The Effects of the Wabash-Erie Canal on Greene County

Compiled, researched, and edited by GCHS President Linda Sharp

Our ancestors who were still in North Carolina in 1809 saw the successful building of multiple canals without competition from the railroads. The railroads went across the state, while canals went basically north and south to the Atlantic Ocean. Back here in Indiana, the Wabash-Erie Canal was built between 1847 and 1876 with Terre Haute as the headquarters for the longest (468 miles), man-made waterway ever built in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1827 Congress provided a land grant to encourage private investors to dig canals for the transport of supplies and good from north to south and back. A second federal land grant in 1849 allowed the canal to reach Terre Haute sometime late in 1849. Flatboats were used from Worthington to Terre Haute on a daily basis to transport people, freight, and animals. Others wanted to invest in this new venture. Thomas H. Blake and Senator William C. Linton of Vigo County invested in that area. The city of Linton was named in his honor. Dr. Thomas Aydelotte's father took a contract to work on the Worthington, Lyons, and Newberry part of the canal. Others who invested were the Vanslykes, Andrew Downing, John Switz, the Allison Brothers, and Chauncey Rose. Flatboats were still used until the first steamboat passed by the west side of Bloomfield on White River in 1850, according to Jack Baber.

Newberry grew by leaps and bounds. All kinds of businesses multiplied such as livery stables, butcher shops, carpenters, and common laborers to work on digging out the canal and making the reservoirs for levees to lift and lower boats where the water was shallow. A public sale of lots took place in Newberry in 1848. Speculators bought up quantities of lots such as the Knights, Slinkards, Dr. McDaniel. and B. F. Morse who built a large warehouse where grain could be stored and then shipped to New Orleans, Louisiana, when the price was higher.

About 1847 outbreaks of cholera killed many immigrant workers from Ireland, and farmland had been flooded to make the reservoirs. Farmers were upset and in the night, they would break the banks of the levees to stop the progress. Governor Wright sent out the militia to guard the resevoirs for two weeks. When they left, the farmers and others broke the banks again. They wanted their farmland back and the disease of cholera to go away.

Complicated federal restrictions about finance caused many investors to go broke. By 1860 the canal was no longer used in this area, but the railroads had made fast progress for hauling freight. In 1868 Thomas Dowling held an auction and the entire canal was sold for about $15,000. He died 10 months later.

Recently, not back in the 1800's, the Terre Haute Tribune newspaper reported that Vigo County has received a $400,000 state grant, which will be matched by $80,000 from the county for a park near Riley, Indiana, located near Lock # 47 in about two years from now in 2009.