The Season's Business on the Lakes and Canals
The season of navigation, now hastily drawing to a close, has been a fitful one, presenting many varied aspects. The season opened auspiciously for vessel men, with both up and down freights ruling high and with every assurance of the most prosperous season had in years. With such flattering prospects, ship building was carried to the extreme and more new bottoms rested upon the waters than ever before in one year in the history of inland navigation. Every ship yard on the whole chain of lakes was the picture of activity, and such was the demand for new vessels, that creeks and bays which before had hardly been reclaimed from nature, resounded to the blows of the broad axe and the calking mallet. It did seem as though the people on the inland seas had gone vessel mad, and would not be content until the waters were covered with ships, or al least until there was a vessel for each bushel of grain the West. All manner of crafts were built too, had while some still retained an idea of symmetry and beauty and constructed accordingly, the majority had an eye to carrying and so built mammoth bulls, which would put to shame the first ship builder, Noah. Notwithstanding the great influx of carriers, freights held their own for a time, but finally succumbed, only to rally again after the harvest and to go bounding up to a dazzling figure.
Just before the panic swooped down upon us, vessel men were looked upon as the lucky ones, and justly so, too, for they were getting twenty-two cents per bushel for carrying grain from Chicago and Milwaukee to this port and Kingston, and taking coal from this port at as high a rate as two dollars and sixty five cents per ton, free of handling. The oil wells of Pennsylvania, or an interest in a gold mine which "pans out well," were no comparison. Everything wore a rosy hue, and even the fortunate owner of a timber head in a vessel was making arrangements to spend the winter in Europe, or erect a palatial residence. Since the panic the clouds do not wear the silver lining, but instead are dressed in black. Vessel freights declined rapidly, as though the bottom had fallen out, and now instead of being remunerative, are at a figure but little more than affording expenses.
Today down freights are but fourteen cents per bushel on wheat from Chicago, and coal from this port is taken at fifty cents per ton. The hope of the last trip, to which all vessel men looked forward with much pleasure, had this fall proved a delusion and they now find their bright expectations blasted. For the first time in the memory of vessel, freights are less at the close of the season than they were at the beginning or in mid-summer. Whether vessel building will go on after this severe reverse remains to be seen.
The season to canal men has been worse than to vessel men, as canal freights have ruled low since the opening of Clinton's ditch, and poor canalers have been obliged to do a carrying business at little more than starvation prices. Many of them find the season closing with no money in their pockets, and sick galled horses and mortgaged boats on their hands. The question of wintering is a serious one to the tow path sailors, and one which will, in all probability, necessitate an answer from the charitable.