The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Tribune (Detroit, MI), Nov. 11, 1885, page 1

Full Text
An Important Recommendation In the Coming Chief Engineer's Report
The Government Advised to Buy It - - A Cheap Bargain - - A Bit of History

Washington, Nov. 10. - In the forthcoming report of the chief of engineers of the war department is a clause of great interest and importance to navigation interests of Michigan will be inserted. This is the recommendation that the government purchase the Portage lake and Lake Superior ship canal and make it a free water way. The history of this clause and the details of the steps taken for its purchase by the government are interesting and valuable.

During both sessions of the forty-eighth congress, and even before that time, the national legislature has been petitioned by the commercial bodies and navigation interests of several states to purchase this important water way.

The Portage lake canals are almost in a direct line between White Fish point in the east and Duluth in the west. The passage was across the base of the base of Keweenaw point will shorten the route through the lake by 125 miles and at the same time avoid the hazardous passage around the peninsula, which has been called the "Cape Horn" of the great lakes.

Acting upon the advice and request of the citizens of the upper peninsula and vessel men generally, Senator Conger* introduced a resolution in the United States senate on the 23d of April, 1884, as a preliminary step in the matter.

This resolution was referred by the secretary of war to Col. O. M. Poe**, corps of engineers. He made an investigation and his report was sent to the senate by the secretary of war in December last.

This report, with all other papers in the case, was referred to the senate committee on commerce, of which Senator Conger is a member.

The constituents of several members of the committee are as greatly in favor of the plan as are the people of Michigan, and a clause for the purchase would undoubtedly have been put in the river and harbor bill of last session if the house had passed one. But the regular river and harbor bill failed last year.

The attention of the war department being recently called to the matter by Senator Conger, at the instance (sic) of Michigan vessel men, the chief of engineers has embodied in his annual report a recommendation for the purchase, according to the terms contained in the report of Col. Poe, and the congress will undoubtedly act in the matter this session.

During the sessions of the last congress the house committee on public lands conducted a long and bitter investigation on the subject of forfeiting the titles of lands granted to aid in the construction of the Portage lake canal. The fight was made by A. P. Swineford of Marquette, backed by the Ontonagon and Brule railroad company. The outcome of the investigation was a majority report recommending that the attorney general be instructed to bring suit to set aside the titles.

This report has of course nothing to do with the present plan to purchase the canal, as the government is only asked to pay $350,000, which Col. Poe says is at least one-tenth less than the amount of money actually spent, and the government is to have a title clear of all encumbrances. The company that built the canal will be the defendant in any suit brought to show clear title to the land grants.

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*Omar D. Conger, U. S. Senator from Michigan (1881-1887), a citizen of Port Huron.
** Orlando Metcalfe Poe was a Civil War hero and Army engineer. An architect by trade, he designed forts and artillery emplacements for the Army and was later twice chief engineer for the Corps of Engineers in Detroit. While there he designed lighthouses (including Wind Point, Racine; Grosse Point, Ill; Presque Isle, Mich.; and the famed Spectacle Reef light in the Straits of Mackinac) and locks at the Soo. A newer lock is named for him.
Date of Original:
Nov. 11, 1885
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Language of Item:
Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Tribune (Detroit, MI), Nov. 11, 1885, page 1