Friday, November 18, 2005


Click on the Play Button to view video :)

This is a video of the Falls of South Hadley. The water is flowing over a dam and is high today because of last nights' big rain. 300 years ago this part of the river was a series of rapids that dropped the Connecticut 56 feet in little under 2.5 miles. In order to get boats up the river to transport crops and later manufacturing goods a canal was built.

The South Hadley Canal was the first navigation canal constructed in the United States of America. It opened for business in 1794, enabling traffic on the Connecticut River to move without interruption, bypassing the rapids at South Hadley. Boat cargoes no longer had to be transferred to wagons to be transported around the rapids of the river.

This canal was not only the first built in this country, but it used a unique method of transporting the loaded boats from the river below the rapids up to the navigation canal. It was an outstanding engineering accomplishment based upon the inclined plane. It was a structure built of solid stone, 30 feet wide and 275 feet long, covered with strong wood planks, and having a slope of 13.5 degrees.

A specially-designed car with three pairs of wheels, capable of carrying a loaded flatboat, was lowered into the river at the bottom of the incline. A boat was then floated onto the car which was hauled up the inclined plane to the navigation canal. It then entered the canal and then moved on upstream.

The power to lift the loaded car was supplied by two overshot waterwheels 16 feet in diameter, one on each side of the inclined plane. The wheels turned a shaft which by means of chains was connected to the car. These two waterwheels must have been the first on the Connecticut River which were devoted to a public service - in this case, transportation. The corporate seal of the Proprietors carried the words "SIC TRANSIT

The first boat went through the canal in April 1795. The inclined plane continued in use until 1805, when it was necessary to deepen the canal. At that time it was replaced by a series of locks. During its ten years of operation, the inclined plane attracted many spectators. A local historian wrote: "It was the lion of this section and was the first attraction that drew crowds of spectators."

On November 6, 1848, the first of three dams was completed at the South Hadley Falls. Made of wood and financed by Boston industrialists, it was to last only a few hours.

As crowds watched, the dam began to show strain from the rising water. James Mills, reporting for the waiting investors, sent the following telegrams to Boston:

_"10:00 A.M., the gates were closed and the water filling behind the dam."
_"12:00 Noon, Dam leaking badly."
_"1:00 P.M., Leaks cannot be stopped."
_"2:00 P.M., Bulkheads are giving way."
_"3:20 P.M., Dam gone to hell by way of Willimansett."

A replacement dam, also of wood, was completed the following summer. This dam still stands, 150 feet under water, behind the current, modern stone dam, put into service in 1900.