Canal era short-lived but important to city

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

Nothing promoted the growth of Fort Wayne more than the Wabash and Erie Canal, the first part of which was completed in 1835 and eventually connected Toledo, O., with Evansville.

The canal enjoyed just a few decades of prosperity, but during its heyday the waterway was the major transportation system in the Midwest. Its donkey-drawn barges put their mark on an era - an era which gave Fort Wayne its nickname.

Fort Wayne was the highpoint on the canal - earning it the title of ``The Summit City.''

But the canal was more than just a ditch with water in it. A photograph shows the aqueduct which was built across the St. Mary's River near the present-day Main Street Bridge. The aqueduct, which was in effect a water bridge which allowed the barges to passover the river, was on its last legs when this picture was snapped in 1882.

The aqueduct was 200 feet long and made of oak timbers supported by stone columns. Its water level was four and one-half feet and its width was about 17 feet. In its original form, the aqueduct looked like one of the quaint covered bridges which still dot the rural countryside, but its sides and roof were later removed.

The coming of the railroad caused the canal's demise. In 1874, the canal's trustees finally admitted defeat and closed the waterway. The canal left a legacy, though - it cost $8 million to build and maintain but took in just $5 million in revenues. The canal's losses helped the State of Indiana go broke in 1839 and caused the passage of a law in 1851 prohibiting the state from going into debt.

--March 13, 1982

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