Monadnock Moment 1: Navigation on Ashuelot River

Of the thousands of people who daily cross the Ashuelot River over the bridge on West Street, nearly all of them would be astounded to realize that more than 150 years ago the River was considered practical for navigation.

Yet on June 24, 1819 the New Hampshire Legislature passed an act which granted to Lewis Page the sole authority to clear, deepen and straighten the Ashuelot River from the Faulkner & Colony Mill to the river’s junction with the Connecticut River, and to make dams, locks and canals where necessary.

The Legislature authorized a toll not to exceed .50 cents per ton transported between Keene and the dam at Winchester, a distance of about 17 miles, and a similar toll from the Winchester dam to the Connecticut River.

Many people subscribed liberally to the project. Two locks were built, one at Whitcomb’s Mill and one at Emerson’s Mill, in Swanzey.

On November 19, 1819, the first boat, the “Enterprise”, 60 feet long, and capable of carrying fifteen to twenty tons, arrived at Keene from Winchester. Many residents made the maiden voyage aboard the “Enterprise” and celebrated upon their arrival at Keene.

The Sentinel covered the event, questioning whether or not the project would be a financial success. The reporter stated that “with the exception of three miles land carriage, the productions of all parts of the world may now be brought to our doors by water, and by the same channel, our lumber and produce may go to the ocean. The benefits to be derived will soon be tested by experience…and due notice will be hereafter given on the arrival at this port of the first steamboat from Hartford or New York.” This steamboat never arrived, however, as the project failed to meet the expectations of its sponsors and was soon abandoned.

Although the question of navigating the river remained a concern for several years, the arrival and overwhelming success of the Railroad 30 years later ended the idea of transporting produce on the Ashuelot forever.