ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
LETTER FROM JOHN VAN ARNAM TO WILLIAM GOODING CONCERNING A TOWPATH CONTRACT
July 11, 1846
With this letter John Van Arnam was asking William Gooding, the canal's chief engineer, for the contract to put in the finished towpath from present-day Channahon down to the town of Dresden, a nineteenth century canal community no longer in existence. The towpath was the road along the canal's side on which teams of mules or horses pulled canal boats attached by ropes. Towpaths were cleared by first burning off the surface and then being leveled with a heavy slide drawn by a team of oxen.
Although Van Arnam was not awarded this particular contract, he was given another one less than a month later. He agreed to build the stone foundations for a bridge near Ottawa. Van Arnam had planned to obtain the required stone from a nearby quarry but later discovered that supplies there had been exhausted. Marseilles was the next closest source but the cost for hauling was prohibitive. Jacob Fry, the acting canal trustee, declared Van Arnam's contract forfeited on November 19, 1846.
For a map of the completed canal route, see Exhibit A.
Points to Consider
What was John Van Arnam proposing to do?
What was a "towing path"?
How was Van Arnam going to build it?
Describe the pace of traffic once the canal was completed.