shown in the map above.

Later maps of the area show that the crossing of the Eel River was moved from the end of Fourth Street to the end of Fifth Street. This would mean that the old aqueduct for the Wabash & Erie Canal became a road bridge after the demise of the canal. According to an 1876 map of the town, the crossing had been moved again, this time to the end of Sixth Street, where it still is today.