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Mr. Ogden's Letter - 1803


The position of the fourth lock was determined in 1802 to be at the western end of a short canal that would cut across a broad loop of Wood Creek. The mini-canal would bridge the shallows that still stood as an obstacle between the set of three timber locks already in place lower down Wood Creek and the Rome Canal; the gateway to the Mohawk River navigation.

The Lock 4 Complex

The site of this complex of works is today situated in a broad area of vacant lowlands and marsh, within a stone’s throw of the City of Rome. Isolated by its inhospitable terrain from the developed sections of the city, this wetland area has also created, de facto, a situation of considerable archeological integrity. It is the uselessness of this land, and its high year-round water table, that have preserved channel alignments, subtle land features, and sunken archeological remains. These features not only confirmed the fragmentary references in the historical record, but also revealed new facts about this 1803 construction.

During the summer of 1803 the canal was cut, the lock was built, and 90 rods of old creek channel below the lock was deepened to facilitate the passage of boats. However the deepening of the the streambed below the lock seems to have created a silting problem from water running out of the old channel, and it was in response to this that one of the field sub-contractors for this project posed an extraordinary solution.

It was in mid-August, as the complex of canal, channel modifications, and timber structures was nearing completion, that Abraham Ogden, a figure not revealed in the record before, or since, wrote an intriguing letter to Philip Schuyler from the field camp on Wood Creek. The original manuscript contains virtually no punctuation and is given here as it was written, except that the relevant section to this discussion has been set in bold type.

Wood Creek August 14, 1803

Sir:

When I was at your house last December you was pleased to express your approbation of my conduct while you was present at Wood Creek and that you had received a letter from Judge Huntington expressing a like approbation at the expiration of my contract for last year and agreeable to the conversation at the time said contract was made you informed me that you intended to recommend me to the Directors for a further compensation. The result of this recommendation I have not yet learned but if I am to judge from the respectable source from whence it would flow and from a conviction that I have been a faithful servant that I possess the confidence of the men working under my direction which needs no illustration other than to state that we have been able to settle our present Lock near five feet in a quick Sand without so much as a murmur from the men altho the water was extremely cold I cannot but think the Directors will see the propriety of allowing me a further compensation it would oblige me if Genl Schuyler would write me on the subject.

There is another subject on which I request your advice and assistance. When we shall have excavated the Creek below this Lock we are now making the water will be very rapid from the apron of the Dam at Mile Riff to where it enters the excavated part of the Creek immediately below the Lock and as the bottom of the Creek is nothing but sand and mud it is more than probable that the aforesaid current will carry the sand and mud into the excavated part of the Creek again and choke up the navigation. To prevent which I have proposed to Judge Huntington to Brush Pile it not much unlike the manner in which they preserve the banks of Rapid Rivers in England. The method I propose is as follows - I would first begin by digging out the navigable part of the creek below the lock progressing upwards allowing the bottom of the Creek to rise about one foot at Twenty beginning on a level with the mitre sill and continuing excavating the Creek upwards still allowing the aforesaid elevation until it rose up to the level of the present bed of the Creek. I would then cover this bottom so deep with long slim Brush about one foot thick after which I would have Piles such as I could handily drive with a Commander say about six inches through and four or five feet long about six inches below the head of these Piles I would have 1 ½ inch hole bored through to receive a pin. These Piles I would drive over the whole bed of the Creek so covered with Brush at about three or four feet distance each way. After I had drove them about half way down I would take long Brush and weave it round these Piles and across the stream about three courses of Brush high and as the first laid Brush was laid up and down stream this last would cross at right angles. The Pins which pass thro the Pile heads ranging up and down the Stream across the Brush so wove round the Piles and the Piles being now drove home the Pins now hug down the wove Brush and that the Brush that first run up and down the stream so that it now becomes one solid mat of Brush which will not only prevent the bottom on which it lays from wearing by the current but will actually render the water in the Creek above dead so that it will have no inclination to wear as all the rapid water will be on this Brush and that only. But as this leaves the banks of the Creek unprotected and as the water will pass rapidly over this part of the Creek it will be necessary to Brush Pile it after the English manner on each side of the Creek and this Brush Piling on each side of the Creek will be dry the summer season with little intermission and of course soon rot it will be necessary that the Brush be composed principally of Willow which will grow in such moist situations. Thus Sir I have described to you this little plan which altho it has the approbation of Judge Huntington and he intends to put it in trial yet as I never saw any stream Piled all the way across and this business will fall on me to do I should be glad to have your advice as probably your experience will see some defect in this which has not occurred to me or you may advise me other remedy.

I remain sincerely yours
Abraham Ogden

In the last half of his letter, Mr. Ogden proposes to stabilize the bottom of the old creek bed above the lock in order to prevent erosion and the re-silting of the channelized section of Wood Creek below using an English system of "brush-piling", which he describes in detail. Archeological survey(88KB image) at this site in the early 1990s revealed the intact eastern half of the old lock floor beneath the water and mud, all of the 1803 canal, and submerged remains of the wooden dam which forced water into it. And all the historic old creek channel above and below the lock, including the section brush-piled by Ogden in 1803, was also found intact. But no evidence could be discovered of any remains of the unique "brush-piling" itself, done nearly 200 years ago.

To find physical remains of this unique type of enginering, and thereby to confirm the validity of Ogden's 1803 description, we need to turn next to the findings of British archeology.


You can read Abraham Ogden's original letter, written from the banks of Wood Creek in 1802. First page. Image 73KB Second page. Image 90KB Third page. Image 95KB Fourth page.
Image 89KB
Original in the Schuyler Papers, New York Public Library.


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