Lecture Notes: Canals

Quite often throughout the day I find myself thrilled by a new bit of information that I am learning in class, whether facts in American history, lessons in architectural conservation, or understanding more of how the law operates. One professor always names places that he recommends as a must see: historic sites, engineering feats, villages, factories – he never stops exploring. Sometimes I want to share my notes with anyone who does not have the opportunity to sit in on my classes and hear the lectures that my classmates and I hear. Since I cannot send around my notebooks or recite the lectures, I’ll just share bits here and there. For today: canals.

One of the most fascinating lectures recently was about the canal system in the United States. Did you know that canals preceded railroads as the major successful transportation? Cities were built facing the canals (which sometimes makes the buildings appear backwards to those of us on the road). People lived on canal boats. People traveled on canal boats as a way to experience the scenery at a serene pace. Beginning around the 1820s, the canals opened the United States to western settlement. Canal locks were major engineering innovations. Around the canal locks, towns developed in a linear form. The canal era began to decline around 1860 because they were expensive to build and maintain and the routes were slow, and the railroads were lurking in the background. But canal evidence is still visible on the land today, particularly in our street patterns. Cities filled in the canals to create streets.

Maybe I’m one of the few who has never heard about the extent of and the influence of canals, but I am intrigued by this mode of transportation and the evidence remaining on the land. Looks like I’ve got to go exploring. Here are few links to historic sites about canals:

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park

History of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

The Erie Canal (see traces of the Erie Canal)

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

Does anyone else love (or have a newfound love for) canals?

3 thoughts on “Lecture Notes: Canals

  1. Andrew Wilkins says:

    You just whisked me back to International Preservation class with WBM III, i did my term project on adaptive reuse of historic canals. I remember being surprised that old canals were such held as such a treasure in Europe. pleasure boating on 18th and 19th century industrial mill canals in Britain is a very popular. I do enjoy canals.

  2. Kaitlin says:

    I just received the most recent Preservation Magazine in the mail and I was so excited to see the article on biking the C&O Canal!! What a coincidence! I definitely want to make that a trip at some point; what a perfect way to travel.

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