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EARLY CANAL TRANSPORTATION: 
THE BOATS OF THE MIDDLESEX CANAL
 
feet.  A ten foot tow path ran along the west bank and a five foot berm on the east.

     The main source of water in the canal was the Concord River.  A dam crossed the river in Billerica, creating a mill pond which stored the water that fed the canal.  Another engineering first was the floating towpath, developed to allow the canal to cross this large water body.  The water in the canal flowed from the pond six miles in a northwesterly direction to the Merrimack River, dropping 27 feet through three locks on its journey.  To the southeast, the canal flowed 22 miles and dropped 100 feet through 13 locks to the Charlestown Mill Pond at the Charles River.  The canal was made up of eight different levels ranging from one to six miles in length.

     In order that the canal would not be subject to flooding, care was taken that water from rivers and streams never mixed with canal water.  Eight aqueducts were constructed to carry the canal over other bodies of water.  The most impressive of these was the 35 foot Shawnsheen River Aqueduct in East Billerica, the ruins of which can still be seen today. 

     A branch canal was constructed in Boston so that boats, after crossing the Charles River, could travel all the way to the harbor.  At the opposite end of the Middlesex Canal, locks were constructed along the Merrimack River, creating a totally navigable route between Boston, Massachusetts and Concord, New Hampshire by 1814. 

Luggage boat
Luggage boat entering a lock chamber

THE BOATS
The first mention of a boat in the Middlesex Canal
Corporation records was in Superintendent Laommi
Baldwin's 1795 report to the Proprietors,

      "A flat bottom boat of about 9 feet in width 
       & 35 feet  in height has been framed & the 
       stuff drying & is nearly ready to pin up and 
       finish off."

The first boats on the canal were small and heavy, designed to carry the lumber and stone needed for the canal's construction.  Later, boats were crafted to carry freight and passengers.  The authorized dimensions of boats were spelled out in the Middlesex Canal Corporation's regulations.  They were to be at least 40 feet in length, but not more than 75 feet long in order that they fit into lock 

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