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Plat Map 1854

Plat of Madison (1854)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-38904

Canal Across the Isthmus

James Duane Doty and a friend in Michigan formed the Four Lakes Company in 1836. Their purpose was to sell property in Madison's isthmus area. Doty's surveyor helped him develop a plat map to interest future purchasers. A peculiar detail on the survey map is two streets four blocks east of the capitol labeled West Canal Street and East Canal Street. They were proposing a canal be dug between the Lakes Mendota and Monona at the narrowest point.

Villages of the time frequently created canals to improve their transportation options. A revised plat map of 1865 showed the canal here had proven unfeasible, although the dream remained. John Olin considered developing a Yahara River Parkway in 1903. In 1909, the Secretary of War ordered a survey to determine whether the United States Government would deem the Yahara worthy of deepening, but community interests judged the project unfavorably.

While the canal was never built, the two streets which were intended to line it were, and houses sprung up along its route. In the 1880 city directory, West Canal was described as crossing (East) Washington Avenue three streets northeast of Pinckney Street. East Canal was described as crossing Washington Avenue four streets northeast of Pinckney Street.

Scanning through the pages of the 1880 city directory indicates some businesses were present either on or within one block of either Canal Street. These included B. Warnes, a builder; Fred Scheibel, a florist; H. Klueter, flour, feed, and grocer; Chris Laurence, hide and pelt man; the American House hotel, which also housed a saloon; McArthur and Omen, meat market; George Schlotthauer, saloon; and John Simon, saloon.

Some of the dwellings along the street at this time appear to have been boarding houses. People lining the street were common folk with jobs reflecting their status. One man worked for Beverly Jefferson. Other occupations cited were: clerk at Maeder's; machinist; employees of three separate third ward meat markets; two farmers who were brothers; employee of Hiram G. Dodge who dealt in coal, wood, and lime; shoemaker; clerk for the New York Store which sold dry goods and carpets; grocery clerk; clerk for Darwin Clark who dealt in furniture, upholstery, and goods; boots and shoes; clerk at P & M Young, a grocery, provisions, wine and liquors establishment; cattle dealer; painter; clerk at Hekla Insurance; and an engineer for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad.

The streets maintained their separateness, but eventually lost the name of the canal which never was. Between 1880 and 1883, the fourth street east was renamed Hancock Street. In 1891, Canal was no longer recorded as East, but North or South. In that year, Canal was recorded as the fifth street east of the capitol, running from East Wilson Street to Lake Mendota. By the time the 1900-1901 directory was printed, no street was called Canal Street. The fifth street east was called Franklin Street.

Tess Mulrooney

Paul Eastwood