Dead and Buried: The Graveyard of Worcester's Blackstone Canal  


The Railroads

Millbury Street Sign -- 'The First Canal Boat'After more than thirty years in the making, the full length of the Blackstone Canal opened for business in 1828. The Lady Carrington, the first boat to make the trip up the entire canal from Providence to Worcester, arrived in Worcester on 7 October 1828.10 The canal was an instant success with shippers as the canal was immediately put into use carrying freight to and from Worcester.

Although the canal was an initial success, the factors stacked against it soon began to overwhelm the company and the canal. Over its twenty years of operation, the canal cost its shareholders a monstrous $750,000 while only paying out a total of $2.75 per share in dividends.11 Frustration among shippers and arguments with the many mill owners all took their toll. Poor shipping schedules, problems of water rights and levels, all contributed to the canal's failure. Despite these factors, the canal still managed to operate, that is, until the coming of the railroad.

The canal itself is what fueled the desire for railroads in the region. The canal's success excited the growing region and emphasized the importance of trade with other regions. People from Providence, Worcester, and Boston all saw the need to foster trade with and within the growing Central Massachusetts region. However, because of the problems confronting the canal, it was eventually unable to keep up with the demand. Merchants from all three cities began looking for other methods to ship their goods and the answer was the railroad.

In particular, the canal made Boston more aware of what it was losing to Providence. Boston was becoming increasingly jealous over the success of the canal as it saw more of its trade with Central Massachusetts being siphoned off to Providence. The canal's success forced the Boston merchant class to recognize the importance of a connection with Worcester in Boston's own continued existence. The Boston Centinal threatened "if something is not done to counter the effect of the Blackstone Canal, Boston will in a manner of years be reduced to a fishing village."12 The people of Boston began scrambling for a solution to keep them from their "fishing village" fate. The Boston-Worcester canal that had been proposed back in 1796 proved to be too costly, but now the merchants of Boston had another transportation method at their disposal: the railroad.

The first railroad built in America was a horse-drawn one running from a quarry in Quincy to the site of the Bunker Hill memorial in 1826. While a horse-drawn railway was perhaps an impractical alternative, the steam rail, first built in Britain in 1830, did provide a viable solution to Boston's problem with the Blackstone Canal. The Boston & Worcester Railroad, Boston's solution to its "fishing village" future, was chartered on 23 June 1831 and full operation began on 4 July 1835.13

The Boston and Worcester railroad was not, however, the final blow to the canal. Despite the issues of its timing and design working against it, as well as the new competition generated by the railroad, the canal continued to operate and collect tolls for another twelve years. The fatal blow to the canal would come from its direct replacement: the Providence and Worcester Railroad.

[10] All the sources this author has reviewed, including Coombs, Putnam, and Sessions, refer to the date of this first arrival of the Lady Carrington as being 7 October.  This author believes the creators of the sign mistook the date of the reporting of the event in the Massachusetts Spy, 8 October, as the date of arrival.

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