Buchanan Mayor Larry Hall announced an exciting historic moment for the Town this week, “We will unearth the gauging lock on the Kanawha Canal in September. The lock is located between the Twin Rivers Canoe Livery and the Town Gazebo,” said Hall. He hopes it will be a historic tourist draw to the town which is also a Civil War Trail destination because of Hunter’s Raid.
Hall said, “We are hopeful it is still intact.” The gauging lock was used to determine shipping rates. “The boat or batteau a long boat for shipping, was brought into the lock and marked empty. A final mark was made after it was filled. The difference in the marks determined the charge for the shipping. The lock was covered up years ago because people kept falling into it,” noted Hall.
He visited a s gauging lock in Big Island on the James that is intact and is featured in the photo. Locks are visible along the James River and can be reached by land as well as the river in some spots.
Here is some historical information about the Kanawha Canal in relation to Buchanan, Virginia.
Buchanan was the western end of the James River & Kanawha Canal, though actually Eagle Rock has the last lock on the system. An awesome engineering endeavor, it is one of Virginia’s prime examples of opening the western frontier to trade and travel. The Kanawha Canal began in 1785. It was proposed by George Washington who appeared before the General Assembly to propose building the canal from Tidewater up the James River to the Ohio River. He personally surveyed for the canal system. Washington had holdings in the Ohio River Valley. ( “His Excellency, George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis.)
The James River was highly used by packet boat and batteau for trade. Packet boats traveled a great deal to Lynchburg from Richmond and batteaux were mostly used from Lynchburg to Buchanan in trade and commerce. In places where the water was low or the rapids too fast, the batteaux were carried or pulled on sleds by mules as were the goods on them. A batteau relic is on display next to the Wilson Warehouse on Lowe Street, Buchanan. Wilson Warehouse conducted shipping and reception of goods moved along the river. Iron Ore from Botetourt was moved along the canal to Richmond to the Tredegar Iron works for instance.
The grand scheme was to eventually open travel and trade from the Atlantic to the Ohio River. For decades the construction of locks took place. It was the coming of the railroad a faster and broader means of transportation, the American Civil War and the rough terrain beyond the headwaters of the James River that finally stopped the canal.
Photos Big Island Lock: Mayor Larry Hall. Buchanan photos: Cathy Benson, Buchanan water trail marker, Kanawha lock, James River, Wilson Warehouse.