Talk on Holyoke Dam and S. Hadley Canal Mar. 24

Posted: March 20, 2009

In the nineteenth century, the Holyoke Dam was called the largest harnessing of hydropower on the planet. The South Hadley Canal was the first waterway of its kind in the United States. Both projects spawned technological innovations and embodied the hubris of the age, but had considerable environmental ramifications.

On Tuesday, March 24, project archaeologists Tim Binzen and Tim Barker of UMass Archaeological Services will deliver an afternoon lecture titled “God Almighty Couldn’t Sweep it Away: Lore and Legacy of the Holyoke Dam and South Hadley Canal,” in which they will review the complicated legacy of these major historical resources. The lecture will be held in Dwight Hall, Room 101, at 4:15 pm.

For thousands of years, Native Americans settled near the falls in the Connecticut River at present-day Holyoke and South Hadley. The river served as a regional travel route, and every spring the rapids provided access to vast runs of migratory fish. Following the European-American settlement of the Connecticut River Valley in the seventeenth century, the falls posed an obstacle to the shipment of goods. The desire to bypass the rapids led to the construction of America’s first navigable canal, in South Hadley. The early canal featured an “inclined plane.” This ingenious device hauled riverboats up and down an enormous stone ramp.

The construction of the Holyoke Dam in the mid-nineteenth century was emblematic of the hubris, ingenuity, and economic imperatives of the Industrial Revolution in America. More than 1,000 feet across, the dam powered massive new mills in Holyoke and was hailed as the world’s greatest single harnessing of hydropower. Celebrated in local lore, the dam and canal initiated technological advances, at an environmental expense.

The presenters currently are involved in an archaeological investigation to assist in planning for the proposed Lower Riverside Park, to be located in South Hadley Falls, downriver from the dam. Through their research for the survey project, they have obtained information from historical documents related to the dam and canal, which they would like to share with the general public.

This lecture is cosponsored by the Center for the Environment, the Departments of Art History and Sociology and Anthropology.

This event is free, open to the public, and wheelchair accessible.

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