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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 14   View pdf image (33K)
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14 Board of Public Works

efforts had been undertaken in Virginia to build canals along the banks of the Potomac
between 1812 and 1823.4

In 1820 the Virginia Board of Public Works was authorized to survey the land
between the Potomac and the southern branches of the Ohio to determine whether
the two rivers could be connected by a canal. Two inspections were made, both con-
cluding that such a connection was feasible. One report estimated the cost to be
$1,100,000, the other $1,574,000.5

In 1823 Virginia, forsaking the Potomac Company, incorporated the Potomac
Canal Company to undertake the task of building a canal to the Ohio but made the
incorporation contingent upon confirmation by Maryland. Twice the matter was pre-
sented to the Maryland General Assembly without success. Not only did the state have
a considerable investment in the existing Potomac Company, but the Baltimore City
interests could see little advantage to themselves from such an enterprise. Unless a
way were found to connect the city to the proposed canal, the city might in fact suffer
a great deal from the project.6

By 1825, however, a campaign to develop support for the project, initiated by a
convention of canal supporters in 1823, had aroused sufficient interest in the Maryland
counties to cause the General Assembly, at its 1824 session, to confirm the act of the
Virginia legislature.7 Following a preliminary report by the U.S. Board of Engineers
in February 1825, which concluded that a canal was practicable, both the U.S. Congress
and the Pennsylvania legislature also confirmed the charter, with the company there-
after to be known as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.

The General Assembly, now having provided for both the primary and the lateral
canals, turned its attention to the Eastern Shore projects mentioned in the act creating
the board. In section 21 of the internal improvement act (chapter 180), it appropriated

to drain, embank, and render dry and arable the low lands on the margins of such rivers
and creeks of the Eastern Shore of this state, as the board of public works may think proper
and recommend, and to complete and carry into effect such plans for opening and improving
the navigation of the Pocomoke, Manokin, Wicomico, Great Choptank, Chester, Elk and
North East rivers, as the board of public works may devise, recommend and contract for
on behalf of the state of Maryland.

Section 21 then added certain conditions to the expenditure of the sums so ap-
propriated as well as to the subscriptions for new stock in the Chesapeake and Ohio
Canal Company or the Maryland Canal Company. Those provisos were that (1) Con-
gress authorize a subscription for 10,000 shares of the capital stock of "the eastern
section of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal"; (2) the Board of Public Works ascertain
and certify the practicability of connecting the C & O Canal with the Patapsco River
at the city of Baltimore "by the canal described in this act"; (3) unless the Board of
Public Works adopted "for the said canal, a line wholly within the State of Maryland,"
Congress authorize the state and any company incorporated by it, to cut through the
District of Columbia in connecting the C & O Canal with Baltimore; and (4) the gov-
ernor be satisfied that the amount estimated by the U.S. Board of Engineers to be
needed to complete the eastern section of the C & O Canal, after deducting the sub-
scriptions by the state of Maryland and the United States, has been actually subscribed
by "bona fide and competent subscribers."

Moving counterclockwise around the state, the legislature, in section 22 of the
act, provided that

4. Sanderlin, Great National Project, p. 49.

5. Ibid., pp. 50-51.

6. Andrews, History of Maryland, p. 454; Van Ness, "Economic Development," pp. 192-93.

7. Acts of 1824, ch. 79.


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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
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