From the first survey in 1838, through the work of partial construction, to the final abandonment of the whole Chenango route.

For the purpose of making connection with the Pennsylvania canal system, and thus to complete a route to the vast coal fields in that state, the New York Legislature, on April 18, 1838, passed an act (chapter 292) directing the canal commissioners to cause a survey to be made from the termination of the Chenango canal at Binghamton, along the valley of the Susquehanna, to the State line near Tioga Point, at the termination of the North Branch canal of Pennsylvania, and to cause an estimate of the cost of this continuation to be made.

Accordingly the canal commissioners appointed Joseph D. Allen, a civil engineer, who had had considerable experience in the service of the State, to superintend the survey. He made a report of his work to the canal commissioners on December 5, 1838, which was embodied in a report of the canal commissioners submitted to the Legislature, January 26, 1839.

Surveys were made by Mr. Allen on both sides of the Susquehanna river and three estimates were prepared, two on the northern route and one on the southern. The termination of the Chenango canal in Binghamton was at the junction of the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers. By a lock of twelve feet lift, the canal entered the east side of the Chenango at its mouth, as it flows from the north into the Susquehanna. To continue the canal along the north side of the Susquehanna, the crossing of the Chenango became necessary and two plans were devised to accomplish this; one by carrying the canal over on an aqueduct, the other by building a dam across the river to afford sufficient depth for floating boats. On the route along the south side of the Susquehanna river, the plans provided for carrying the canal across the Susquehanna on an aqueduct. The act called for a survey to connect with the North Branch canal of Pennsylvania, but as this canal was built only to a point four miles from the State line, the surveys were carried to such points on the State line as would afford good connections with the North Branch canal.

The dimensions of the canal and the character of the mechanical structures were, in general, designed to be the same as those in use on the Chenango canal. Composite locks were proposed, having walls of rubble masonry laid in hydraulic cement throughout, and lined in the chamber with timber and plank. In this respect the plans varied from the locks used on the Chenango canal; the walls of those locks being laid in hydraulic cement only to a point eight feet below the upper gates, and the remainder being dry. Liberal provision was made for lining and puddling the banks and bottom of the prism, as much of the soil appeared to be of a porous character.

The north line (passing the Chenango river with an aqueduct) was 39 15/80 miles long, had seventy-seven feet of lockage and was estimated to cost $788,149.68.

The north line (passing the Chenango river with a dam) was forty miles long, had sixty feet of lockage and was estimated to cost $765,683.09.

The south line was 38 1/80 miles long, had seventy-four feet of lockage and was estimated to cost $770,467.35.

No recommendation accompanied the report.

During this session of the Legislature, 1839, several petitions were received praying for this extension of the Chenango canal. The Assembly committee, to which were referred these petitions, reported in favor of the project, saying that not only the wishes and necessities of the inhabitants of that particular section through which the canal would pass, but the interests of the whole State required that immediate steps be taken to form a connection between the two greatest and most extended chains of internal improvements in the world, a connection which would unite the waters of the Hudson, St. Lawrence and the upper lakes with the Susquehanna and Ohio rivers and the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. The report also called attention to the fact that the Chenango canal had been built with the view of ultimately reaching the rich mineral fields of Pennsylvania.

On April 9, 1839, Governor Seward informed the Legislature that a committee of the Pennsylvania Senate, consisting of the Speaker and two members of that body, was at Albany to confer in regard to completing water communications between the canal systems of the two States by extending either the Chenango or Chemung canals. Pennsylvania was about to complete the North Branch canal to the State line and desired this connection with New York canals that the interchange of those great staples, coal, iron, plaster and salt, might be mutually beneficial.

This conference resulted in the passage of an act which ordered the survey of a route from the terminus of the Chemung canal at Elmira to the State line near Tioga Point. In later years the Junction canal was built by a private company between these points, the account of this enterprise being told in a chapter of this volume devoted to that subject. However, no immediate, tangible results along either line followed this conference.

In 1846, by an act (chapter 259) the Chenango Junction Canal Company was incorporated to build a canal of such dimensions as the officers of the company should decide, from the termination of the Chenango canal at Binghamton to the State line near Athens, Pennsylvania. The capital stock was one million dollars. This company, however, never accomplished anything.

Nothing more seems to have been done toward constructing the canal till the Legislature of 1859 (chapter 88) required the State Engineer and Surveyor "to make a full examination of the survey of the Chenango canal from Binghamton to the State line of Pennsylvania, near Athens, made in pursuance of the act of April 18, 1838, and reported to the canal commissioners by Joseph D. Allen, civil engineer, December 5, 1838, and if necessary to cause a new survey to be made, and to estimate the cost of constructing said canal, including land damages, and the probable increase of business on the canals of this state from such extension (from coal or other freight) and report the same to the next legislature, at the opening of the session thereof."

Pursuant to this act, Van R. Richmond, State Engineer and Surveyor, appointed Orville W. Childs to the general supervision of the surveys, estimates and other duties involved. On January 10, 1860, the State Engineer sent to the Legislature the report of his investigation.

As a railroad had been located on the north side of the Susquehanna since the survey of 1838, a line on the south side was adopted, similar in many respects to that proposed by Mr. Allen. A new survey was made and the estimated cost of the canal, including engineering, land, and land damages, and all other contingencies, was $829,488.21. The length was 38.48 miles, and the total lockage was seventy-one feet. The estimates were based upon the same dimensions of prism and banks of canal, plan of mechanical structures, and general character of work, as was adopted in the construction of the Chenango canal.

The Susquehanna river was to be crossed at Binghamton in the pool formed by a dam. Of the connection with the North Branch canal, Mr. Childs says: --

"The termination of the line, as surveyed for this extension, is directly at the south margin of the river, at a point on the State line convenient for locking into the pond that may be formed by constructing a dam across the Susquehanna, a little above the northerly end of the village of Athens.

"The village is situated on a narrow strip of land, extending down between the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers, which unite about three-fourths of a mile below the village. The North Branch canal is inland for several miles below and opposite the village, and is on the west side of the Chemung river. Proceeding northerly, it passes into the pond of a dam now extending across the Chemung nearly opposite that proposed to be constructed across the Susquehanna. A short cut across the flat, in a natural ravine north of the village, would form the canal between the two rivers, and with a towing-path bridge across the Susquehanna, or other practicable means of crossing the pond of the dam, and the construction of a towing-path along the southerly margin of the river up to the State line, a good connection would be formed between the Chenango canal extension and the North Branch canal. This latter canal is understood to be the property of incorporated companies, whose interest in the connection of the two canals is supposed to be at least sufficient to induce them to construct this connecting link, either by the mode above suggested, or upon such other plan as they may deem best adapted to the object in view.

"The distance from the State line to the north branch canal is understood to be about (or something less than) four miles, and upon the plan above suggested, of a towing path, dam, &c., and the cut about half a mile in length across the point between the two rivers, the aggregate expense of constructing this portion of the canal would be comparatively small, and that the work will be prosecuted and the canal completed by these companies, at least as soon as that of the Chenango canal extension, very strong assurances by some of the principal officers and by the most prominent and wealthy of the stockholders of the North Branch canal, were voluntarily expressed. The importance of this connecting link to the ultimate success of the Chenango extension, will be readily appreciated, and cannot but be regarded as indispensable." 1

In studying the problem of probable increase of business on the canals of the State, Mr. Childs first points out the importance of the connections that would be made. At the northerly end, the canal would connect, through the Chenango canal, with the New York Central railroad and the Erie canal and its laterals, the Champlain, Black River, Oneida Lake and Oswego canals. At the southerly end, it would connect "with the North Branch canal, extending in a southerly direction through the State of Pennsylvania, thus forming a water communication with Haver de Grace at the head of the Chesapeake bay, and a connection with the West Branch canal, the Juniata and other canals, and with the numerous railroads diverging from it in the valley of the Susquehanna." 2 Also it would connect with western New York through the Junction and Chemung canals, Seneca lake, and the Cayuga and Seneca and the Erie canals.

After a careful examination of existing and probable freight traffic, Mr. Childs estimated that the increased business that would result upon this and the other State canals would be sufficient to produce an annual toll of $40,927.68. Coal, iron ore, limestone, and lumber were considered the chief articles of transportation, with coal forming more than half the total amount. It was considered that the construction of this canal would result in materially reducing the price of coal throughout middle, eastern and northern New York, as well as in the vicinity of the Chenango canal and its extension.

The construction of this Chenango canal extension was authorized by chapter 115, Laws of 1863, (passed April 9) which provided that the canal commissioners should extend the Chenango canal as funds were appropriated and that the same width, depth and size of structure should be used as on the Chenango canal, except where improvements could be made without increased expense. But this act failed to provide funds for prosecuting the work, so nothing was done till the Legislature of 1864 (chapter 185) supplied funds by imposing a tax of three-sixteenths of a mill for the fiscal years commencing October 1, 1864, and October 1, 1865, $550,000 of this tax to be used for constructing the canal. This act required that before work was begun the canal commissioners should obtain a guarantee from parties authorized to execute the same, that canal boats owned in New York State should have a perfect and permanent right to navigate the canals leading from the State line to the coal mines of Pennsylvania; it also required that the size of the locks upon the extension should not be less than those upon the Pennsylvania North Branch canal. The Comptroller was authorized to make a temporary loan, in anticipation of the tax collection, for the prosecution of the work.

As the Comptroller was prohibited by the State Constitution from making a loan unless authorized to do so by popular vote of the State, the canal commissioners could place no portion of the work under contract till funds were realized from the tax collection. In order to hasten the work, the canal board, on September 23, 1864, set apart from the extraordinary repair fund, $6,000 for the purpose of making surveys, estimates, plans, etc., and a party under Mr. L. L. Nichols, first assistant engineer, was immediately put in the field, that the plans might be ready for letting contracts in the following spring.

"Immediately after the passage of the law (chapter 185, Laws of 1864), the Commissioner opened a correspondence with the North Branch Canal Company of Pennsylvania, which finally resulted in a compliance by that company with a requisition of the Board of Canal Commissioners, that boats from this State ‘shall have a perfect and permanent right’ to navigate said canal upon the same terms and conditions as the boats of said company." 3

On June 20, 1864, a bond of $100,000 was executed by the officers of the North Branch Canal Company binding the company to complete the connection between the North Branch canal and the proposed Chenango extension. Chapter 115, Laws of 1863, required the canal commissioners to obtain this bond before beginning work.

The canal commissioner in charge expressed in his annual report his views concerning the project in the following words:

"It is the opinion of the commissioner that the great importance of this work -- not only to consumers of coal, but to the State itself, in connection with the Chenango canal -- would justify the Legislature in providing the requisite means for a more speedy construction than the present law seems to contemplate. If it be true, as those best advised on the subject claim, that this extension of the canal directly to the immense coal fields of Pennsylvania will assure an increased amount of shipments of at least two hundred thousand tons of coal per annum, seeking a transportation to a market through its medium, the practicability of a more speedy construction is apparent. If the foregoing estimate approximates correctness, then it is evident that what is paid by tax to construct this work will be repaid with interest to all the consumers of coal, and their number is increasing from year to year in rapid ratio." 4

On May 5, 1865, plans for twenty-one miles of the canal were adopted by the canal board, and on June 22, 1865, contracts for the first ten miles were let. At that time the estimates for completing the whole canal amounted to $1,524,206. The resurvey gave a length of 40.025 miles.

At the letting, held at Binghamton on June 22, a large number of contractors were in attendance, an unprecedented number of bids were received and the work was awarded at prices far below the estimates of the engineers.

It was a matter of congratulation that during the year 1865, when prices of labor and material of all kinds were excessively high, the construction of this important work could be secured at prices so nearly those of former times, and it seemed highly probable that the remaining portion of the work would be let at prices fully as advantageous to the State as the ten miles already under contract.

Chapter 794, Laws of 1866, authorized the canal board to appoint a resident engineer on the Chenango canal extension, and on June 15, 1866, Byron M. Hanks assumed the duties of that position.

From the time of the first letting of contracts till September 1,1867, the work of construction progressed steadily, and at that time about thirty miles of canal were under contract, but then the funds provided for construction became exhausted and work was suspended, some of the contracts being canceled by the canal board.

In his annual report the canal commissioner thus speaks of the stoppage of work:

"During the past year efforts have been made to complete as many sections as possible, and to leave the unfinished work in the safest condition practicable; yet the State must suffer great loss from the stoppage of the work, and the abandonment of the contracts.

"There has been a total expenditure on this canal of $713,256.86. Of this $510,500.04 have been expended during the year just closed.

"The engineer’s estimate of funds required to complete the work now under contract is $489,200. It is estimated that $500,000 will be required to construct the ten miles not under contract. If these estimates are correct, it will be necessary for the Legislature to make an appropriation of $1,000,000 to complete the canal.

"It would seem that a great error was committed when this work was commenced, or else a still greater error was made in not providing the means to continue the work after having expended over $700,000. If the work is to be resumed, the longer it is delayed the greater will be the damage to the State." 5

A further appropriation having been made by the Legislature of 1868 ($281,800 by chapter 715 and $18,201.15 by chapter 346, the latter sum being an unexpended balance from chapter 304, Laws of 1866), the canal board passed a resolution on May 28, 1868, ordering the work resumed. On June 1, Charles L. McAlpine was appointed resident engineer. After remeasurements were made the work was relet on July 29, at prices considerably higher than those in the former contracts for the same work, only such part being put under contract as could be finished with the amount appropriated. No work was let south of Owego and the new contracts did not embrace as much work as was previously under contract. During 1869 and 1870 additional contracts were awarded from time to time till nearly the whole line was under contract, but owing to the small appropriations made by the Legislature, construction work was not begun on the last ten miles. The final location on this last portion of ten miles was not decided till December 8, 1869, when the canal board adopted a line which crossed to the north side of the Susquehanna in the pool of a dam at Pea Island, about two miles north of the State line.

In June, 1870, the contractors were again notified to suspend work because of lack of funds, but some of them were allowed to continue for a short time, in order to put the work in a safer condition. At that time the greater part of the canal for the first thirty miles had been completed. In May, 1871, operations were again resumed, another appropriation having been made by chapter 930, Laws of 1871, which provided that the work should be confined to the portion between Binghamton and Owego, about twenty-three miles long. As this appropriation was not deemed sufficient to complete that portion of the canal, work was prosecuted at such places as were most liable to injury from floods, and at unfinished places so as to make a continuously completed line south from the river at Binghamton.

Commissioner W. W. Wright in his report for 1871, speaking of the project, says:

"Whatever may be the commercial value of this work when finished, the State can not regard that consideration alone; but the claims of citizens whose lands have been appropriated for a canal, whereon only an unsightly nuisance has been created, must be also considered." 6

During the years 1871 and 1872 work was carried on till the appropriation was exhausted, and then finally abandoned, no appropriation being made for new work after 1871, except a small amount to build farm and road bridges.

At the time of the final suspension of work it was estimated that $160,000 was needed to complete the canal between the Chenango canal at Binghamton and Owego. The estimated cost to complete the entire canal from Binghamton to the Pennsylvania line is shown in the following summary:

Work done and to be done, under contract ...... $2,007,095 16
Work to be done and not under contract ...... 340,163 00
        Total amount done and to be done ...... $2,347,258 16
Amount done ...... 1,600,889 19
  $746,368 97
Add for engineering and contingencies ...... 53,631 03
        Total to complete, Binghamton to Pennsylvania line ...... $800,000 00

As subsequent Legislatures failed to make appropriations for completing the work, final accounts were rendered and contracts were settled.

From year to year, as the work of construction progressed, estimates for the total cost were made, the amounts of which were gradually increased for various causes. The following table shows these estimates:

Year 1866, total estimated cost .......... $1,545,802 00
Year 1867, total estimated cost .......... 1,671,529 08
Year 1868, total estimated cost .......... 1,780,565 75
Year 1869, total estimated cost .......... 1,819,418 33
Year 1870, total estimated cost .......... 2,215,319 08
Year 1871, total estimated cost .......... 2,355,112 95
Year 1872, total estimated cost .......... 2,347,258 16

By comparing the estimate of 1866 with those made by Mr. Allen in 1838 and by Mr. Childs in 1859, it will be found to be about twice the amount of those estimates. Construction work was begun in 1865, just after the Civil war, when all prices were high and the supply of laborers scarce, and these conditions prevailed throughout the period of construction. The causes for these gradually increasing estimates may be found in the fact that during the progress of work many unexpected conditions were encountered. Rock, quicksand and porous soils were met; sliding banks necessitated riprap and heavier walls; an inadequate supply of stone was encountered; floods in the river demonstrated the need of heavier and higher embankments and increased sizes of aqueducts; the bettering of alignments made extra excavation. Contracts were generally relet at advanced prices and the numerous delays were expensive in causing resurveys to be made and in the general deterioration of work partly or wholly completed.

The abandoning of the enterprise was a great disappointment to the residents in that section of the state and the history of the canal proves the folly of the policy of delay which was adopted by the Legislatures. The need of direct water communication between the Pennsylvania coal fields and central, eastern and northern New York was very apparent when the subject began to be agitated, and doubtless the predicted benefits would have been largely realized if the work had been begun sooner and vigorously pushed to completion.

The whole project was agitated at most unfortunate times for its success. The first survey in 1838 came after the mania for lateral canals had partially subsided, and the people were fearful of undertaking another, especially as this was a time of financial straits, when the State had difficulty in continuing the work of enlargement on the Erie. The second agitation was just prior to the Civil war, and the work of construction was begun when the effects of this war were largely manifest in prices. Before the canal could be completed the decline of the lateral canals was evident and the Legislatures were slow to appropriate money.

Chapter 835, Laws of 1873, authorized by the Binghamton, Dushore and Williamsport Railroad Company to lay a railroad track on the towing-path of that part of the Chenango canal extension lying south of the Susquehanna river, under the provision that the company should keep the embankments and mechanical structures in good repair, should maintain and build farm and highway bridges and should pay taxes on the property as though it were the real owner. The act also provided that the railroad company should remove the tracks in the event of the completion of the canal. On October 1, 1873, the canal board gave its consent to the building of this proposed railroad upon the condition that the road should run to the bituminous coal fields of Pennsylvania and should connect with the Pennsylvania Central railroad. As the railroad company did not comply with the condition of the act, that the road should be commenced within two years, the property remained in charge of the State till the whole Chenango canal was abandoned and disposed of by public sale, by legislative grants, or by reverting to the original owners.


1. Senate Documents, 1860, No. 6, pp. 11-12.

2. Id., p. 12.

3. Annual Report of the Canal Commissioners, 1865, pp. 63-64.

4. Id., p. 64.

5. Annual Report of the Canal Commissioners, 1867, pp. 80-81.

6. Annual Report of the Canal Commissioners, 1871, p. 94.

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