On-Site Documents: Land Development

It is estimated that the expense attending the removal of the Chippewa Indians from Lake Superior this season, the immense loss of property from abandoning the old and extensive establishment at La Pointe and the expense of erecting the necessary buildings for the new Agency, would be quite sufficient to construct a Ship-Canal around the Rapids at this place [Sault Ste. Marie]. An exact account of the expenses of this extensive scheme for imposing upon the government and for swindling the Indians, will be an interesting statistical document, if fully drawn out.

Source: Lake Superior Journal June 19, 1850.

A bill has passed the Senate giving to the State of Michigan land to enable her to make a ship canal round the falls of Ste. Marie, so as to connect Lake Superior with the lakes below. This is indeed a grand project and will when completed be attended with beneficial results. Twenty years ago such a thing was dreamed of, but the conception was considered too mighty to be realized. Now the thing is undertaken, and we may live to see it accomplished. It is to be hoped it will be completed on a scale commensurate with the magnitude of the undertaking. Who os there that looks to what this country is destined to be ere a century rolls round, but must feel his heart swell with pride and exultation, and at the same time banish from his mind the bare idea that so glorious a country should ever be split up into petty factions, and that a Union that has worked so well for all, should ever be endangered through the madness of fanaticism or the corruption of demagogues. — Correspondence of the Harrisburg Dem. Union, Sept. 2.

Source: Lake Superior Journal September 25, 1850.

We find the following notice of the importance of this work in the British Colonist, of the 13th inst. The great advantage of this canal to the interests of the country building it is fully appreciated by our neighbors of Canada, and we are glad to see the press advocating the immediate construction of the work, and if the Bill that has passed the Senate of the United States and that is now before the House does not become a law the present session of Congress, we shall expect to see the important work strongly advocated by all parties in Canada.

As the Canadian side possessing "superior advantages and greater facilities for such an undertaking," the Colonist has been vert incorrectly informed. It is in fact the reverse, the portage on either side being about the same length, less than three fourths of a mile; but both above and below the portage on the Canadian side, the water is shallow for a quarter of a mile, while on this side below the portage, the largest class vessels can come within ten feet of the shore, and at the head of the portage within two hundred feet of the shore.

There would not be half the wharfing or piering out on this side as on the other, and every one can judge of the danger from the current when it known that the present docks, though slightly built, have never been in any danger of being removed from this cause. Nothing can be finer than the harbor, both above and below the rapids on the American side, and the greatest of the "many serious obstacles" is simply the want of correct knowledge of the importance of the work by our government.

Both sides possess great facilities for building their work, and it is truly astonishing that it has not been done before this late day by one or the other of the governments:

"The bill granting land to the State of Michigan to aid in the construction of a ship canal around the falls at Saut Ste. Marie, passed the Senate on the 2nd inst.

This is an important measure, and we trust that the bill will be reached in the House, where we doubt not favorable action will be had upon it. The connecting of Lake Superior with the lower lakes, by a canal adequate for ship navigation, would open an extensive region, abounding in mineral wealth, and capable of sustaining a large population, to the commerce of the country. The distance to be overcome is but short and several vessels, including a steamboat — Julia Palmer — and two propellers — have been taken across the Portage, by land, for service upon Lake Superior.

The representatives of this State, and the whole Lake region, would consult the interests of their constituents by favoring and urging the passage of this bill. And if the slavery question can be disposed of in season, we hope it may be passed at this session, but of this the prospect is not at present very flattering.

We cut the above important paragraph from the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser,of the 9th inst. Our ever active and enterprising American neighbors are determined to "take time by the fore-lock" in this instance and endeavor to secure to themselves, at least one link in the chain of water communication which separates their territory from ours. The country on both sides, along the shore of Lake Superior and around the neighborhood of Saut Ste. Marie abounds in great mineral wealth, the increase of population, which has rapidly taken place within the last two or three years in consequence has greatly increased its importance — a wide field is now opening up for great commercial intercourse. The number of persons traveling, and the present traffic between these regions and the different mercantile cities of the United States and Canada during the year form no inconsiderable item to the general tarde of each country. The only thing wanting, therefore, in order to develop more fully, the resources of this new and important country, is the construction of a ship canal to unite the waters of Huron and Superior. From all the information we can get in reference to the locality about Saut Ste. Marie, the Canadian side offers superior advantages and possesses greater facilities than the American for such an undertaking.

On the Canadian side of the Saut, half a mile of canal is all that is required — the portage is good, with safe and convenient harbors at each end, while on the American side the water is more shallow, and the current more rapid. The Americans, therefore, in constructing a canal on their own territory, will have many serious obstacles to encounter. They will be under the necessity of extending wharves to a considerable distance into the lake, before they can get sufficient depth of water to enable large vessels to load and discharge their cargoes. On the breaking up of ice in the spring there is also every probability that such wharves would be swept away by the rapidity of the current. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, therefore, there cane be no question that the Canadian side is possessed of greater accommodations then the American, and a canal so cut would commend the whole traffic from Lake Superior.

Lord Elgin is now on a tour round the great Canadian Lakes — and we understand it is His Excellency's intention to visit the great mining locality, to which we have been alluding. Should he, therefore, on his return, set the Executive in motion, so that this work may be commenced at an early date, he may yet redeem his name among those whom he had styled the "foes to the liberties of their country." We would also call the attention of the Chief Commissioner of Public Works to this important matter. The deep interest he has always felt, and the active part he took in the construction of the Welland Canal leads us to hope that something will be done and

If it were done, then 'twere well

It were done quickly.

A Ship Canal, uniting Lakes Superior and Huron on Canadian territory, gives us then a line of uninterrupted inland water communication far exceeding anything which the model Republic can boast of, and not to be equalled by any in the world."


Source: Lake Superior Journal September 25, 1850.;




The little sloop Argyl, of the Canadian side, that has been running on Lake Superior for several years was run down the Ste. Marie falls on the 19th. It was a pretty spectacle, and, for those on board rare sport, but short, it running the whole distance of the Rapids proper in three minutes.


Source: Lake Superior Journal September 25, 1850.

Sault Ste. Marie Oct. 9th, 1850

The present prospect of having a canal around this portage, has delighted the people here. No place on all our extensive lake const will be more benefited by this measure than Detroit and Cleveland. To be well satisfied of this, a person must be present to see the immense supplies from places constantly unloading and reshipping here.

The old Ajax of Lake Superior, the Steamer Independence, took, day before yesterday, 200 barrel’s bulk, of all kinds of freight, for the mines above.

It is equal to a museum to pass over the docks as the unloading of a steamer from below. You see almost ever article that was ever on board ship.

We were standing on a long box in the midst of the last freight, examining the great variety of articles, when a noise proceeded from the box, which indicated a new species of goods going to Lake Superior, it was a box of live geese, who seemed fully determined their arrival should be known.

The amount of flour, port, hams, butter, cheese, dried apples, sugar, tea, and every article to sustain life, that passes this point every week exceeds belief. The demand next summer will be greatly increased, and must give encouragement to farmers below. We say to this noble class of men, speed the plow, the Upper Lake trade will ensure you a good market.

Clear the Track

Lake Superior Journal 10-2-1850

The wood work of the track of the railroad across the portage will be finished this week, and ready for iron. It is built in good substantial style, with heavy oak lumber from the River St. Clair, and will compare favorably with the best roads in the State.

We learn from the proprietor, Mr. McKnight, that he will commence using the road in about 10 days, and never was it so much needed as at present, as he as yet an immense quantity of freight and copper to be carted over the portage this fall, and from the unusual quantity of rain that has fallen lately the old road has become almost impassible.

Sault Ste. Marie Canal

Lake Superior Journal 9-18-1850

We are pleased to see that the U.S. Senate has passed the bill ceding 500,000 acres of land to this State, for the purpose of constructing a Ship Canal around the Falls of Ste. Marie, and hope and trust our representatives will be able to secure its passage through the House before the close of the session. Let them try.

We but do justice to Gen. Cass in saying that he acted manfully during the debate upon the bill. His argument was clear and conclusive, his views broad and national, and he pressed the point of the military importance of the work with great force. Nor did he omit to present its immense commercial importance.

Senator Felch also ably sustained the bill, although, vowing to his want of the more accurate information which recent explorations have seceured, he seemed to underrate the agricultural qualities of the Upper Peninsula.

Dawson, of Georgia, and Butler, of South Carolina opposed the bill, on the ground that it conteinplated a system of internal improvements, which seems to be a perpetual scarecrow to the minds of abstractionists.

Mr. Davis, of Massachusetts, we regret to see, it first gave the measure a cold reception, but finally supported it, as every sensible man should and would.

Truman Smith, of Connecticut, sustained it with great force and zeal, and was generously seconded by Mesars. Davis, of Mississippi, Douglass and Shields, of Illinois, Bright, of Indiana, and Underwood of Kentucky. As citizens of Michigan, we desire to tender to these gentlemen our sincere acknowledgements for the aid they have rendered oru own Senators, in securing the passage of a measure of so great importance, not only to this State, but to every State bordering on the Lakes and on the Mississippi River. Let Congress pass this bill, and, in a few years, it may take off three-fourths, if not the whole, of the tariff up on copper and iron. We appeal to our representatives to look after it. Quit the Negro business for a few days and let us hear form you on the subject of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal. The diversion, we doubt not, would be a great relief to your minds, and the discussion of the subject like reading the last good novel to the House. But don’t tell them that the country on Lake Superior is not fit for agriculture; that is not so; it is fit for agriculture—and much more so than the New England States, and many others that we could mention. Tell them the exact truth—that the fall is 22 feet; that the length of the Canal will not exceed one mile, and that the excavation will not be, by any means, difficult; that the obstruction to be removed, consists chiefly of earth, and that the rock that must be removed, is loose and shelly; that the principal part of the expense will consists in constructing locks, but that there are excellent stone in the vicinity for that purpose.

Ste. Marie Canal

Lake Superior Journal 07-31-1850

We have heretofore endeavored to press upon public consideration and more especially upon the consideration of Congress with a view to some speedy and effective action, the subject of a canal across the portage at this place, so that the navigable, waters of Lake Superior may mingle thro’ the medium of a navigable channel with the waters, not of Lakes Huron and Erie alone, but also with the Atlantic. No intelligent man, we venture to say, has ever visited Lake Superior without being impressed with the great importance of this work. Important to the commerce and navigation of these vast inland seas-important in a military point of view to this distant frontier-important in respect to its influence upon the sale and occupation of the vast public domain lying upon the borders of Lake Superior, and the inexhaustible stores of mineral wealth upon its shores, so useful to commerce and manufactures, and so necessary to the prosperity of this or any other country.

But assuredly the national legislature cannot be blinded either as to the value of this work, or its clearly national character. It appears to us like one of those purely practical national questions, which does not need to be bolstered up by arguments, but makes its way by force of its own intrinsic merits.

Unhappily Congress is at the present moment in such a position in regard to the public business that the value or necessity of a measure furnishes no security for its passage through that body. We do not say this in a complaining mood, but only to express the common regret that difficulties of legislation, of a character so portentous of evil, impede the action of Congress and endanger the harmony of the Union. We trust the clouds, which now surround us, will soon disappear, and this immensely valuable, but hitherto little flavored section of our country will be among the first to receive the paternal attention of Congress.

Before leaving the subject, we desire to refer to some of the numerous precedents, upon the statute books, which not only justify, but seem to make it mandatory upon Congress, if impartiality in legislation towards different sections of the Union is to be regarded, to listen to our appeal for the union of the father of lakes to his children below.

On the second of March 1827, Congress passed a law granting to the State of Illinois, five sections in width of the public lands along the whole line, (reserving alternate sections,) to unite the waters of the Illinois River with Lake Michigan.

On the same day, another act of Congress was approved, making a similar grant to the State of Indiana, to connect the waters of the Wabash with Lake Erie.

On the third of March 1827, another law was approved making a grant of land to the State of Ohio, for the purpose of building a road between Columbus and Sandusky.

On the 23rd of May 1828, another act of Congress granted to the State of Alabama four hundred thousand acres of land to improve navigation of the Tennessee River around the muscle shoals.

On the 24th of May, 1828, another act of Congress was approved, granting to the State of Ohio a similar allowance of land, to build a canal from Dayton to Lake Erie, and by the same law, 500,000 more acres was granted to the said State of Ohio generally to complete all her canals.

To Florida, also, Congress, granted land for a canal; and to the State of Wisconsin, by the act of Congress of June 18th, 1838, alternate sections five miles in width along its whole line, to build a canal to unite the waters of Rock river with Lake Michigan.

These are a few only of the public grants to different States, for improvements, not a single one of which, neither all together, presented such strong claims as this to public consideration, as works of a national character.

Strongly impressed with the necessity; propriety and great national utility, of the improvement we have so repeatedly advocated in this paper, not on local grounds, nor for the benefit of mere local interests, but for the promotion of the general welfare-the advancement of commerce, and the development of the immense resources of mineral wealth so important, not to commerce alone, but to manufactures, and indeed all the great interests of the country, we trust the time is now near at hand when congress will yield a small portion of its attention to this interesting although distant frontier.

Ste. Marie Canal

Lake Superior Journal June 19, 1850

Deeply as we regret the political embarrassments which have so long prevented the action of Congress upon legislative measures now before it of the highest moment to the Lake Superior region, and not uninteresting to a very large proportion of the people of the United States; we are free to confess, we still more deeply lament the unfortunate cause in which they originate; and we do most devoutly hope that the time is now at hand when the two houses, seeing how greatly the interests of our common country are suffering for want of their fostering care, and how dangerous to the peace and harmony of the Union it is, that this question of slavery should longer agitate that nation, will in the true and genuine spirit of patriotism, sacrificing sectional, party, and personal interests, unite either upon the plan of the President or that of the Compromise Committee of the Senate, (we care not which) and heal the wounds with which the country is now bleeding, so that the Representatives of the people may again be able to turn their attention to the more legitimate channels of legislation for the promotion of agriculture, commerce and manufactures, and the opening up, as far as it may properly be done by Congress, the vast resources of mineral wealth so useful and necessary to all these, now emboweled or projecting in bold outline, upon the shores of Lake Superior, tempting that noble spirit of enterprise which every animates our country-men, and which is now only retarded by those natural obstacles which a very little of the nourishing care of Congress, so justly due to this remote but interesting and valuable section of the United States, would obviate instantly and almost as if by enchantment.

There are now before that body, several measures of infinite importance to the progress and growth of this section, which, we trust, will receive its sanction before adjournment; one is a measure for the settlement of the old claims or titles to the soil upon which the village of Saut Ste. Marie stands; until this is done no considerable improvements can take place, however much they are needed; because, as it now stands, no man can tell whether the land he now improves, and which his ancestors have occupied for a hundred years, is to be his own, or whether he is eventually to be legislated out of it. The settlement of these claims upon the same principles which have governed Congress in the adjustment of numerous others, of the old French settlers at the north west, certainly has been too long neglected, and ought not further to be delayed. The reduction of the price of mineral land is another measure of importance, which we think merits the early attention of Congress. It should be known, and that at once, what the purpose of Congress is in regard to this subject. The present sate of uncertainty has a great tendency to retard the settlement of the country, and the progress of mining, as many of those who are anxious to purchase, now delay in the hope of obtaining mineral lands at the price of much less than the present, if not upon the same terms us they do agricultural lands.

But however important these and others incasures are, they sink into insignificance, compared with that of the Canal around the Falls of Ste. Marie, for while the first mentioned are calculated to do justice to, and promote the interests of individuals, this bears with it the dignity of a great National Work, removing as it will by a cut of only three-quarters of a mile, the sole barrier to the union of the great brotherhood of lakes into one common channel of navigable waters, extending about 1600 miles along the whole line of our western and north western frontier, from Fond du Lac at the head of Lake Superior, to the River St. Lawrence.

When the vast commerce, which is gathering strength in an increase ratio every day and every year, upon these lakes, (as the forest falls before the axe of the hardy pioneer, and gives place to all the productions of trade of which the earth is capable,) is duly and justly considered by Congress, we do not see how that body can, for a moment, hesitate in granting the feeble aid proposed by the bill now before it for the construction of this Canal.

When the immense resources of mineral wealth bordering upon Lake Superior, valuable not to a section, but to the whole world, within and without the Union; when also the direct and immediate interest, (if men’s pecuniary interest must be the sole motive fore legislation upon such a subject) which the government as the owner of the soil has in the advancement of the settlement of the country upon Lake Superior are considered, we cannot see how Congress, if it overlooks the sense of justice to those who have pioneered the way into Lake Superior, can disregard its sense of duty to the country, in accomplishing at once a work sanctioned by a multitude of precedents upon our statue books, so diminutive in expense and labor, but so mighty in its results both upon national and individual prosperity.