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Saturday, February 27, 2016

It was a pretty nice day today with a good bit of sunshine and it  warmed up to 30 degrees or so.  Last night (Friday night) was cold - the thermometers at our house were all just about at the zero mark.  I had a trace of snow in my measuring tube this morning, but that may have been from snow blowing around rather than actually snowfall; it is hard to tell.  Tonight isn't going to be as cold, but we're getting some weather by tomorrow afternoon, with the usual mix of snow, freezing rain, and rain.  We can't seem to get out of that cycle.

As I've been going through old issues of the North Star published in Danville in the 1800's, I've noticed there was a big push to build canals in order to have easier transportation of goods throughout the northeast.  In 1824 a committee was formed to look into the feasibility of improving the navigability of the Connecticut River from Barnet, Vermont to Hartford and Middletown, Connecticut.  There were already a series of locks along parts of the river, but there were also sand bars and other impediments such as falls and narrows that made navigation difficult.  The plan was to clear at least a three foot channel for steam powered boats.

About the same time, the great canal from Lake Erie to Albany, New York was being built.  That opened for shipping in 1825.  Vermont was fortunate to have Lake Champlain on its western border with New York state and the somewhat navigable Connecticut River along much of its eastern border with New Hampshire, but east-west travel between those two waterways had to be over land, and the terrain was harsh.  There were several ambitious plans to connect Lake Champlain with the Connecticut River which would be a more or less southern route across the state.  At the same time, investigations were being conducted to find a feasible route in the northern part of the state to connect Lake Memphremagog with the Connecticut River by way of the Passumpsic River.  It was first thought this route would run through Irasburgh, Albany, Craftsbury, Hardwick, Walden and Danville, to Barnet.  The plans didn't specify if Joe's Pond would be part of the route, but I expect that was the idea.  Another plan in 1826 would use the Nulhegan and Clyde rivers to make the connection.  The committee called their plan "an object of National importance," in the interest of "the inhabitants of Vermont and New Hampshire and all persons concerned in the prosperity of this section of the country."  

Steam engines had been around for a while, but they weren't used in boats until the early 1800's.  Even then, there seemed to be some serious flaws in the boilers, for they often exploded and boats would sink in flames within a matter of minutes.  However, steam power was far better than rowing or depending on wind, and they could carry a much bigger pay load, so were much in demand.

In the late 1800's the Mineola, the first of several steam-powered excursion boats, was launched on Joe's Pond.  One such craft, run by Frank Lovejoy of St. Johnsbury in about 1906, was advertised as "connecting every camp around the pond with the train on schedule."  The train stopped not only at the station in West Danville village, but also at the north end of the pond for guests at O. B. Flint's Lake View Farm and Park, so the boat making regular trips around the pond to take people to and from the train was a great convenience.  We will have more details about this in the book presently being worked on.

One of the most fascinating stories of those early years is the log drives down the Connecticut.  The Connecticut River was commonly used to transport lumber from the northernmost regions of Vermont to the more populated areas of New England.  Here is a picture of a typical log drive years ago.   I'm not sure how river traffic was managed - I wouldn't want to be in a boat downstream when those logs were released - but one way or another, they must have shared the waters.  Here is a short quote from Robert E. Pike's piece published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, "Log Drive on the Connecticut":

The Connecticut River drive was the greatest one in all the Northeast. No other river was driven for so many years, no other drive went so many miles -- four hundred down to Hartford, two hundred and fifty in later years to Holyoke and Mt. Tom. It was more than an ordinary log drive; it was practically an institution. The first long-log drive went down the Connecticut from the head waters in 1869, and every year thereafter until 1915. After that, pulpwood was driven in four-foot bolts until 1929. Over on the Androscoggin, the Brown Company still drives pulpwood, although the last of the long logs came down in 1930. Since then the riverman has been out of work.

If you have a little time to spare, click above on the link to Pike's article.  It's a great read.  

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