Les Fontinettes – Arques, France - Atlas Obscura

Les Fontinettes

Arques, France

This disused boat elevator was saved from the scrap heap so that visitors could tour its rusting skeleton. 


The rusting hulk of the Fontinettes boat elevator was built over a hundred years ago to connect the River Aa to the Neufossé Canal in the French commune of Arques, and while today, its silent remains no longer lift boats, they can still be seen in all their Victorian glory.

Construction on the boat works began in 1880, and finally concluded in 1888. The massive riveted elevator was created as a work around that eliminated the need for a laborious five-lock system that would have taken over an hour to lift boats up the measly 42 some-odd feet to the higher water level. Instead the boat lift that they built was equipped with two basins that were used as weights against each other and were capable of lifting 300 tons of water and boat. Even better, though, the whole affair only took around five minutes. An impressive display of engineering proficiency in those days.

The whole operation was powered by hydraulics that were initiated by turbines that used the power of the river’s flowing water.

The lift operated all the way up until 1967, but of course like all technology, the boat lock eventually fell out of use, and as with most all former industrial sites, was placed in danger of being torn down. However a coalition of concerned locals were able to work to preserve the site so that the important bit of their industrial heritage could be preserved. To this day, visitors can visit this slowly rusting Victorian relic, and check out the 19th century innovation for themselves.        

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