I wrote about Abandoned Canals in Canada several months ago. That prompted 12MC reader Bill Harris to comment on an unusual re-purposing of an abandoned canal across the border in the United States. He noted that a portion of the Erie Canal that originally flowed through downtown Rochester, NY (part of my ancestors’ journey) was abandoned due to rerouting. It was subsequently drained, covered, and transformed into a tunnel for a light rail system. I thought it was a great comment, I conducted additional research and… somehow I forgot about it. Recently I came across my original notes so I’m posting what I intended to write last September.
Rochester, New York
Flickr by Patrick Haney via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The Rochester Subway website provided a summary:
The Erie Canal, responsible for much of upstate New York’s economic growth, was considered an obsolete eyesore by the turn of the century. The state legislature allocated money for relocation of the canal, and the last boat traveled through the city locks in 1919. After much debate about what to do with the abandoned canal bed, the city of Rochester then purchased the land for construction of a trolley subway that would greatly reduce the amount of surface traffic in the populous city. Eight years after the last canal boat was piloted through the city, the Rochester Industrial & Rapid Transit Railway was opened to the public in December 1927.
The covered-over canal became a subway tunnel and the surface above it became Broad Street (map). The subway wasn’t very successful although it somehow managed to sputter along until the mid 1950′s. The portion of Interstate 490 east of Rochester’s Inner Loop replaced much of the former canal and subway
Sections of tunnel still exist inside the city’s central core although largely hidden from sight. It pokes into view very briefly at the Broad Street Bridge which was designed originally as the Second Genesee Aqueduct of the Erie Canal, carrying the canal across the Genesee River. From street-level it seems to be just another roadway (Street View). From the side one can clearly observe the lower level where water once flowed and street cars later crossed (Street View).
Amateur spelunkers sometimes sneak through the abandoned Rochester Subway for urban exploration. The photograph above was taken by one such explorer inside of the Broad Street Bridge tunnel.
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Was it common to cover abandoned canals and convert them into subway tunnels? I quickly uncovered two more examples that were mentioned frequently on the Intertubes. Cincinnati was one of those two although critics could easily split hairs and claim it didn’t count. The system was never completed and trains never ran through the intended tunnel.
The city planned to follow the route of the Miami and Erie Canal which had been constructed in 1825. The canal served a useful purpose for a time, connecting the Great Lakes to the Ohio River (and thus the Mississippi River watershed). However it suffered a fate similar to many other canals competing with railroads. It went into decline and eventually failed as a commercial enterprise.
Numerous proposals were floated at the turn of the last century. The Cincinnati Enquirer summarized the situation in Subway legend has never left the station:
Construction started in 1920. Work stopped in 1927. The money had run out. Crews of men, mules and horses had completed 10 of the 16 miles in the system’s loop – including two miles of tunnels – running under downtown and Central Parkway and above ground along what would become the routes of interstates 75 and 71 and the Norwood Lateral.
Tunnels and stations are still down there below the city streets in a remarkable state of preservation including the Race Street Station at Central Parkway & Race St., which would have been the main hub. The Cincinnati Museum offers occasional tours as part of its heritage programs for those who are curious to observe the mysterious tunnels of a stillborn subway firsthand.
Newark, New Jersey
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Newark, New Jersey probably wins a prize because its a subway that still operates along the original route of an abandoned canal. The stretch from the Military Park Station to Branch Brook Park Station at Heller Parkway (route map) converted the pathway of the Morris Canal to a new mode of transportation when the subway opened in 1935. The entrance to the Military Park Station is displayed in the Street View image, above.
The Morris Canal ran across northern New Jersey for about a century, beginning with its construction in the 1820′s. It was probably noted most for its innovative use of 23 inclined planes in addition to traditional locks in order to move coal barges over a series of hills. I’ve talked about the inclined plane technique previously although not in the context of the Morris Canal. It was pretty impressive.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Newark Light Rail is the only place where one can visit a canal that’s been converted into a subway without any hassles, other than purchasing a ticket to ride the train. As always, I hope the 12MC audience can prove me wrong.
There were a few notable places which did not fit the strict definition of a canal converted to a subway. They deserved to be mentioned for other reasons.
(1) Manhattan made Internet searches difficult because of Canal Street running across the lower tip of the island and accompanying stations on the New York City subway system. Canal Street Stations serve a whole spaghetti tangle of different lines. The canal referenced by Canal Street was essentially a drainage ditch that emptied the Collect Pond, which had become a cesspool by the early 19th Century. Canal Street followed the route of the old canal after the fetid pond was eventually filled-in. The old canal did not become a subway tunnel although it still hid an interesting history.
(2) The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal forced a railroad to tunnel through a mountainside at Point of Rocks, Maryland. The canal held the right-of-way next to the Potomac River, as recounted by the C&O Canal Bicycle Guide; "After the canal failed, the railroad built a second track in the abandoned canal bed." The second track, however, wasn’t converted into a tunnel although the two tracks looked fascinating in Street View.
(3) The Third Welland Canal in Ontario, part of a system connecting Lakes Ontario and Erie to bypassing Niagara Falls, included a train tunnel that went under a canal. As noted by Wikipedia, "The Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel, also known as the ‘Blue Ghost Tunnel’, is an abandoned railway tunnel located in the community of Thorold, Ontario, which runs under lock 18 of the former third Welland Canal (1887-1932)." (map). Again, an interesting feature, although not exactly what I was hoping to find.
And a belated Thank You to Bill Harris!
I’ve slowly been overhauling the non-12MC part of my website — the portion for which the howderfamily.com domain was obtained long before Twelve Mile Circle became the tail wagging the dog — to upgrade to Google Maps API v3. It’s been a slow and tedious process. Recently I revisited a genealogy page I wrote about ten years ago and created a map where one hadn’t existed previously.
It reminded me that I’ve had it pretty easy when we visit the in-laws in Wisconsin, with an elapsed airtime of about an hour between airports. My ancestors undertook a journey of similar distance when they moved from Maine to Wisconsin in 1844. They seemed pretty satisfied that it took "just one month."
The family patriarch described the entire journey in a letter that he sent back to his brother in Maine. I received a copy of the letter in 2002 and wrote about it in a genealogical society journal. The resulting article is reproduced elsewhere on my site. It includes a lot of family history content so feel free to skip it. Instead I’ll focus on what will more likely interest the 12MC audience, the geography and logistics of a North American journey in the 1840′s.
View Sylvester Journey – 1844 in a larger map
I took a much closer look at the letter this time around so I could design a reasonable replica of the route. The letter contained several place names, a few actual dates, and a verifiable historic event, all of which allowed me to reconstruct a full sequence of steps including days of the week. I could determine with near certainty that the journey began on Saturday, October 5, 1844 in Phillips, Maine and concluded a month later on Tuesday, November 5 in Jamestown, Wisconsin.
Markers on the map include supporting text from the letter. Colored lines represent changes in transportation modes.
Phase I – Cart and Foot: October 5-7
The journey began by hauling family and freight down to a port. The group stopped to visit with some relatives along the way so it took three days to get to the nearest river town with ocean access. The port was just outside of Augusta, the capital city of Maine on the Kennebec River.
Phase II – Ship: October 7-8
They sailed down the Kennebec River into the Gulf of Maine, hugged the coastline and entered Massachusetts Bay. They disembarked at Boston, Massachusetts.
Phase III – Railroad: October 8-10
The Boston and Albany Railroad
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons released to the Public Domain
The Boston and Albany Railroad received its charter in 1831 and laid track westward in phases. One could travel the entire route between the two cities by rail beginning in 1841. The family took early advantage of this transportation leap to shorten its movement across Massachusetts.
The letter never mentioned a railroad although no other feasible method could have covered the same distance in a similar amount of time. It referenced a three hour segment between Boston and Worcester for example, a distance of 46 miles. A stagecoach would have averaged 5 miles per hour. A typical speed for a train in the early 1840′s would have been about 10 to 20 miles per hour.
A rail line existed, the speed of motion matched historical averages for trains of that period, and towns mentioned in the letter (where the family stopped) mirrored the Boston and Albany Railroad route.
Phase IV – Canal Boat: October 11-18
SOURCE: Flickr by USACE Buffalo via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
Erie Canal Boat Replica
Nothing moved faster overland than a railroad but routes were still a novelty in the early 1840′s. Rail hadn’t become a ubiquitous form of transportation like it would a couple of decades later so the family had to find another option. Waterways were still the superhighways of the era, and New York had a great one: the 363 mile (584 km) Erie Canal which opened in 1825.
It took the group a full week to cross New York. That duration was consistent with Erie Canal averages, where boats traveled at about 4 miles per hour (6.5 kph), with rest stops and additional time to traverse dozens of locks that often became choke points.
In one of life’s odd coincidences, my mother’s side of the family (in a canal boat) and my father’s side of the family (farmers living near Lockport) came within amazingly close proximity of each other on or around the evening of Thursday, October 17, 1844 — literally a "ship that passed in the night." The families wouldn’t get another chance for more than a hundred years and in a completely different location.
The canal boat docked in Buffalo, New York on the shores of Lake Erie.
Phase V – Great Lakes Steamship: October 21-26
The Great Lakes Steamship Great Western – 1838
Once again it was logical that the family would take advantage of a waterway. The first commercial steamboat services began in the first decades of the 19th Century and were quite common by the 1840′s. The Great Lakes were filled with them.
Here the family narrowly averted a calamity. They had the misfortune to arrive in Buffalo on the afternoon of Friday, October 18. Four steamships were ready to set sail that evening but they were already crowded with passengers. The family wasn’t in a hurry so they decided to wait until the next morning. A huge storm with hurricane-force winds hit that night and lasted into the following day, a storm so severe that it is still recorded in history as the Lower Great Lakes Storm of 1844.
As described in the History of the Great Lakes, Chapter 36:
For several days before the occurrence of the flood a strong north-east wind had been driving the water up the lake, but on the evening of the 18th a sudden shift of the wind took place, and it blew from the opposite direction with a tremendous force, never before or since known to the inhabitants of Buffalo. It brought with it immense volumes of water, which overflowed the lower districts of the city and vicinity, demolishing scores of buildings, and spreading ruin along the harbor front, playing havoc with shipping, and causing an awful destruction of human life.
The family escaped unscathed and was able to resume its journey the following Monday on the steamship Great Western. It took less than a week to arrive in Chicago.
Phase VI – Cart and Foot: October 30-November 5
The family decided to rent a hotel room and rest in Chicago for four days. Then they purchased "a wagon and a span of horses" and continued onward for the final leg of the journey. It took 6 days to cover approximately 180 miles (290 km) to their new home, so about 30 miles (48 km) per day which was described as "the most fatiguing and expensive of our journey."
The family arrived in Jamestown, Wisconsin, their final destination, pretty much exactly a month after they left Phillips, Maine.
I’ll keep that in mind the next time I fly up to Wisconsin and complain about an airport weather delay.
The capital of a nation is often its most important city, or certainly one that citizens would recognize by name if not. Place that exact name into another nation and its significance would almost always drop. I wondered if I could find the name of every other capital city within the physical boundaries of the United States as a recognized geographic feature. The short answer was that I could identify many of them but not all. The longer answer took some interesting turns.
View International Capitals in the USA in a larger map
First I had to find a source. I decided that Wikipedia’s List of national capitals in alphabetical order would suit my purposes with the several caveats already there (e.g., "including territories and dependencies, non-sovereign states including associated states and entities whose sovereignty is disputed"). Some of the selections come with strong emotional strings and I’m sure the Wikipedians who compiled that list would love to discuss selection criteria on their talk page. I’ll take a neutral stance, the classic easy way out, and simply start from there.
Next I had to find an example of each city within the United States. I selected only one appearance per city. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) listed 42 populated places for Athens, for instance. I selected the one in Georgia. Any of the other 41 would have been fine too. Finally I placed my source data and lat/long coordinates in a shared Google Docs spreadsheet that you are absolutely free to review.
I considered actual cities or towns to be the gold standard. The history of the United States provided abundant examples reflecting a Greco-Roman educational heritage and a later wave of European immigration from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. It was easy to find Athens and Paris. The challenge came with Yaoundé, Lilongwe and the like, where I failed.
If not a town, I tried to find a lesser known USGS-recognized feature such as a populated place (often a neighborhood), an historic site (former settlement or ghost town), or a natural landmark such as an island, lake or stream. I turned to street names as a final resort. Readers might be surprised by the number of communities and subdivisions with appropriately-named street grids. There are several South Florida developments, for example, with a variety of Caribbean themes. Airports often featured international street names too, and US military bases commemorated long-ago (and not-so-long-ago) battles that occurred in exotic places.
I suppose I could have gone all the way down to the retail level — maybe I could have found a Kyrgyzstani restaurant named Bishkek somewhere — although I had little faith that they would be useful as permanent landmarks. Restaurants go out of business with striking regularity. Street names at least seemed to have a better chance of sticking around for awhile.
I’ll feature a few of my favorite finds although they barely scratch the surface. I think you’ll have fun discovering your own gems hidden in the map, and of course please let me know if you find any of the missing capitals. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it simply means I couldn’t find them with a cursory search. I got a little cross-eyed after nearly 250 individual investigations.
St. Helier, Jersey
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Jersey, of all the international locations available, might appear to be an odd initial choice. It’s a British Crown Dependency with fewer than a hundred thousands residents so why would I start there? Saint Helier is the Jersey capital and that’s where I noticed the connection.
Saint Helier doesn’t appear often in the US, and in fact the only instance I could find was a single street in Texas… in Jersey Village, Texas. The Handbook of Texas speculated that Jersey Village’s name derived from a nearby dairy farm with Jersey cows, a breed that originated on the Isle of Jersey several centuries earlier. Someone laying out the township must have made a conscious decision to honor Jersey with a Saint Helier Street. Thus it’s possible to live in Saint Helier, Jersey, in Texas, and for that I salute an unknown suburban planner.
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I selected Rome, New York to represent the Italian capital, an easy choice because of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. The New York version of Rome has it’s own interpretation of St. Peter’s Basilica! The only condition that would have made this even better may have been if Rome — the one in New York — had declined to annex the property where where the church had been built. Then it would have completed the analogy by creating a miniature version of Vatican City.
I did find the Vatican, by the way (a USGS populated place), but it was nowhere near Rome, not even the one in Mississippi.
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I thought Vientiane would be a tough find, and that would have been true if I hadn’t stumbled upon a small Laotian community in Broussard, Louisiana. Notice the street names: Vientaine is the capital of Laos; and Savannaket (Savannakhet) and Luangphbang (Louangphrabang) are Laotian provinces. The community in Louisiana is even anchored by a Buddhist temple along its western edge, Wat Thammarattanaram-La.
A little Internet sleuthing led to an explanation in The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rouge.
Laotian immigrants first settled in Iberia Parish in the late ’70s and early ’80s after refugees left Laos when communists gained control there. Federally supported training for oil-field work led many of the refugees to the parish. Xanamane said the land for what would become Lanexang Village was purchased in 1985 and divided among the families within the community. Today, the community is home to 65 households — with a total population of 400 — and is one of three residential clusters of Laotian immigrants within Iberia Parish. The village is best known for its celebration of the Laotian New Year, which typically falls during the Easter holiday, Xanamane said.
I never would have imagined a community of Cajun-Laotian oil workers in Louisiana prior to this mapping exercise.
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Mogadishu would seem to be an unusual option although I found a street by that name at Naval Station Norfolk in southeastern Virginia. I’m speculating that it’s a tribute street, a way to commemorate the Battle for Mogadishu which was also portrayed in a 2001 movie, Black Hawk Down. Four Navy SEALs participated in this largely Army operation and their home base was located nearby.
A Few More Tidbits
I could go on-and-one with other examples presented by these data. Is San Marino, California larger than San Marino? (no). Wouldn’t it be better if the Slovenian Society Home faced along adjacent Ljubljana Drive instead of Recher Avenue? (yes). Is there any chance that someone in the US will name a street after Pyongyang (probably not) or Islamabad (perhaps not in states preempting Sharia Law).
Next time I’ll have to build a map with fewer data points.