The only dividend known to pay,
They mowed the towpath and sold the hay.
anonymous rhyme 1840s
Today trailer trucks, railroad cars, tankers and airplanes transport our daily needs from all corners of the earth to Connecticut. But 150 years ago, before the invention of the internal combustion engine, before steamships, and before the advent of railroads, waterways were the key to internal transportation.
A growing industrial economy where fewer and fewer farmers were self-sufficient, and more and more goods were produced outside the home, led to a need for an adequate internal transportation system. In Connecticut, as in other states, attempts were made to connect the isolated interior settlements with the more established commercial centers. The Farmington Canal is an example of one such attempt.
In 1830, four million pounds of merchandise were shipped every month from New Haven, through Hamden, Cheshire, Southington, Bristol, Farmington, Simsbury, and Granby, bound for Northampton, Massachusetts, on the Farmington Canal. At three every afternoon, packet boats left the Elm City docks in New Haven, making the trip to Northampton in the unheard-of time of twenty-four hours. The age of canals had arrived in Connecticut.
This teaching unit uses a local historical event—the construction of the Farmington Canal—as a vehicle both to help change attitudes of students towards the study of history and provide them with an understanding of some basic economic concepts related to the United States economy.
As an effort to develop more positive attitudes towards the study of history, local history should be a part of every school’s American History curriculum, because local history is more tangible and palatable than the strict textbook diet. Students can develop many of the skills of historical investigation through the use of artifacts and records that are available in their own community. No study of local history that is limited to the classroom can answer all the questions a student may have. It should
questions which encourage students to apply their skills in the community, so they may discover the answers to their questions on their own.
This two week unit is developed for an eighth grade American History curriculum responsible for material up to the Civil War. This allows the teacher the opportunity to spend two weeks on this content without the worry of running out of time at the end of the year. The unit is designed so that other teachers who cannot afford a full two weeks may select various topics to use in their curriculum. This material need not be specifically taught in the context of an American History course. Topics could be incorporated quite well into such curriculums as Economics, Political Science, Ecology, and any current events type course.
Sample lessons deal with the importance of transportation in linking geographic specialties, formation of corporations, and Connecticut geography.
The materials in this unit can be used to develop the following topics:
—Importance of transportation to the economic development of a nation.
—The developing relationship between government and private enterprise.
—The development of public policy in Connecticut.
—The affects of private enterprise on communities.