Saturday, June 13, 2020

I Learned of Two Canals in Wisconsin in Two Days and Wisconsin Waterway

Long time readers probably know that the title trips my "2 in 2" rule. While studying a CN/C&NW swing bridge, I learned of navigation channels around rapids in the Fox River that empties into Lake Michigan. Then the next day, while working on my blog, a "live video" popped up in my Facebook window. I found it fascinating once he got into his prepared material. His second slide, at -1:00:03, describes the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal documented below.

Lower Fox River Navigational System Authority

Studying the CN/C&NW swing bridge reminded me that Wisconsin has the headwaters of two Fox Rivers. I studied the map, and the headwaters seem to be just 10 miles from each other. Those ten miles are a subcontinent divide between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The label "wwFox" refers to the one that begins as a farmer's drainage ditch west of Menomonee Falls and flows South to the Illinois River. The other includes Lake Winnebago and flows North to Green Bay. Lake Winnebago divides the river into Upper and Lower Fox River. The Lower Fox River is the subject of these notes.

When I looked at the river using a satellite map, only the two downstream locks looked active. The others either had no water or were growing a healthy crop of algae. In the 1800s, each rapid on the river would have had a dam built at the head of the rapid and a headrace along the side of the river. Then factories would be built between the headrace and the river to exploit the waterpower.

To make the river navigable, in some cases all they had to do was add a lock to the downstream side of a headrace. In other cases, they had to add additional dams and locks to the rivers. Along with a mile long canal between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers st Portage, WI, the Wisconsin Waterway provided transportation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River in 1856.

The portage canal exists today except that it no longer connects to the Wisconsin River because of a levee. This topo map clearly shows how it connected the two rivers.
1902 Portage Quad @ 62,500

Work started on the waterway in 1938 by convincing Congress to approve the sale of 150,000 acres of land to fund improvements of the two rivers. So Illinois getting land to help finance the first land grant railroad, Illinois Central, seems less special now. Wisconsin became a state in 1848, and construction began on the improvements in 1849. As mentioned, it was competed by 1856, just in time for the railroads to bankrupt it in 1886. After at least one change of management, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) acquired navigational control in 1872 and ownership in 1873. The USACE abandons the Wisconsin River in 1886, quits dredging the Fox for commercial traffic in 1922, and recommends the lock system be dismantled in 1982. In 2001, the state statute 237 created the Fox River Navigational System Authority. In 2004 ownership is transferred from the USACE to the state of Wisconsin. Repair and renovation of the lock system began in 2005 and was completed in 2015. But in 2015 they found the invasive fish Round Goby just downstream of the Menasha Lock so it has been closed ever since. They are still studying the use of an "electric barrier" to again allow operation of the lock. [foxlocks-history, foxlocks-timeline] They are also investigating infusing the water with carbon dioxide or building a trolley to haul the boats over land. [WPR]

I had read that the restoration was funded with fund raising efforts and tax payer money. But then I found:
The authority took money the corps was going to use to fill in the locks, invested it and used 14 and a half million dollars to restore the locks instead. The work began in 2005. The authority has generated enough money in an endowment to keep the locks operational for the next 50 years and that includes another restoration if needed." [Fox11-2015]
Also, the Rapide Croche lock was closed in 1987 to keep Sea Lampreys from going further upstream. Stop log barriers were added in 1988, and in 2013 permanent concrete barriers were constructed in anticipation of building a Boat Transfer and Cleaning Station. But that has yet to happen. [foxlocks-croche] Currently, the Kaukauna Locks are unusable because of needed bridge repairs. I don't know if the bridge broke since 2015, or if it took a long time to convince Canadian National to fix it. The good news is that CN is working on it.

CNW Bridge 334 Wisconsin River bridge at Merrimac
Posted February 25, 2013, by Robert Thompson

The Federal Government took over the Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company in 1870 and ran the entire system until it abandoned the Wisconsin River and Upper Fox River portion in 1951. The Lower Fox River section continued to be operated by the Army Corps of Engineers until the 1980's.

[Bridge Hunter]

Of note, the locks in this system are still manually operated. All of the locks were named to the National Register Places, part of the National Park Service, in 1993.
The locks on the Lower Fox River were 35-36 x 144-146 with lifts between 7.2 to 12.6.
The locks have 6' sills and support a draft of 4'. I don't know how big the locks were on the rest of the Wisconsin Waterway. I can't find any evidence of the waterway on the Upper Fox River. In fact, in some places I can't even find the river! Unlike the Illinois & Michigan, Wabash & Erie, etc. Canals, this lock system supported steamboats.
foxlocks-gallery, cropped
The first generation of lock construction consisted of lock walls filled with rock rubble. The second generation used by the USACE reconstruction of the locks between 1873 and 1910 built the walls with cut stone blocks. About four of the the locks were reconstructed again in the 1930s with concrete walls. This lock construction history made me appreciate that the locks on the Illinois & Michigan Canal were built from the beginning in the 1840s with quarry stone. Because part of the canal was dug through dolostone, all they had to do to get quarry stone was to cut, rather than blast, the canal channel through the dolostone. In fact, after the canal was finished, many of the canal laborers got work in the quarries in Lemont, which provided the best stone in the country until the dolostone beds near Bedford, IN, were discovered. [foxlocks-croche]
20140518 0017
The downstream end of Lock #1 in Lockport, IL

Milwaukee and Rock River Canal

(Satellite, Commerce Street replaced the part of the canal that got built. [UrbanMilwaukee])

First of all, it is worth noting that if this 1839 canal plan had been successful, Chicago might have never existed because this canal would have provided the connection between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico that was finally achieved by the Illinois & Michigan Canal in 1848. But because of cost overruns (they had to dig through a lot of rock) and the threat of railroads, they only got the first mile built. But that mile proved to be important to Milwaukee because it was used as a headrace. By 1843 several industries were built between the canal and the Menomonee River to take advantage of the water power provided by the canal.

This exposure better shows the Humbolt Avenue Bridge in the right background.
Rock River Canal, 1860s. Photo courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Screenshot,via live_videos  Or search for "Machines of Milwaukee" in nmih
The Milwaukee and Rock River Canal was an ambitious plan designed to link the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers with a manmade waterway that would follow the Menomonee west, cut through to the Rock River and the four lakes in Madison, link to the Wisconsin River, and eventually to the Mississippi. [DNR-MilwaukeeRiver]
It was to join the Rock River just north of Jefferson, WI. [WisconsinHistory-map]

Another reason why the canal failed was that the Governor wanted a Fox River-Wisconsin River waterway to serve the interior, so he blocked bond sales for this canal. [UrbanMilwaukee] The above documented Wisconsin Waterway with its 150,000 acres of federal land and the governor's backing did succeed. Fortunately for Chicago, it opened about a decade after the I&M Canal opened, and it was too far north to be a hub for eastern railroads to interconnect with western railroads.

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