Madison County Historical Society




 Five years in the making, Hydraulic Canal falls flat

Almost thirty years had passed since men toiled with shovels to construct the Central Canal along the banks of the White River in Madison County.

It was 1869, and once again the sounds of that type of work echoed from the elevations that bordered the right bank of the river from north of Daleville to Anderson.

A new canal with an entirely different purpose was coming to life in the bluffs that nature seemed to form for that purpose along the river's bank in the eight-mile stretch between the two towns.  It was called the Hydraulic Canal because the investors wished to harness the energy of the river's hydro-power by diverting the flow through a specially designed and engineered canal.

Running parallel to the river, it would deliver enough hydro-power to turn the wheels that were planned for the 10 flouring and five fabric mills that speculators envisioned would employ thousands, placing Anderson well up the list of manufacturing cities in the United States.  It was an ingenious idea that sought to take advantage of the natural fall of 44 feet in elevation from Daleville to Anderson.  When channeled through the narrow passage of the canal, the flow would be accelerated sufficiently to power the machinery.  Once operating, the mills could operate without any additional power costs.

The engineers estimated the canal would carry 27,000 cubic feet of water per minute.  That volume would run 160 runs of burrs(milling cutters) of 120 horsepower each, thus affording an almost inexhaustible source of water power.

If White River could talk, it would tell of several unique features that were designed to enhance the canal's performance.  First, there was a dam located north of Daleville at the beginning of a great horseshoe bend in the river.  Its function was to store water behind its barrier which, when needed, was diverted through a wicket gate into the beginning of the canal.

The second feature was the presence of a spring-fed, man made reservoir immediately next to the canal from which water could be drawn when needed to supplement the water supplied by the river.  It was thought this would be a solution during periods of drought.  The reservoir is located along the river's right bank at the spot where White River enters Madison County. 

If the river could talk, it would reveal that today a small section of the original dam protrudes from its bank and can be seen during periods of low water in the presence of a timber anchored deep in the river's bank.  A large bolt secures the timber to the bedrock beneath the river's surface.  Extending across the river at this point are the foundation blocks that supported the dam.  They too can be viewed when the water level is low and free of any silt.

The Anderson Hydraulic Company was organized December 19, 1868.  Capital stock amounting to $64,000 was subscribed, with the City of Anderson subscribing an additional $20,000.  The board of directors chosen by the stockholders included Peter Suman, William Crim, Harvey J. Blacklidge, Neal C. McCullough, George Nichol, Samuel Hughel, and James Hazlett.

Hughel owned part of the land through which the Hydraulic Canal was to pass and, thus, sought to profit from its construction as well as the construction of mills on his property.  Blacklidge owned the ground near the junction of Grand Avenue and Alexandria Pike, where the water from the canal returned to White River.  More than likely, he stood to gain from that arrangement.

Speculation was high that the canal would introduce a new level of prosperity to Anderson.  It was that speculation that spawned the development on both sides of North Main Street in the early 1870s.  Previously, the area was devoid of buildings.  Fueling the excitement was the announcement in late August 1869, that Anderson had been selected as the terminus for the Grand Rapids, Cincinnati and Wabash railroad.  Its construction was to begin in 1870, thus providing a third rial connection for customers of the planned manufacturing sites.

One incident occurred during construction that undoubtedly surprised the laborers.  While digging near today's Lynnwood Drive, they uncovered a site containing human remains.  If the river could talk, it would have told them it was the long-forgotten cemetery called God's Acre used by the Moravian Missionaries from 1801 to 1806 to bury Native Americans who had converted to Christianity at their mission station.

If the river could talk, it would tell of that much anticipated opening of the canal on July 4, 1874.  When the wicket to regulate the flow of water was opened, disaster struck immediately as the man made banks gave way in numerous spots, making it necessary to turn off the flow and make repairs.  However, when the water flow was begun a second time, the resulting damage was the same.

Frustrated by failure and discouraged by monetary losses, the work was abandoned with losses amounting to $80,000.  The property was sold by the sheriff to Edward H. Rogers to satisfy the judgments held by him against the company for labor and materials.  The old canal remained idle, never to be used.

If the river could talk, it would tell of the numerous remnants that remain of the Hydraulic Canal along its banks.  Large sections of over-grown canal beds can be viewed at various points not far from the river's edge between Daleville and Anderson.  There is one unique remnant.  An odd thoroughfare makes its way across Park Place on angle to all the other streets in the area.  The unusual path follows a general southeast to northwest direction.  Originally, it was a depression or ditch that children played in during the summer.  In the winter, it filled with water runoff that froze and was used for ice skating.  Eventually, it was filled in and made into a street called Grand Avenue.  That old playground was the final leg of the Hydraulic Canal in Anderson. 

If the river could talk, oh, the stories it could and does 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|