Building The Canal

Drawing of canal construction.
Building the canal took about 22 years.

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The canal was built mainly with hand tools and horse power. Construction did not simply begin at one end and progress steadily to the other end, leaving a finished canal in its wake. Instead, the job was let to dozens of contractors in 1/2 mile sections, and, for the most part, they worked simultaneously. Their activities would not have been performed concurrently or so close together, but they are shown together here to make portraying this work easier.

 
Drawing of Canal Construction

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In the distance the tunnel is being dug, blasting was often necessary to clear a path for the canal.
 
Photo of canal construction

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Trees were frequently obstructing canal construction and had to be removed.

 
Photo of canal construction

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After trees were cut or broken, stumps were pulled out with huge, horse-powered winches.
 
Photo of canal construction

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Root-cutting plows (4) scraped the surface in preparation for digging (5), berm-building (6), and puddling with waterproof clay.
 
Photo of canal construction

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Puddling with waterproof clay was another process that was accomplished to construct the canal.
 
Photo of canal construction

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Cut stone was shipped to the site where workers would build many different structures.
 
Photo of canal construction

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Pre-built lock gates were shipped to the site so workers did not have to construct them on site.
 
Photo of canal construction

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Workers constructed 11 aqueducts along the canal.

 
Photo of canal construction

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Other structures that were completed were feeder dams (11), guard locks (12), culverts (13), retaining walls(14)...
 
Photo of canal construction

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...lift locks...

 
Photo of canal construction

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...waste weirs...
 
Photo of canal construction

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...stop locks.

 

Questions for Canal Construction

1. If the canal were being constructed today, what machines would have been helpful? On which jobs would they have been used?

2. Engineers designed the canal to give lockkeepers as much control over the river as they could. What do you think each of the following elements did, given their names and locations?
a) feeder dams (11)?
b) guard locks (12)?
c) waste weirs (16)?
d) stop locks (17)?

Last updated: December 22, 2017

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