1838 : Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal Project Begins

July 19, 2018 all-day

Map of the Proposed Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal

When Michigan was granted statehood in 1837, “boy governor” Stevens T. Mason (then 26) had a vision: develop a system of canals and railroads to boost the economy. The railroads eventually got built. The canals? Not so much.

The Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal routing was proposed to run from the mouth of the Clinton River near modern-day Mount Clemens, then west through Howell, Hastings, and beyond, connecting to the Kalamazoo River — 216 miles in all.

Why a canal? To avoid the cost and inherent danger of Great Lakes shipping — and to bypass the long route through the Straits of Mackinac. Think of it as a shortcut across the palm of the Mitten.

According to the Detroit Free Press of July 19, 1838, a host of festivities marked the project’s beginning — a 13-gun salute, music, speeches, and the governor turning the first shovelful of earth.

For the full article, see Steve Wilke, “Big Plans: When Erie Canal Envy Got Michigan Digging : The abandoned Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal project could have changed the face of Michigan”, Hour Detroit, May 2013.

Thanks to the introduction of railroads, the plan fizzles in in 1843 after the canal company goes bankrupt but not before the canal reaches Rochester, Michigan. The Detroit Almanac claims the date was July 20, 1838.

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