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Canals and Dams
Navigation being so essential, demands were made by the earliest settlers for improvements on the river. Accordingly, in 1838 the state legislature made an appropriation of $30,000 for improving the harbor at Grand Rapids, for clearing the channel at the foot of Pearl street, and for removing logs from the stream above, as far as Lyon street. An ample portion of the appropriation of 25,000 acres of land, "to construct a canal and locks around the rapids at Grand Rapids."
But in 1835 Lucius Lyon and N. O. Sargeant had begun constructing an east side canal and locks. The canal was dug from the head of the rapids to near Michigan street. It was completed to its southern terminus June 30, 1842, nearly a mile long and 80 feet wide and five feet deep. At its foot a basin 200 feet square was excavated. At its upper end, north of Sixth street, a wing dam projected upstream, to turn the current into the canal. The legislative appropriation of 1847 was used to build a dam across the river and some work was done on the locks at the foot of the basin, to provide for the passage of boats. The dam at Sixth street was completed in 1849 and excavations for the lock pit began in August of that year. In 1850 the legislature granted an extension of time to complete the lock, but the appropriation was soon exhausted and the work never done.
William T. Powers, one of the city's most enterprising residents after 1847, built the west side power canal and guard gates in 1866 and 1867, having previously purchased the river front property from Seventh street to the Pennsylvania railroad bridge. This canal, more than three quarters of a mile long, cost, including the lands through which it runs, more than $90,000. Mr. Powers joined with the east side water power company in constructing the present dam across the river. It is about two blocks below where the first dam was built.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000
Created: 14 December 1999