Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v12n18)
Everything you always wanted to know about the canal...Part One
posted: Sept. 04, 2015
Over the years we have received numerous calls and emails with questions about the canal. We answer them individually, but now we have decided to write it all up in one comprehensive series of articles. This series will almost certainly raise even more questions from our readers. Send 'em in!
The historic Central Canal runs from Broad Ripple to the Citizens Energy water treatment plant at 16th Street.
Citizens Energy Group, the current owner of the Central Canal, graciously sat down with us for a detailed Q&A session and followed that with a tour of the White River treatment facility at 16th and Aqueduct Street. The canal starts at Broad Ripple and ends at that facility. [This was news to me. I thought the canal continued to flow though White River State Park. More about that later.] We covered weeding, silt, erosion, and water treatment. We discussed many of those buildings you see while driving around that you always wondered about [and some you didn't know existed].
To be more complete, I will throw in some of the history of the Central Canal, but this is in no way a comprehensive history of the canal.
The Citizens meeting consisted of me (your editor), Mario Morone (Gazette writer), Ed Malone (Director of Water Production for Citizens Energy Group), Edwin Morris (Operation Maintenance Supervisor for Citizens Energy Group), and Sarah Holsapple (Media Relations for Citizens Energy Group).
Ed Malone is responsible for all of the water production at Citizens Energy Group, including the White River treatment facility. This is the facility that takes all of the water from the canal and supplies the north side of Indianapolis with fresh water.
Edwin Morris is responsible for the entire canal, as it runs from Broad Ripple to the White River treatment facility.
A little background. . .
The Central Canal was originally built as a way for Indiana to compete with other states that had built canal systems to enhance industry. The Central Canal was to improve the movement of goods and to provide power for mills. Today, it is a conduit of surface water to the White River treatment facility.
It all started in 1836 when the State of Indiana started the construction of the Central Canal at the bend of the White River in what would later be called the Town of Broad Ripple, north of Indianapolis.
When the dam across the White River was built and the digging for the canal started in 1836, the area was mostly unsettled. In 1837 Jacob Coil platted 48 lots north of the canal construction project and referred to it as Broad Ripple. Later that year 32 lots were platted to the south of the canal construction and that area was named Wellington.
An excerpt from The Canal Society of Indiana (www.indcanal.org):
"Originally the Central Canal was divided into two divisions, northern and southern; later, into three, northern, Indianapolis, and southern. Of the three, the northern ran from the junction with the Wabash & Erie to Broad Ripple, the Indianapolis from Broad Ripple to Port Royal (now Waverly, in Morgan County), and the southern from Port Royal to Evansville.
Although contracts were let for all districts in all divisions, there was limited digging in the northern division. The ruins of the Canal can be found in Madison County from Alexandria to Anderson and the Muncie feeder from Daleville (in Delaware County) to Anderson.
In the southern division, only about 20 miles were dug in Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties during the first period of digging (1836-1839). Eventually the Central Canal was completed in 1853, from Evansville to Point Commerce (Worthington) as a part of what became known as the Wabash & Erie Canal.
It was the Indianapolis Division which received the most attention. Actually the entire length, from Broad Ripple to Port Royal, some 24 miles, was dug. That portion in Marion County is almost the only portion that can be found and none is watered elsewhere. On June 27, 1839, water was first let into the Canal at the feeder in Broad Ripple. This source filled the Canal as far south as Pleasant Run, a creek which empties into White River in southern Center Township. In about 1873, the lower portion, from Market Street to Pleasant Run was sold; and after a sewer was laid in the bed of the Canal, a railroad was built over it."
The watered portion of the Central Canal ran from Broad Ripple to south of downtown. Originally the canal was not used for water production, only for factories or for movement of goods and passengers. When factories were built near the canal, a mill race would be dug, routing the flowing water from the canal to the water wheel to provide power for manufacturing. Robert Earl operated the Silver Bell, a canal boat that made the three and a half hour trip from Broad Ripple to Downtown and back again daily. The fare was $1. The exciting part of the ride was crossing the aqueduct, high above Fall Creek.
A 1910 postcard of the Broad Ripple dam.
According to Now That Time Has Had Its Say by Darrell Bakken, the first non-industrial use of the canal was started in 1870 by the newly formed Water Works Company of Indianapolis (WWCI). WWCI used the canal water to both run turbines to pump water into water mains and to provide high pressure water for fire protection. An interesting side note from Bakken's book is that in 1872 WWCI was sued by ice companies that were harvesting the ice on the canal. WWCI apparently won that battle, as later it was issuing licenses for ice harvesting.
According to The Canal Society of Indiana (www.indcanal.org), "It was not until 1904 that the Indianapolis Water Company began to use water from the Canal as a source for purification and distribution to consumers. At that time the White River Purification Plant was constructed and water from the Canal was used both for drinking as well as for aquatic purposes. The point of obtaining water for purification was just south of Fall Creek after the canal had passed through an aqueduct over Fall Creek. The rest of the flow of the canal proceeded toward the center of Indianapolis and continued to be used by the Water Company as water power to its pumps at the West Washington Street pumping station."
The eight miles of active canal eventually became to be entirely used as an open water pipe carrying water from the White River to the White River treatment plant north of 16th Street. One very interesting feature is when the canal water crosses the much lower Fall Creek via an aqueduct just at about 22nd Street.
Our Q&A session:
We started our discussion on the head end of the canal, up in Broad Ripple. The dam across the White River is original. In one old postcard, picnickers are seen enjoying the water trickling over the dam.
Unfortunately, today the dam is not available to the public for recreation. In fact, it is almost impossible to see it at all. It would be wonderful if the west bank of the White River could be opened to the public as a small park area by the dam.
Back on topic, the dam is a 300 foot wide, 8 foot tall timber structure. According to Ed Malone, the dam was built with untreated timbers and was designed to allow some water to flow through the dam, keeping the timbers from decaying.
A modern view of the dam.
End of Part One