Saturday, October 02, 2004


Boat lock remnants uncovered


Clinton Township find is called significant

By Gene Schabath / The Detroit News

Aldo Quadrini thought it might be the remains of an old house or barn when construction workers unearthed large pieces of timber this week while digging sewer trenches for a strip mall.

“We’ve found old barns before,” said Quadrini, a construction foreman for the work crew building the Canal Pointe Plaza on Canal near Hayes in Clinton Township.

But the massive 22-foot-long pieces of timber turned out to an archeological treasure, said Don Green, a member of several Macomb County historical commissions.

The 165-year-old logs are remnants of a boat lock system from the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal that was under construction from 1838 to 1845 from Mount Clemens to Rochester.

“This is a major discovery,” Green said. “It’s a documented find, and you don’t often find something like this. I can’t remember a canal lock of this importance being found in Michigan.”

Some of the timber was in very good shape because it had been under 5 feet of dirt that kept it preserved, he said.

As many as 50 of the white oak logs, which measure 16 to 18 inches in width, were unearthed Tuesday along with large wooden nails used to hold the logs together. But there may be more archeological gems still underground.

Quadrini said he expects his crews to find the gate from the boat lock. Wayne Bischoff, one of the leading experts on boat canal archeology in the Midwest, said there should be another 100 feet of support cribbing where the lock was found.

“This is a very big deal,” said Bischoff, who works for Marushia Consultants, a Lansing firm involved in archeological management.

“Michigan didn’t have many locks. The Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal was part of a big national lock movement in the early 1800s. They were the interstate highways of their times. Michigan got into the canal craze at the end and then the railroads came and that was it.”

Green said some of the choice pieces of timber from the old locks will be preserved by the Macomb County Historical Society and made into a display.

Quadrini said the 12-inch-inch forged steel spikes used in construction of the locks will be encased in a glass frame box and kept on display at one of the plaza stores.

“It’s amazing how these people built these locks by hand,” Quadrini said. “They dug the canals (10 feet deep) with shovels. And they cut the wood by hand. Look how perfectly square they are.”

The boat lock found at Canal and Hayes was one of 20 locks built between Mount Clemens and Rochester for the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal in the early 1800s, Bischoff said.

The locks were needed because there was a 220-foot elevation difference between Mount Clemens and Rochester. Boats would enter the locks. Water would be pumped into the lock to raise the watercraft to the next level, or siphoned off to lower the level when the boat headed downstream.

The canal was to extend 216 miles from Lake St. Clair to Lake Michigan to serve as an alternate waterway to transport goods across the state.

Construction on the canal started in 1838, shortly after Michigan’s first governor, Stevens T. Mason, took office. Cost of the project was a staggering $5 million, Green said.

Mason had launched a project called the Internal Improvement Program to help create jobs and bring development to the area. Michigan at that point in time was mostly wilderness north of Flint.

The Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal was the centerpiece of the program.

But seven years and 16 miles later, the canal came to an abrupt halt in Rochester when the state ran out of money.

“They never paid any of the workers so when the project ended, workers burned some of the locks gates to recover the scrap iron,” Bischoff said.

“That’s why these locks are important because they tell a part of the history of Michigan that is not in any record books,” Bischoff said.

The discovery of the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal lock remnants this week marked the second such discovery in five years.

A small section of another lock two miles east of the Canal-Hayes find was found near Canal road and the Clinton River in 1999 by a big team led by Bischoff.

The wooden lock, found five feet underground, was reburied so the wood would not deteriorate from bacteria in the air.

You can reach Gene Schabath at (586) 468-3614 or

David Guralnick / The Detroit News
"This is a major discovery," says Don Green, a
member of several Macomb County historical
commissions, with the logs that were connected
together to form the walls of the Clinton-
Kalamazoo canal. Construction halted in 1845.

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