Locks and Canals at the South Hadley Falls

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This illustrated presentation will describe the canals and lifting devices that allowed river traffic to pass the falls in the Connecticut River at South Hadley. Riverboats served the commercial needs of river valley communities before railroads arrived in the 1840s and took over the hauling of freight. Until 1795 the falls stopped riverboats and forced a laborious and expensive portage of goods. The two and one half mile South Hadley Canal, with its novel inclined plane, opened in 1795 as the nation’s first successful navigation canal. Ten years later locks replaced the inclined plane as the means of raising and lowering boats. After 1826 steamboats passed through the locks, hauled flatboats and fed the growth of Western Massachusetts. The locks operated beside falls – and then the dam after 1849 - until trains put the canal out of business in 1862. This story is set in the context of technological and economic developments in the region.

Lecturer Charlie Lotspeich joined the staff at Holyoke Heritage State Park in 1989 as Visitor Services Supervisor. Now the Park Supervisor, he still conducts the park’s educational and recreational programs. During the 70s after college and graduate school he taught American history in the Berkshires, then left the classroom to manage job training programs, economic development agencies and historic mills. Several years with a design/build firm in Boston intervened before he returned to education, first at Walden Pond State Reservation and finally in his current work. All these jobs entailed presentations, which reside in files and memory rather than publications.