From the New Orleans (La.) Times-Picayune, 1/7/1940, p. 44, c. 2

(The Associated Press)

Richmond, Va., Jan. 6. – A grandiose scheme conceived by George Washington for developing a waterway across two ranges or mountains to link the Chesapeake and Ohio river frontier is helping today to light the streets of Richmond and to furnish power for several of the city’s industries.

The gigantic undertaking, which if carried through would have provided an inland waterway some 400 miles long, was first investigated by Washington as a young engineer and was partially compelted between 1785 and 1860. For 21 years it enabled packet boats to travel up the James river and Kanawha canal for a distance of 197.5 miles above Richmond, the present farthest navigable point, and for a longer period between Richmond and Lynchburg, a distance of 110 miles.

Its original goal abandoned in 1881, the canal remained, except for a few industrial beneficiaries, an idle monument to its visionary engineers for many years, but today it is serving other utilitarian purposes.

The city of Richmond utilizes the flow of the canal for generation of power at two plants, part of which is utilized in pumping the city’s water supply from river reservoirs and the rest for current for a part of the city street lighting and public buildings.

The Virginia Electric and Power Company is building a new plant, to be completed next March, to utilize the waste flow. This plant, with an output of 2100 kilowatts, will take water from the canal and drop it back approximately 46 feet into the river proper.

The Tredegar Iron Works, which manufactured Confederate cannon balls during the War Between the States, and the Albemarle Paper Manufacturing Company also obtain power from the canal.

Washington expressed the belief a trans-Appalachian highway was essential to the solidarity of the colonies. The mountains made communication between the East and West so difficult he feared the Spanish, who then controlled the Mississippi region, might lure the frontier colonists from the fragile ties that bound them to the new government.

In 1784 he made a tour of the Western country to study the practicability of opening a navigable thoroughfare between the headwaters of the Eastern rivers and those which flowed into the Ohio.

He viewed Virginia as the key to the opening of such a trans-mountain communication and recommended a commission be appointed to survey the Potomac and the James rivers from tidewater to their sources and a supplementary examination be made of the portages between them and the rivers empying into the Ohio. Chief Justice John Marshall headed the 14 commissioners.

The first contract was let in 1810, 11 years after Washington’s death, for the construction at Richmond of a chain of 13 locks. In February, 1820, the Commonwealth of Virginia took the project over and placed it in the hands of a board of public works.

The state reconstructed the canal from Richmond to Westham, a distance of seven miles, and later extended it 27 miles into Goochland county; built a seven-and-a-half-mile canal through the Blue Ridge mountains, and improved the Great Kanawha river by dams and sluices from Charleston, the present West Virginia capital, to the mouth of the river 58 miles away. The first packet boat left Richmond for Lynchburg November 23, 1811.

It was not until 1860, however, that the canal, built in successive stages, was put into operation between Tidewater and Buchanan, Va., its farthest point, a distance of 197.5 miles.

Work was extended from Buchanan to Covington, Va., a distance of 47 miles, but the canal was never completed.

The denouement came in 1881 when the general assembly chartered the Richmond and Alleghany railroad, which acquired all the rights and property of the canal company. The old towpath became the railroad bed from Richmond to Clifton Forge, and in 1888 the Richmond and Alleghany passed into the hands of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company and is now the low-grade James river line of the C. and O. from Richmond to Clifton Forge, a distance of 230 miles.

The line carries the heavy Tidewater coal traffic as well as other heavy traffic on the rail system extending from the coast to the Great Lakes.

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