Recently I, along with a close friend, took our kayaks on an exploring adventure in this area of the river. While on the trip, I took a few photos of some of the ruins of one of the canals and locks below Lexington. This one is known as Reid's Lock. As VMI's website notes:
|The Canal at Reid's Dam - Looking Up River - Circa 1870|
In 1851, the North River Navigation Co., later bought out by the James River and Kanawha (canal) Co., replaced the whitewater navigation with a flatwater canal system for large canal boats up to 90 feet long, towed by mules and horses from a towpath. This company was responsible for extending canal construction along the North River up to the Lexington docks, which included the construction of Zimmerman’s, Ben Salem, South River, and Reid’s locks and dams – the remains of which can still be seen from the Chessie Trail. Boats – including packet boats carrying up to 60 people with room for social events, a kitchen/bar, sleeping space, and toilets – started using the canal system on Nov. 15, 1860. Remains of batteaux and freight and packet boats are still found in the Maury riverbed.
The North River canal was important for developing the economy of Rockbridge County, allowing passenger and cargo access to the larger markets of Lynchburg and Richmond. Jordan’s Point (now the trailhead of the Chessie Trail at the Lexington end) became a manufacturing and storefront center for commercial activity in the county, housing stables, warehouses, flour mills, a foundry and forge, and many stores.
The primary products shipped out along the North River included whiskey, iron, flour and wheat, leather, corn, and lime. During the Civil War, the North River canal became even more important for transporting supplies. So important, in fact, that U.S. troops under Maj. Gen. Hunter burned the Reid’s Dam lock gates and Jordan’s Point mill and warehouses in 1864.
|The Packet Boat - The Marshall - Ruins of VMI in Background|
If you're interested, there is even an organization which is centered around promoting and preserving the history of these Virginia canal systems - The Virginia Canals & Navigations Society.