Before railroads crisscrossed the continent and tractor trailer grills loomed in the rear view mirrors of interstate highway drivers, a system of man-made waterways helped fuel commerce between established commercial ports and developing interior settlements.
Beginning in 1825, Irish immigrants toiled for ten years to hand-dig the Farmington Canal, which stretched for more than 80 miles from the Long Island Sound in New Haven, Connecticut to the Connecticut River in Northampton, Massachussets.
Boats were pulled through the canal by horses which trudged along an adjacent towpath. Changes in elevation were navigated using a series of locks, an engineering innovation consisting of a watertight chamber bracketed on each end by a set of gates and a valve. When a boat entered a lock, the chamber would either be filled with water so a vessel could continue upstream, or drained of water if the boat was headed downstream.
Never a financially successful enterprise, the invention of the steam locomotive hastened the Farmington Canal’s demise. By the mid 1800s, much of the canal’s right-of-way had been converted to a railroad line (which itself became defunct in the early 1980s thanks to the rise of the trucking industry). Of the 28 locks built on the canal, Lock 12 is the only one which remains fully intact.
In addition to the lock itself, the park includes a lock-keeper’s house and a museum filled with canal-related artifacts and other period memorabilia. The old railroad line is now part of the East Coast Greenway rails-to-trails project.