Inland Waterways International supports canal in Richmond

To all those interested in the future of Richmond’s historic canal:

The attached letter is from Mr. D.J. Ballinger, president of the international canal organization Inland Waterways International, containing a resolution of support for the preservation and wise use of the remains of the James River & Kanawha Canal in Richmond. Originally known as the James River Canal, it was the first operating canal system with locks in America. It first opened in 1789 and was completed into the Great Basin in 1800. The canal company elected George Washington as its honorary president and gave him a grand tour in 1791. Today, much of the canal is still intact in Richmond.

The resolution was passed at the annual World Canals Conference, held this year in Yangzhou, China, on China’s Grand Canal. For 25 years these conferences have been held annually in America or Europe, and now, for the first time, in the far east. This one was held in conjunction with the Sixth World Canal Cities Expo, which has been held annually in Yangzhou. The Chinese are making the most of their canal heritage. Communities along its length are working together to nominate the Grand Canal as a World Heritage Site, and are using it to create beautiful parks and waterways much beloved by both tourists and those who live there. Efforts like this are going on all over the world.

Richmond rightly prides itself as a River Town and has learned much from other river cities. But Richmond is also a Canal City. The technology and philosophy of canal park development is not the same as river park development. We need to work not only with other river cities, but with other canal cities and canal parks to learn how we can put our historic canal to its best use for our city. The sweep of the canal around Oregon Hill is in danger and needs our help.

Bill Trout

Letter supporting the canal in Richmond, VA from Inland Waterways International.


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    Richmond’s History along the canal also had a narrow gauge railroad.

    Another aspect of the historical significance of the site of Venture Richmond’s proposed amphitheater is the narrow gauge railroad tracks that are on the towpath of the south bank of the canal.  This railroad track probably connected Tredegar Iron Works with the iron works on Belle Isle.  The stone pillars and one section of trestle for this railroad line still survive in the James River.  Since this the site of the proposed amphitheater was formerly part of the Tredegar Iron Works grounds, it is very likely that these railroad tracks were actually manufactured at Tredegar Iron Works, and they may be among the few surviving tracks made at this foundry.
    These railroad tracks would have to be the first thing removed if the south bank of the canal were sliced as proposed by Venture Richmond, not only irreparably damaging the historic canal but this authentic Tredegar history as well.
    Submitted by Charles Pool
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      Richmond, VA’s TV Channel 8 coverage of canal wall demolition.

      The Channel 8 reporter is interested in getting to the bottom of the demolition of the 150 feet of canal wall on city property.  She has done three stories so far.  Jennifer had some excellent quotes.
      The reporter got the contractor for the 2nd St. Connector project to show her the plans for the project.  I did a screen save from the footage that shows 28 feet to be demolished on Venture Richmond property (see attachment below),
      yet Venture Richmond claims that they had no knowledge of any wall being removed on their property.   The Liesfeld Contractor claims that the 150 feet of city owned wall somehow “collapsed” when they were removing the 28 feet of wall, although this is certainly not true since I witnessed them demolishing the wall with a “bobcat” bulldozer.  The scene was obviously  inconsistent with the wall collapsing; instead of large chunks of wall that had fallen over, there were only individual bricks, many of which had been broken by the bulldozer.  They were already at work on putting the bricks that did not belong to them on pallets.
      This raises several questions:
       Who asked for this 28 feet of wall demolition — about 200 feet from the 2nd St. Connector — to be added to the work plan of the 2nd Street Connector?
      Who hired Liesfeld?  (Wouldn’t it be simple for the police or Commonwealth Attorney to ask for a copy of the demo contract?)
      If NewMarket hired Liesfeld (as the contractor reported to the Times Dispatch), why was NewMarket hiring a contractor to work on the 2nd Street Connector project when Dominion is overseeing this project?
      NewMarket was cited by the city for demolishing another portion of the same wall up to 28 feet from the city property line last year without a permit.  Did they come back to finish the job?  Did Liesfeld do that demolition work for NewMarket last year?
      Was the demolition part of the effort to improve the sight lines for Venture Richmond’s amphitheater?
      Will anyone be held accountable for this demolition?  Will those responsible be required to pay for the wall’s reconstruction?
      Is this just the first step in the further damage of the south bank of the canal for Venture Richmond’s amphitheater?
      Charles Pool
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        OHNA calls for investigation into the destruction of canal property

        Richmond, VA: The Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association (OHNA) acknowledges to Venture Richmond that OHNA made an incorrect assumption that Venture Richmond would be aware of bulldozers and construction crews operating on their own property, and therefore made the erroneous statement that Venture Richmond was responsible for the recent damage to the historic wall and canal.
        According to an article that appeared in the October 20, 2012 edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch, “William Roberts, a project manager for J.A. Liesfeld, a Rockville-based contractor, acknowledged the firm was hired by NewMarket Corp. to tear down the wall but would not discuss the project.”
        The Richmond Times Dispatch, in October 2011, reported that NewMarket destroyed another large section of the pre-Civil War Tredegar wall, only obtaining the required permit after the fact.–ar-1365435/
        Last Tuesday, 150 feet of brick wall constructed before the Civil War was demolished by a construction crew operating on Venture Richmond property.
        “We request an investigation of whatever entity was responsible for the destruction of this historic property,” said Jennifer Hancock, OHNA President. “Whoever demolished this wall should be required to rebuild the wall.”

        The James River and Kanawha Canal was built over 200 years ago largely with slave labor when George Washington was president of the canal society. The Oregon Hill neighborhood has many connections with the rich history of the canal.

        Charles Pool
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          Venture Richmond damages a portion of the historic James River and Kanawha Canal

          Bricks from the canal wall demolition.

          RICHMOND, VA: On Tuesday September 16th, 2012, Venture Richmond proceeded to damage a portion of the historic James River and Kanawha canal bank and to destroy a century-old brick structural component of the canal.

          The Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association (OHNA) has called for the preservation of the 200 year old canal, built largely with slave labor when George Washington was the President of the canal society. The Oregon Hill neighborhood has many connections to the canal, including 601 Spring St, the former home of Samuel P. Parsons, the Canal Superintendent in 1840.

          Jennifer Hancock, OHNA President, said, “We are seeing Richmond history disappear before our eyes.”

          OHNA finds it disturbing that it is a public/private partnership that is responsible for the destruction.  According to the Times Dispatch, Venture Richmond gets a large amount of public funding: $1.68 million from a special city tax on downtown property owners, in addition to $700,000 in public money for the Clean and Safe program. 

          Amphitheater topography and sight lines to stage.

          Venture Richmond’s proposed amphitheater has ample sight lines without damaging the canal.

          The Oregon Hill neighborhood has long sought the restoration of the canal to allow boats to travel west to Maymont. But the canal would not hold adequate water to float a boat to Maymont if the banks of the canal are lowered. According to archaeologist Lyle Browning, if the height of the canal bank is lowered below 82 feet above sea level, its current level, the canal will not hold enough water to allow boats to make the trip to Maymont in the future. “Lowering the height of the canal towpath without adequate archaeological investigation of the towpath will irreparably damage a nationally important resource.”

          Damage to the south bank of the canal.

          Jennifer Hancock, OHNA President
          (804) 239-0439
          Debbie Anderson, OHNA Vice President
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            World Canal Conference in China issues statement on Canal in Danger in Richmond, VA

            Editors Note: The following email was received from Bill Trout:

            To be proposed for approval on September …


            WHEREAS, the James River Canal is an important historic landmark:
            the first towpath canal system with locks in the United States,
            first constructed while George Washington was the canal company’s
            honorary president;
            that the World Canals Conference at its 25th annual meeting, in
            Yangzhou, China, urges the people of Richmond, Virginia, to prevent
            further destruction of this canal at Tredegar and Ethyl, and to preserve,
            restore and interpret, and wisely use, this valuable amenity for Virginia
            and her visitors to use and enjoy for ever.


            W.E. Trout III
            Beijing, China
            September 16, 2012
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              Historic Canal in Richmond in DANGER of being destroyed by amphitheater

              by Charles Pool.

              There is a canal preservation alert in the city of Richmond, Va. where Venture Richmond has revealed plans to irreparably damage one of the oldest sections of the James River and Kanawha Canal in order to improve the sight lines for a proposed amphitheater.
              This section of the canal was built shortly after the James River Navigation Company was chartered in 1785 with George Washington serving as its first President.  The canal, now on the National Register of Historic Places,  was of immense importance to the development of the region.  As Mary Wingfield Scott wrote, “When it is remembered that as late as 1859 the canal tonnage exceeded the freight on all four railroads entering Richmond, it may readily be seen how important the completion of the canal was for the industrial and mercantile development of the city.”
              The threatened section of the canal sits below the bluff of the historic Oregon Hill neighborhood, which has many close ties to the canal.  Benjamin James Harris who owned the now demolished Belvidere estate was an early engineer for the canal, and his father, James Harris, was the first General Manager of the James River Navigation Company.
              Another neighborhood connection to the canal is the surviving home of Samuel P. Parsons, who was the General Superintendent of the canal in 1840 and oversaw its expansion to Lynchburg.  Parsons wrote a letter to his daughter in 1840 from Scottsville describing his frustrating progress on the canal: “I have now disposed of getting the boats higher up the canal than Joshua Falls Dam twelve miles from Lynchburg.  To this point they may, I think, go in about ten days.  Like most other public work in Virg’a things are managed with tails in instead of a head.”   While still under construction, Parsons advertised to hire lock keepers “with sober and steady habits” for over 30 locks on the canal.  The advertisement stated that the lock keepers “will not be allowed to sell groceries, or any other description of merchandise,” but permitted would be, “having a shoe, harness, saddle, cooper’s and tailor’s shops.”  Parsons printed regulations for the canal’s newly opened portion, “No boats of a width more than thirteen and a half feet will be permitted to pass … above Maiden’s Adventure Dam,” and the boats, “are not to be moored or fastened to the tow-path…”
              Another important connection of the Oregon Hill neighborhood to the canal was the Messler family who had a canal boat building business in the nearby Penitentiary basin.  The Messler family lived in the Jacob House which is the oldest structure to survive in Oregon Hill.  The Va. Navigation and Canal Society was instrumental in the preservation of the Jacob House, writing letters to encourage VCU to reconsider their plan to demolish the structure.  The Messler family was photographed by Levy and Cohen building a canal boat in April 1865 shortly after the fall of Richmond.
              It is ironic that the Venture Richmond is proposing to damage the canal because the city is spending over $300,000 to keep from damaging the canal when constructing a new bridge just east of the proposed amphitheater. Samuel  Parsons’ words ring as true as even,  “Like most other public work in Virg’a things are managed with tails in instead of a head.”
              Venture Richmond claims that they need no building permit before implementing this proposal, so time is of the essence in taking action to prevent this destruction of this original section of the Kanawha Canal.  There is strength in numbers, so we are encouraging everyone to contact these Venture Richmond board members with your concerns:  University or Richmond President Dr. Ed Ayers; Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, ASKTHEMAYOR@RICHMONDGOV.COM; Richmond City Council President Kathy Graziano, .  Be sure to copy the message to Venture Richmond Director Jack Berry, .
              Dr. Bill Trout wrote a letter to
              Dear Mr. Berry,
              Could you please encourage those planning the new amphitheater at Ethyl, near the Lee Bridge, to think creatively to avoid destroying part of the Kanawha Canal?
              The canal, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been there for over two centuries. The course of the canal there is still intact and clear. Instead of damaging it, please make every effort to keep it intact as one of America’s most important historic sites, a monument to George Washington and the industry of early Virginians. It’s not worth destroying part of it just to build a larger amphitheater. It would be like slicing into a Civil War fort to build a bigger visitor parking lot.
              Would it be possible to forward to me a copy of the present plans?
              Many thanks,
              William E. Trout, III, Ph.D.
              Past president, American Canal Society and the Virginia Canals & Navigations Society
              417 Phillips Street, Edenton, NC 27932, 252-482-5946
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                The batteau Mary Marshall Runs the New River Gorge Successfully!

                The following article is reposted in the public interest and is from:

                The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

                May 24, 2012

                Group navigates New River in batteau boat

                By C.V. Moore
                Register-Herald Reporter

                LANSING — It was an old-timey day on the New River Wednesday, with a historic descent of the lower section of the river by a crew of modern batteaumen from Virginia.

                “We had a good crew, we bailed a lot, and had some pretty tight lines, but it was awesome. Everybody’s safe, and the boat’s intact,” said Andrew Shaw of Lynchburg, captain of the Mary Marshall, after the boat anchored safely to shore at Fayette Station.

                Batteaus are wooden, flat-bottomed boats used to navigate shallow waterways in the southeastern United States from the nation’s earliest days through as late as the early 20th century. Well before the railroad, the country’s founders dreamed of a navigable canalway from the Atlantic Ocean over the Alleghenies to the Ohio River.

                Their dream never materialized, but on Wednesday the Mary Marshall’s six-person crew became the first known group to successfully navigate the lower New in a batteau in at least a hundred years.

                In doing so, the crew finished the most perilous section of their 320-mile journey to retrace the route taken by Chief Justice John

                Marshall during his 1812 survey to assess the viability of a water route over the Alleghenies.

                Shaw and his crew built their boat from scratch and, thanks in part to a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, began the Marshall Expedition at Richmond in April.

                They have been camping at Thurmond since May 15, scouting the gorge to prepare for the class III and IV rapids that lay ahead.

                The 14-mile journey began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m.. River levels were at approximately 7,500 CFS, with rain falling most of the day.

                In the early days of commercial river navigation, batteau went down the gorge to Batteau — now Batoff — Mountain, above Thayer, where cargo was wagoned out of the gorge above the worst falls. Slaves or free blacks made up the majority of the boatmen.

                Collis P. Huntington is known to have made the descent from Hinton to Hawk’s Nest in 1869, surveying for the railroad he would later build.

                “I don’t think you can watch what went on today without thinking about what it was like 200 years ago,” says Dave Arnold, co-owner of Adventures on the Gorge rafting company.

                “This boat is not an easy boat to run the river. Our equipment today makes it so much easier, so the amount of respect for the boatmen of 200 years ago had to be on all the professionals’ minds today.”

                Brian “Squirrel” Hager, a raft guide with Adventures on the Gorge from Smithers who has 3,500 New River floats under his belt, hugged tight to the Mary Marshall on her journey and offered his input, rapid by rapid.

                At Whale Rock in the Keeney’s rapids, the crew was prepared to go left of the giant rock, but after further scouting and consult with Hager, they decided to shift their plans. A wrong move could have cost them their boat, or worse.

                “If one of these boats does hit the rocks it’s going to go bad fast,” says Mason Baston, owner of James River Float Co., who rode on board the Mary Marshall for the Wednesday leg. “These boards, when they start snapping, it’s a serious amount of pressure and force. Then you’ve got guys in the water and features out here that you don’t want to be swimming at this level.”

                In addition to Adventures on the Gorge, the National Park Service offered safety and navigational support during the day.

                Crews of raft guides in training, video boaters, and curious onlookers from the river community also stood — or paddled — by to offer cheers of enthusiasm after challenging maneuvers.

                Mary Marshall’s crew lit up during difficult rapids, and came out screaming their heads off for joy.

                In 2004, another Virginia crew attempted the feat. Their batteau, The Rose of Nelson, cracked in half and sank at Dudley’s Dip rapid. Piloted by Mike Neal, it was apparently in disrepair and Neal made the gesture as a kind of honorable send-off for his boat.

                Besides the Rose of Nelson, several other crafts have navigated part of the New in the modern era. In 1989, The Appamattox ran part of the gorge to Thurmond.

                According to the Virginia Canals and Navigation Society’s New River Atlas, their boat was laden with cargo and became swamped in a class III rapid. The crew was swept overboard, swam to shore, and hopped a train to salvage their boat.

                The end point of Appomattox’s journey was the beginning of Mary Marshall’s leg on Wednesday. They put out at Fayette Station, where they will camp and wait to see if the river rises enough to navigate The Dries of the New River and bring their journey to a close in GauleyBridge.

                “Marshall’s trip is the story of our founders’ vision for establishing reliable trade through Appalachia,” says Shaw. “It is a testament to the lengths our founders were willing to go through to affect development in this country.”

                You can follow the progress of the Marshall Expedition at their blog,

                Shaw says he is in talks with the National Parks Service to possibly build a batteau in Fayette County.

                — Email:

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