ePub 版

1st Session.

No. 64.

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A report of the board of engineers relative to the practicability of bridging

the channels between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

JANUARY 23, 1874.-Referred to the Committee on Commerce and ordered to be printed.


January 22, 1874. The Secretary of War has tbe bonor to transmit to the House of Representatives, in compliance with section 3 of the act of March 3, 1873, a report of the board of engineer officers "upon the practicability of bridging, consistently with the interests of navigation, the channel between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, at such points as may be needful for the passage of railroad-trains across said channel," &c.


Secretary of War.



Washington, D. C., January 20, 1874. SIR : I have the honor herewith to submit a report from the board of engineer officers, constituted by Special Orders No. 61, of March 18, 1873, and in conformity with the 3d section of the act of March 3, 1873, (Stat. at L., vol. 17, page 566,) making appropriations for certain public works on rivers and harbors, to inquire into and report upon the practicability of bridging, consistently with the interests of navigation, the channel between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

The drawings accompanying this report, being numerous and elaborate, would require some time for their preparation for publication, and are not, for this reason, sent herewith. They can be furnished at a future time if desired. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier General and Chief of Staff. Hon. W. W. BELKNAP,

Secretary of War.

Report of the board of engineers.

DETROIT, Mich., December 24, 1873. GENERAL: The board of engineers appointed by par. 3. S. 0. 61, dated War Department, Adjutant-General's Office, March 18, 1873, to inquire into and report upon the practicability of bridging, cousistently with the interests of navigation, the channel between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, &c., in accordance with sectiou 3 of act of Congress approved March 3, 1873, and convened by your order of March 26, has the honor to submit the following report:

Pursuant to the above orders the board met at Detroit, Mich., on the 12th of May, and representatives of the opposing interests presented their several opinions, as follows:

Railroads.-Michigan Central Railroad and Canada Southern Rail. way: A. B. Maynard, esg., United States district attorney and attorney for these roads.

Michigan Central Railroad : James F. Joy, esq., president.

Canada Southern Railway : George Goss, esq., managing director, and E. W. Meddaugh, esq., attorney.

Navigation.—Captain E. B. Ward, Captain Eber Ward, E. G. Merrick, esq., G. W. Bissell, esq., Robert J. Hackett, esq., and several others.

The railroad companies desired to bridge the strait, while those in the interest of navigation protested against it, and for three days the mat ter was fully and openly discussed, and opinions mutually interchanged between the several parties and the members of the board.

It appeared that much preliminary information would be required be. fore the subject could be properly treated, and the board accordingly adjourned on the 17th, subject to the call of the senior member.

In the interim observations were made on the velocity and direction of the currents, the nature of the river-bottom, sub-strata, &c.

A continuous record of passing vessels was kept, the methods of navigation now in use were investigated, and commercial statistics, for several past years, compiled from various sources.

Surveys, examinations, and estimates were also obtained from the railroad companies, and statements, in writing, received from both parties upon many points bearing on the question.

On the 14th of November the board re-assembled, and after digesting the accumulated information the final statements of the parties abovementioned were heard.

Three days were then occupied in deliberation, and the board finally adjourned on the 19th of November.

Section 3 of act of Congress making appropriations for repairs, pres. ervation, and completion of certain public work on rivers and harbors, approved March 3, 1873, reads as follows:

" That the Secretary of War is hereby authorized and required to detail from the Engineer Corps one or more engineers, whose duty it 'shall be to inquire into and report upon the practicability of bridging, consistently with the interests of navigation, the channel between Lake Huron and Lake Erie at such points as may be needed for the passing of railroad-trains across said channel; and, further, to inquire into the number and character of the vessels navigating said channel, and the number of trips made by each ; and, it' said bridging be practicable, to report what extent of span, or spans, and elevation above the water, will be required in the construction of such bridge or bridges, so as not seriously to injure the navigation of said channel.”


Of the great railroad thoroughfares which traverse the continent, from east to west, one of the most important routes lies across the peninsula of Upper Capada.

The valley of the Hudson River, by piercing the Alleghany Mountains, continuous for nearly a thousand miles, affords to this route facilities for reaching the sea-coast not enjoyed by others, but the delay and expense of crossing the channel under consideration detracts to some extent from the superiority which its railroads possess by reason of their low grades.

The strait or channel through wbich the waters of the upper lakes discharge themselves in Lake Erie is designated at its origin as the Saint Clair River.

On leaving Lake Huron, the opposite banks are not more than 800 feet distant, but the passage soon assumes its ordinary breadth, which may be estimated at 700 yards. Twenty-seven miles below Lake Huron it separates into a delta, 20 miles wide, and enters Lake Saint Clair, a shal. low sheet of water, through no less than eight. independent outlets, one of which has been artificially deepened and protected by wooden cribs.

From the head of the delta to this canal the water.wav measures 13 miles, and the distance across the lake is about 17 miles. Here the waters are again contracted, and, under the name of the Detroit River, flows with a gentle current past the city of the saine name, which is located on its right bank, seven miles from its origin. Near its upper and lower course, two or three small islands divide the channel ; but, throughout its length, the general width of the main channel may be taken as 2,000 feet.

The total length of the navigable course of Detroit River is 28 miles, and of the whole of the strait, from Lake Huron to Lake Erie, about 85 miles. Its general direction is 30° west of south, and the accompanying tables will show in further detail the dimensions and characteristics of those locations at which the railroad companies might bridge the stream, and of other important points in the channel.

It will thus appear that it affords throughout its whole extent the finest facilities for the passage of vessels.

The average width of the channel of the Saint Clair River, which would be navigable for boats of 16 feet draught, may be computed at 2,000 feet, with an average depth of 36 feet, and that of the Detroit River’at about the same width, but with less depth in its lower course.

The only points at which any serious difficulties to navigation exist are at the Lime Kilns, below Stony Island, and in the old channel at Saint Clair Flats. The former lies partly in Canadian waters, and though vessels sometime strike in passing, yet the difficulty might be obviated at small expense. But at the latter channel the depth is about 14 feet, and vessels of that draught are confined in their course to a passage of about 150 feet width.

So narrow a waterway was an injury to navigation; and the United States Gorernment has been constructing, at the expense of half a mil lion dollars, an artificial channel, or canal, wbich gives a clear opening of 300 feet for vessels ofj13 feet draught, and this depth is now being increased to 16 feet.

Table No. 1.-Showing the dimensions of Detroit and Saint Clair Rivers at important points,

the figures marked thus * being approximate.

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The channel is usually free from fogs, except occasionally in the spring. The prevailing winds are from the south west, though it frequently blows with violence from all points of the compass. It is scarcely affected by tides, and the amount changes in water-level rarely exceed two feet; but during the winter season it is much obstructed by ice, and at some points is completly frozen over for several weeks.

It is usually in the month of December that the shallow waters of Lake Saint Clair and the west end of Lake Erie begin to freeze over, and the floating ice which soon appears in the rivers is so dammed up by this impediment that the blockade gradually extends to their upper courses, and it has been stated by the pilots and ferrymen that, although the floating cakes range in thickness only from eight to sixteen inches, the accumulated mass often covers considerable areas to the depth of five or six feet in the severest weather.

But at the head of Saint Clair River the influx of ice is stopped by the blockade at the foot of Lake Huron, and the rapid current keeps the passage quite open in all seasons of the year.

Of the value to the country of the water-way between Lakes Huron and Erie, now described, no estimate can be made. It is a part of a magnificent channel for commerce, stretching uninterruptedly from Chicago to Buffalo, a distance of 888 miles; or, if we include the shipcanals in connection with it, from Ogdensburgh to Da Luth, a distance of 1,228 miles ; and to its existence is due, in a large degree, the growth and wealth of the great Northwest.


If the tonnage of entries and clearances reported by the several customs districts be taken to measure the amount of navigation, it will appear from the Tables II and III below, that that of the northern lakes is 40 per cent. of the total coastwise and foreign trade of the country; that one-sixth of the vessels in the country are engaged in it; and that in the year more trips are made on these lakes than in all the rest of the country. To maintain and foster this commerce, over a million dollars are annually appropriated by the General Government for the improve ment of its harbors and water-ways.

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