Madison County Historical Society



 Canal Project Left Behind Quite a Mystery

With the successful completion and operation of the famed Erie Canal across upper New York state in October 1825, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Indiana Mammoth Internal Improvement Act in 1836.  Among other transportation improvements, it authorized the creation of the Indiana Central Canal to connect the Wabash River in Peru to the Ohio River at Evansville.

If White River could talk,
it would tell of seeing land surveyors along its banks in Madison County from Andersontown to the county's western boundary the year before.  Their job was to lay out the route by which the canal would pass through Madison County. 

Early in the planning, the exact route the canal was to follow was optional and passage through Madison County was a consideration.  Labeled the "Pipe Creek" alternative, it was the one finally chosen and construction began in the county in late 1837 or early 1838.

If the river could talk, it would tell of witnessing laborers, mainly of Irish descent, hand-digging the 6-foot deep and 28-foot wide canal sections not far from its left bank behind the area known today as Western Hills and River Forest on Anderson's far west side.  There, two sections--both approximately 300 feet in length--can still be seen paralleling the river.  Over time, river flooding has deposited silt into the canal bed making the canal prism less evident.

Farther west, more evidence of canal construction can be seen along the river's left bank between County Roads 800 West and 900 West.  It is in this stretch that it would be beneficial if the river could actually talk.  An unusual feature exists that experts in Indiana canal-era history cannot explain.  The canal in this area is several hundred feet south of the river.  At one point, a spur that is perpendicular to the main canal bed takes off toward the river.  This spur, which was obviously dug to serve some intended purpose and is clearly another canal prism, is more than 100 feet long and stops a short distance from the river;  an embankment prevents its joining the river.  We are left to ponder its intent.

If the river could talk, it would tell us that three communities were formed along its banks as a direct result of canal construction.  Two have passed into history, but one remains.  The first was called Victoria.  It was located on the ground now occupied by West Maplewood Cemetery.  It was actually platted in 1838 with the idea it would be strategically located at the point where the Central Canal would enter White river as it made its way south from Peru.

The second community was call Rockport.  It served as a place where workers lived during the canal construction west of Andersontown.  When the workers eventually moved on, the makeshift town disappeared.  Later, that site would be the location of a famous entertainment center known nationwide as the Green Lantern. 

The third community was called Halford.  It was located on an elevated piece of ground about a half-mile south of the river.  Passing through the community were two well-traveled roads, one north-south and the other east-west, which were main avenues of commerce.  With the canal not far away, speculators reasoned this could become a viable community.  After the demise of the central Canal, the community remained and prospered to a certain extent, complete with a school for area children.  The name Halford gave way to Zinsburg and then to today's Hamilton on West Eighth Street Road where it crosses County Road 600 West.

If the river could talk, it would tell of perhaps its greatest secret that lies virtually unknown not far from the river's right bank across from Mounds State Park.  The 1836 act that authorized the Central Canal also authorized construction of the Whitewater Canal connecting Lawrenceburg to Hagerstown.  Extending north from Hagerstown was to be an extension of the canal that would run to Muncie, if funds were available.  With that eventuality in mind, a "feeder branch" was planned that would connect Muncie to Andersontown, thus making Andersontown a potential thriving center of commerce at the junction of two major canals.

It was not known if construction on the "feeder branch" ever materialized.  In 1840, all the contractors who worked on the Central Canal submitted their final reports to the Indiana General Assembly.  The reports were compiled into what became known as the Completion Report.  There was no mention in the report of any work on the branch being conducted.  Thus, it had been assumed no construction had begun.  There was a passing reference made to its existence in 1868 when plans were being developed to construct a second canal in the dame area, but it was a reference only with no information.

However, if the river could talk, it would tell of two men making their way into a remote area along the river's right bank in 2010.  One was showing the other what he had observed on his property and was needing an explanation.  They came upon a distinct canal prism and clearly by its location it was a section of the planned "feeder branch" dating to the late 1830s.  Once again, the river was trying to reclaim this previously unknown feature by the silting-in that has occurred over the years, and would in time be successful.  Nonetheless, this discovery has added to our understanding of the Central Canal era that came to an abrupt end in 1839 following Indiana's financial failure in the Panic of 1837.

If the river could talk, oh, the stories it could tell!       

Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian

 Throughout Indiana's Bicentennial year of 2016, Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian, will be authoring "If The River Could Talk."  This series will feature people, places, and events that takes place in and around White River.

The series is an officially endorsed legacy project of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

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 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|