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THE BOATS OF THE MIDDLESEX CANAL
| Boat operators were
not allowed to pass themselves through locks. Only the lock keeper
could do this. To protect the canal walls, voyages after dark were
prohibited. Dark was determined to be 7:00 p.m. during the spring
and fall, 9:00 p.m. during the summer, and 10:00 p.m. on moonlight nights.
Sunday operation was permitted in deference to the distance that many travelers
were from their homes, but the whistles usually blown to alert the lock
keepers were silent on this day.
All boats were to bear the name of its owner and be numbered "from 1 to the greatest number owned by the same person." Upon entering the canal, passports were assigned to each vessel. This passport had to be presented to the keeper at each lock for his signature. When a boat reached its destination, the passport was presented to the Collector of Tolls. The Massachusetts legislature set tolls at 1 / 16 per dollar - or 6 1 /4 cents - per ton per mile. The corporation could place a lien on merchandise for tolls owed and could collect wharfage for goods not promptly removed from the landing. There were eight landings along the canal and goods could only be loaded and unloaded from boats at these points to prevent damage to canal banks. Lumber was an exception to this rule.
THE DECLINE OF THE CANAL
The income of the canal waned during the war of 1812, when business was slowed due to the embargo. Shareholders were charged 100 assessments over the years to construct and maintain the canal. Business improved in the years following the war, and in 1819 the first dividends were paid to shareholders. The years between 1819 and 1836 were good ones for the canal. Toll receipts, and dividends, steadily increased during these years. The Middlesex Canal Corporation profited by the growth of Lowell. Bricks, lime, and slate used in the construction of Lowell's first factories and houses were transported on the canal, as was coal. Eight million bricks were produced in Bedford in a single year. Luggage boats carried lumber to fire the kilns and returned with finished products. The mill developers, however, contributed to the downfall of the canal by working in favor of the construction of the Boston and Lowell Railroad. The canal only carried goods and passengers to Middlesex Village. Other transport to town then needed to be arranged. The railroad would be a more convenient mode of transportation to the mills.
The Canal Corporation petitioned the legislature against the railroad, but to no avail. Ironically, the canal contributed to its own demise when it carried the steam engine Stephenson from Boston to Lowell
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