Past and Present: Intersection of the Central Canal and Washington Street

Updated: Aug 19

This post is an expansion on a ‘then and now’ Twitter post about the Central Canal from a few weeks ago. This blog has covered various topics related to the Central Canal, including the stone lock at Market Street, the Buck Creek Culvert, and the continuing survey project of the canal’s route from north of Anderson south to Waverly. Another downtown feature of the canal were two basins which flanked the north and south side of Washington Street on the east side of the canal. Basins were simply areas of slack water along the route of a canal and often contained docks and repair facilities for canal boats. Warehouses and other infrastructure popped up near basins to accommodate cargo from canal traffic.


Christian Schrader, an early resident of Indianapolis, was perhaps best known for his many sketches of the city during its early years and in the mid 19th century. One of these sketches depicts the Washington Street bridge over the canal, with the southern boat basin in the foreground.


At the time, the canal followed the line of Missouri Street. In the present, the same scene, or as close to the same viewpoint as I could get, looks like this:


The location of the boat basins on Washington Street, the major east/west road through the city, and the path taken by the National Road made sense, especially considering the high hopes for the canal to be a harbinger of economic growth. However, like the rest of the canal, the basins did not last long. While visible in the 1852 map of Indianapolis, by 1866, no sign of the basins can be seen, although the canal is still shown running south of Washington Street (see 1852 and 1866 maps below).


Without any outlet beyond central Indiana, the canal, and the boat basins, were little used for commercial traffic. The extensive docking and warehouse facilities seen adjacent to canal boat basins in other areas where canals were more operational did not materialize. Even the canal boat depicted by Schrader was likely meant to represent the potential of the canal. The note on Schrader's sketch of the Washington Street bridge sums up the situation, and the fantasy of the canals in Indianapolis: "The commercial dream of early Indlps before railroads. What might have been before railroads awoke the dreamers."


References


Munsell, Luke. (1852) Map of the City of Indianapolis, 1852, Indiana State Library Digital Collections, retrieved from http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15078coll8/id/3755


Warner, A., Worley & Bracher & Bourquin, F. (1866) Map of Marion County, Indiana. Philadelphia: C.O. Titus, Publisher. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2013593173/


Washington Street Bridge over the canal, Indianapolis IN, Christian Schrader, Allen County Public Library Digital Collections http://contentdm.acpl.lib.in.us/digital/collection/coll6/id/6692


Bakken, J. Darrell, (2002) Now That Time Has Had Its Say: A History of the Indianapolis Central Canal, 1835-2002, Author House

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