The Canal

The location of the city of Fredericksburg was influenced by its location at the Fall Line of the Rappahannock River, which made it an endpoint for shipping routes into the 19th Century.  However, by the early 1800’s, developers wanted to be able to navigate the river farther north for commercial purposes.  In 1816 the Rappahannock Canal Company began to develop plans for a series of canals and dams that would stretch for fifty miles into Fauquier County.  Work finally began in 1829 at a dedication ceremony near the present-day Community Center near Pitt Street.

The entire canal and dam system was not completed until 1849, and contained twenty dams, thirty-three lift locks, and fourteen guard locks.  Despite the countless years of planning, the Rappahannock Canal Company only operated the canals for four years.  The maintenance for the expansive system cost over $10,000 each year, while a full year’s profits never exceeded $8,600.  The company had no choice but to declare bankruptcy in 1853.  Different sections of the canal remained in use after the Rappahannock Canal Company dissipated, especially since the Fredericksburg Water Power Company bought many of their properties.  Until 2004, when the Embrey Dam was torn down by the Corps of Engineers, the remaining canal in Fredericksburg acted as part of the water filtration plant.  Without the dam to supply the canal with water, it now exists simply as a large trench.

The canal ditch that remained played an important part during Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg.  Union soldiers were forced to cross the ditch where it intersected with Hanover Street, an area with which the Confederate troops were well acquainted.  At the time, the ditch was still filled with water, which impeded the Union soldiers’ advances but gave the Confederates ample opportunity to open fire.  The canal ditch gave an immense advantage to the Confederate troops, who eventually won the Battle of Fredericksburg. More information can be found by scanning another code farther along the trail.

The canal ditch between Hanover and William Streets, taken after the war.Photo credit: http://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/a-journey-across-the-bloody-plain-part-i/

The canal ditch between Hanover and William Streets, taken after the war.
Photo credit: http://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/a-journey-across-the-bloody-plain-part-i/

 

The Canal Ditch during the Civil War can be seen in the middle ground as a darker spot on the plain.Photo credit: John Cummings, http://spotsylvaniacw.blogspot.com/2011/07/gross-what-are-they-doing-latrine-at.html

The Canal Ditch during the Civil War can be seen in the middle ground as a darker spot on the plain.
Photo credit: John Cummings, http://spotsylvaniacw.blogspot.com/2011/07/gross-what-are-they-doing-latrine-at.html

A pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River during the Civil War.Photo credit: http://education.eastmanhouse.org/SketchBook/sketchBook.html   A pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River during the Civil War.
Photo credit: http://education.eastmanhouse.org/SketchBook/sketchBook.html

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