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SOUTHWICK — An amateur historian who spent 30 years researching and walking the route of the New Haven-Northampton Canal recently gifted the Southwick Historical Society a computer that contains all his research in a user-friendly format.

“This is just wonderful,” Pat Odiorne said on Feb. 26 as she sat with Southwick Public Library Director Lynn Blair, scrolling through hundreds of pages’ worth of history accompanied by drawings, maps and newspaper accounts about the canal.

Amateur historian Carl Walter sits with one of the computers he donated to local historical societies with information from his research on the New Haven and Northampton Canal.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

The curator and donor of this collection is Carl Walter, a retired medical doctor who resides in North Granby, Connecticut, and has walked the 87-mile length of the canal on two occasions and who continues to compile information about the canal’s history, Odiorne said.

While Walter gifted the computer and research to the society, its board decided to have it placed in the public library to make it more accessible to all, Odiorne said.

As Walter hiked the route from New Haven to Northampton, he took dozens of photographs that pop up as one navigates a software program he developed that tells the story of the canal.

The canal is not even a distant memory. All that’s left are a few of the 28 original locks. In some places, including on Arch Road in Westfield and on Feeding Hills Road in Southwick, both marked by road signs, one can just barely pick out traces of the canal.

For a brief period, however, it was an economic driver for Southwick and neighboring towns. In an era where transportation by boat was less expensive than by road, ground for the canal was broken in 1825 and it was completed in 1835.

Starting in the 1840s, the New Haven and Northampton Railroad was built along the right of way of the canal. The waterway, never financially successful, fell into disrepair and was closed by 1847.

Blair spent a few minutes on Monday scrolling through the canal’s history.

“There a lot of information is buried in here,” Blair said, adding that it’s more like a treasure hunt.

Using an Apple operating system, the program has dropdowns that identify various aspects of the canal, like history, engineering, operations, towns and canal help.

In an introduction to the archive, Walter writes that he was motivated to do the research by photographs taken in the 1930s by Charles Rufus Harte, an engineer and photographer.

“When I embarked on this project, I was motivated by two reactions to Mr. Harte’s remarkable photographs of the New Haven and Northampton Canal — first, how much of the canal he was not able to record because the land and/or material had been reused, and second, how much of what he did record no longer exists,” Walter wrote in the introduction.

Walter continues: “It has been said the written word enables communication with the dead, the absent, and the unborn — it seems to me that images have the same quality. Each of the 14 cities and towns along of the course of the canal has its own collection of maps, documents and pictures that contain long forgotten information related to the construction and operation of the canal.”

Anyone is welcome to read through Walter’s research at the Southwick Public Library, but it can’t leave the library, Blair said. The library is at 95 Feeding Hills Rd., Southwick.

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