Note: The following is part of a series of columns exploring the importance of canals in the early history of Georgia and Bulloch County.
On December 20, 1833, the Georgia legislature granted the "corporations of the cities of Savannah and Macon" the right to form the "Central Railroad and Canal Company."
The first canal designated connecting Macon and Savannah, this project was proposed "for the purpose of opening a canal or rail-road communications from the city of Savannah to the interior of the State."
On February 22, 1850, the mayor and city council of Macon were given permission to construct "a canal...on the Ocmulgee river, above the city of Macon...to such place within the said...limits of the city of Macon."
This charter declared, "the said Macon Canal Company are hereby empowered and authorized...to build and erect one or more dams across the said Ocmulgee river."
In 1870, Georgia's Legislature created the Macon Canal and Manufacturing Company. Investors in this undertaking were W.B. Johnson, A. Ayes, A. Bonnell, L.N. Whittle, J.C. McBurney, J.A. Cobb, S.J. Gustin, and O.A. Lochrane.
The later charter enabled them to "build and construct...a canal from such point on the Ocmulgee river, near to, and or through the City of Macon." In addition, their charter enabled them to build "factories, mills, dams, locks, or other structures."
In the journal Engineering News and American Railway Journal (1890) Canal President J.C. McBurney stated "power can be electrically transmitted to various manufactories...and electric lights for streets and residences can be furnished cheaper than gas."
The "Report on the Water Power of the United States" (1880) reported "The project was started in 1871, and the Macon Canal and Manufacturing Company was organized; but as yet nothing has been done."
It continued, "The difficulty in bringing the canal down to the city lies in the fact lies in the fact that between...is a ridge which would be difficult to cut through and a cemetery which could probably not be crossed."
Finally, the report stated, "It is asserted by some the canal could be built for $250,000, and that little blasting would be required, the length of the canal being 9 ½ miles long."
In 1878, the Bibb Manufacturing Company purchased the Macon Manufacturing Company. The Payne Textile Mill also opened up in Macon in the late 1890's.
Georgia's Atlantic and Great Western Canal
The Georgia legislature chartered the Atlantic and Great Western Canal in 1870, after which time Major Walter McFarland of the United States Army Corps of Engineers undertook a survey of possible routes from 1871-2.
The route he chose started at Guntersville, Tennessee on the Tennessee River, down the Coosa and Etowah Rivers, to Macon, and then on to Savannah, Georgia and the Savannah River.
John Lynch, Assistant Quartermaster of the 15th U.S. Army Corps, wrote An Address on the Subject...(of) Connecting the ports of Savannah, Brunswick, and Mobile with the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. (1873).
He stated that there was not a single navigable water outlet for the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi River valleys that connected to the Atlantic Ocean.
Thus, he stated, this route was needed. Once completed, cargo going from Saint Louis, Missouri to Brunswick would travel over 1143 miles of rivers and 365 miles of canal.
This compared with sending cargo from Saint Louis to New York City, whose distance (either 1638 or 1919 miles) was over mostly canals or railroads and much more expensive.
Major McFarland wrote in his survey "This water line would connect more than ten thousand miles of free steamboat navigation with the Atlantic of which only 365 miles would be artificial."
At Guntersville, the Tennessee and Coosa Rivers came within thirty five miles of each other, which could be easily connected by a canal. From Rome to Macon would be travelled by another new canal.
There were two divisions: the "Georgia Division," some 211 ¼ miles from the Coosa River to near Cartersville; and the "Altamaha Division," some 500 miles from Macon on the Ocmulgee to Darien on the Altamaha River.
There were to be two branches on the Altamaha: one, a water route heading to Savannah; and the other, an extension of the canal to Hawkinsville. This route traversed rivers, 192 miles of canal and 70 ½ miles of slack-water.
The cost of the entire project was estimated to cost $34,354,291, almost all of which was for the canals required. That made the cost of the project come out at $111,584 per mile.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at email@example.com.