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While we tend to think of America as automobile dominated, some cities have developed some interesting canal or river networks. For instance, San Antonio's Riverwalk and Providence's WaterFire. What other cities have canals, and what have they done, or not done, to make them an attractive part of the urban landscape?

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Richmond has one canal. The James River & Kanawha Canal, which was George Washington's idea to connect the James River with the Kanawha River in then western Virginia. The Kanawha River is a part of the Ohio River system as it is part of the Mississippi's. The idea was basically to link the James with the Mississppi River, but the canal made it to Buchanan, Virginia in the Blue Ridge upstream from Lynchburg. The James River & Kanawha Canal was eclipsed by the railroads and was eventually bought by one. Much of its towpaths have rail lines built on them.

The James River and Kanawha Canal begins in Richmond's East End at what is now Great Ship Lock Park, where there are two locks at the end of the canal where it meets the James. This is called the Richmond Dock and on the south side of it in the early to mid 20th century was the Trigg Ship Company which built ocean-going ships.

To the west of this at 13th St began the locks which allowed batteaux to be lifted up hill into the Great Basin. Some of the locks have been preserved, but most have been destroyed with the construction of the Downtown Expressway.

The great Basin was located basin between 8th and 12th Sts south of Cary St and north of Byrd St. If anyone is familiar with Matthew Brady's pictures of the city after Richmond fell in the Civil War, a couple pictures were taken from the Great Basin with ruins around it. The basin was filled in by the early 1900s and a railyard existed on it. Today, Richmond's James Center stands on 2/3 of it on the eastern side, while there is one undeveloped block on the western portion that is used as a parking lot. The canal went diagonally to the west where there was a smaller basin. Past that westward, the canal followed the James River to the Blue Ridge.

Prior to 1999, the canal had deteriorated into a ditch between 12th and 14th Streets while east of 14th it had been filled in and a warehouse was built on top of it. The Richmond Dock existed from 17th to its eastern end. The canal to the west was also filled in to create a portion of Canal St and the Downtown Expressway. The canal bed lay dry beneath Gambles Hill just east of the Robert E. Lee Bridge. From Tuckahoe Island west of Richmond to just west of the Lee Bridge, water flows in the longest stretch of the original bed.

During the 1980s plans were made to rebuild the Kanawha Canal (as we call it for short), from the Richmond Dock to a link with the Haxall Millrace (named after its creator), which would then be connected to the original bed to the west. When Richmond's floodwall was built in the early 1990s, it included a panel to be taken out for the proposed canal at the end of the Richmond Dock. In 1999, the newly reconstructed canal opened as the Canal Walk with a new turning basin at between 14th and Virginia Streets made for the batteau-esque boats that tour the canal from basically the basin and into the Richmond Dock. The Haxall Millrace was given a massive makeover from an overgrown stream into a walkable, attractive channel with a headgate which regulates its flow. Originally this portion included paddleboats, but they have disappeared in the last few years. Eventually we hope to still connect the Haxall with the original canal, complete with new locks so that one can take a boatride from downtown to at least Maymont Park or Richmond's Pump House.

I have photographed the Richmond Dock, the new canal, the surviving locks, the dry canal bed as well as several portions of the bed to the west. Most of them aren't uploaded yet. There's a thread with my pictures around here somewhere but I can't find them at the moment.

Map of the James River and Kanawha Canal from the Library of Congress

My favorite map of Richmond after the Civil War 1867, you can click the pics and look for the canal.


Courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the plan for the reconstrcution of the canal. Sorry my scanner was dying when I scanned it.

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Some very cool pics!! Not much canal action here in the Bay Area unfortunately. Some areas on the Bay might have lent themselves well to it, but not taken into acount in the city deigns, maybe not seen as viable or useful for the way things developed?

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