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The Virginia Canals and Navigations Society (VC&NS) welcomes you to our very special bicentenial celebration. Below you will find conference details that you may print out as needed.

Conference (full 3-day itinerary):

Registration Form:

Please note that you may pay your meeting fees online at the VC&NS online store and that PayPal fees have been added to the online price. Please also note that a 10% discount will be offered through April 11th and the online discount code = EARLY10. Enter the discount code during the checkout process.

Annual Membership Meeting Documents (Presidents Letter, Members Annual Meeting Agenda, Proxy, Prior Year Membership Meeting Minutes)

Mr Philip de Vos is the Committee Chairman for this exciting event. If you have any information or questions please contact him. Click here to e-mail Philip de Vos.


Please click here or photo above for full page conference flyer pdf.


Bill Trout has made a brochure for this event. It is legal size (8 1/2 x 14) and consists of a front and a back. These two sides files have been combined into one PDF file for online viewing. Please feel free to save and print out. The brochure is intended to be folded in thirds with the front right section being on the outside front panel.

Click here to view the Brochure PDF file (Rev. 11-20-11):

Brochure - Printer friendly version:

Click here to view/print front only (Rev. 11-20-11).
(Rotated for easier printing)

Click here to view/print back only (Rev. 11-20-11).
(Rotated to line up with front when flipping paper 8 1/2" way for easier printing)


For Children of all ages we are posting this really nice
comic book about George Washington.

click here to view comic book pdf file.


Chief Justice John Marshall's Survey over the Alleghanies in 1812

(Largely from The New River Atlas, VC&NS, 2003, pp.118-119)

Two hundred years ago, in 1812, the Chief Justice of the Unites States Supreme Court and other famous dignitaries took a month-long, 250-mile batteau voyage over the Alleghany Mountains, from Lynchburg to the Kanawha River, to survey the best water route between Richmond and the Ohio River. Dunaway called Marshall's report ìeasily the most famous report in the history of Virginia internal improvements, and its influence on the thought of the time was profound.
(W.F. Dunaway, History of the James River & Kanawha Company, p.51)

In George Washington's time the New River beyond the Alleghany Mountains (Alleghany with an A is the correct Virginian spelling) was on the frontier, and it was not certain which country it would come to be in. The Ohio River Valley could have been British, French, Spanish, even Russian. As Washington wrote to many friends, ''The touch of a feather would turn them any way." He urged the creation of strong economic ties to bind the frontier with the new nation, especially transportation routes across the Alleghany Mountains from the Potomac and the James.

At Washington's urging, the Potomac Company, and the James River Company, were organized in 1785 for this purpose. In later years these companies evolved, taking on names describing their goals of reaching the Ohio/Kanawha region: the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company, and the James River & Kanawha (Canal) Company. The intended (but never completed) water routes over the mountains were surveyed for a century, over and over again, (See "George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the New River," by Eugene L. Huddleston, New River Symposium, 1993.)

The pioneering survey for the James River and Kanawha route was in 1812 when the Virginia General Assembly appointed commissioners to survey the head waters of James River, and the Great Kanawha, "to ascertain the practicability of extending their navigation to the base of the chain of mountains which divides them." The Commissioners who participated in the survey were John Marshall, James Breckenridge, William Lewis, James McDowell, William Caruthers, Andrew Alexander, Charles F. Mercer, Allen Taylor, and Edward Watts. All were important personages of their time.

Only Marshall and Alexander made the entire trip. Marshall, then 57 years old and the fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was the leader of the expedition. He was a strong supporter and stockholder in both the Potomac and James River projects. Andrew Alexander, who drafted the expedition's map, was the Surveyor of Rockbridge County and a frequent member of the state legislature. Breckenridge was Rockbridge County's Federalist representative in Congress; McDowell was a Rockbridge magistrate. Charles Fenton Mercer shortly became Loudoun County's representative to Congress, and went on to become the first president of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The state appointed 22 commissioners but only these nine (and not all at once, usually three or four of them at a time), plus a crew of perhaps three or four skilled boatmen, went on the expedition, not all 22, as some say, which would have been crowded!

They began in Lynchburg on September 1, 1812, and surveyed their way up the James and Jackson's in a batteau to the mouth of Dunlop's Creek. Here they reported that ''Boats, laden with the produce of the country, pass every year from the mouth of Dunlop's-creek [sic] to Richmond.'' It was here, probably encouraged by the optimism generated by Marshall's report, that Dr. James Merry founded the town of Covington in 1818 as the upper terminus of batteau navigation on the James. (See The Upper James Atlas). Click here to buy Upper James River Atlas.

Here the Commissioners placed the batteau on a wagon and hauled it over the Alleghany Mountains to the proposed head of navigation on the Kanawha, at the mouth of Howard's Creek on the Greenbrier, where Route 60 crosses today, and where there is, even today, a batteau landing.

From here they voyaged down the Greenbrier and the New to the Kanawha. The New had the most dangerous falls, but the Commissioners found that the Greenbrier was more difficult to navigate because of extreme low water. In later years channels were blasted through the falls on the Greenbrier at least down to Talcott, but even today canoeists and kayakers avoid low water periods on the Greenbrier.

Marshall's report recommended making the Greenbrier and New navigable for batteaux (or perhaps even for steamboats, but at great expense) by clearing sluices, and by improving the natural bypasses, perhaps with locks, around Brook's and Richmond's (Sandstone) Falls, and by building a lock near Morris's Mill on Kanawha Falls. To allow upstream navigation in the worst and narrowest part of the gorge, below Boyer's (Boyers's) Ferry (now Sewe11), he suggested cutting a towpath for horses, in the side of the gorge; or to fasten chains to the rocks (as had been done in places on the James and Potomac) with a float at the end, for the batteaumen to grasp and pull themselves up with. As far as we know, towpaths were never blasted out of the cliffs. But are some of the holes in the rocks in the gorge, from such chains, or ropes?

From ''Report of the Commissioners Appointed to View Certain Rivers within the Commonwealth of Virginia," 1816:

''Your Commissioners proceeded down the Greenbrier river in the boat in which they ascended the James. The season had been remarkably dry... the labor of removing stones, and of dragging the boat over those which could not be moved... was so great, that your Commissioners at one time were enabled to advance only three miles in two days, even with the assistance of a horse and of many additional laborers. In part of the river the shoals are frequent and long, and the falls... considerable. At the great falls [Bacon's], which is the most important of them, the descent is twelve feet in forty-eight poles. There is no particular fall at this place, but one continued rapid, with large rocks, irregularly interspersed through the bed of the river. Near the mouth of the river there is a flat rock, which continues for about two hundred and forty poles, with many irregular apertures or fissures through which the water passes. Although, in the usual state of the river, this rock is covered with water of sufficient depth for navigation; yet, such was the drought of the last autumn, it was necessary to drag the boat over its whole extent...

"Though aided by men and horses, ten days of unremitting labor were consumed in passing from the mouth of Howard's creek [sic] to the mouth of Greenbrier river... in the month of June (with more water) the same voyage might have been performed in a single day...

''The night of the 28th of September, was passed among the islands in the mouth of Greenbrier; and on the morning of the 29th, your Commissioners entered New-River.

"The New-River, or that part of the Great Kanhawa [sic] which is above the mouth of Gauley, having to search its intricate way, and force a passage through a long chain of lofty and rugged mountains, whose feet it washes, exhibits an almost continued succession of shoals and falls, from which the navigator is sometimes, though rarely, relieved by a fine sheet of deep placid water...

''The boat sometimes, though rarely, rubbed upon a shoal; but in every such case it was apparent that a sufficient passage might be opened without much labor or expense. The velocity of the current, and the enormous rocks which often interrupt it, the number and magnitude of the rapids and falls, the steepness, cragginess and abruptness of the banks, constitute the great impediments which at present exist to navigation between the mouth of the Greenbrier and the Great Falls of Kanawha...

''The falls at Richmond's Mill [Sandstone Falls] ... are designated in the neighborhood by the name of the ''Great Falls of New-River,'' but are generally called at a distance, ''Lick-Creek Falls.''

''At this place the water may with propriety be said to fall perpendicularly twenty-three feet. For this distance, the sheet which dashes over the summit is intercepted only by huge fragments of broken rock, which, having been successively disjointed from the brink of the precipice, have fallen into the foaming basin below, where, piled on each other, they form one or two benches that break the cataract. A small distance lower down is another fall of three or four feet.

"Here, for the first time, the boat was taken out of the water and let down by skids.

''The ground along which a canal may be carried around these falls, pursuing the course of Richmond's mill-race, was measured...

"From below Boyer's Ferry to the Falls of the Great Kanawha,... the descent, in the same distance, is greater than above. For a part of this space, the scene is awful and discouraging... In some places, for a mile or more in continuation, it is compressed by the mountains on each side, into a channel... narrowed by enormous rocks which lie promiscuously in the bed of the river, through which it is often difficult to find a passage wide enough for the admission of a boat...

''The boat which conveyed your Commissioners, passed from the mouth of Greenbrier, to the place where their expedition terminated, without being taken out of the water, except at the Great Falls of New river, and at the Great Falls of the Kanawha. It was navigated in the usual way through all the other difficult places which abound in New-river, except two - both below Bowyer's Ferry. Through these it was conducted by ropes.

''The boat was not laden, nor was it empty. In addition to the number of hands usually employed in navigation, it carried between two and three thousand weight. The greater part of this burthen was taken out in the most difficult places; but in many of considerable magnitude, it remained in the boat. Where the vessel was guided by ropes, the necessity of resorting to this expedient was occasioned solely by the intervention of rocks, which can be removed.

''It is also worthy of notice, that this voyage was performed by boatmen who, having never before seen the river, were reduced to the necessity of selecting their way at the moment, without the aid of previous information."

The Commissioners' 39-page report was published in 1816 (LVA; VC&NS copy courtesy of Union Carbide) and in Virginia's Journal of the House of Delegates in December 1828. It was also reprinted in the US v. AEP Supreme Court case transcripts, pages 2716-2735, and in The Papers of John Marshall by C. Hobson, 1993, V.7:355-379. At the moment it is not available online.

This report was accompanied by a large map showing all of their surveying data - distances and compass directions - from Lynchburg to Kanawha Falls. A challenge to the reader is the re-plotting of this data to find out where the surveyors stood as they worked their way along the route. There are lots of typos and the distances don't match modern maps! The map can be seen in detail on the Library of Virginia's web site. Go to and look for map number 495-3.


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