Sunday, February 23, 2014

The "Gully" Alongside Sargent Street

Our former residence on Sargent Street and the "Gully" behind as it looks today
Growing up along the site of a long-gone canal (part of the larger Cumberland and Oxford Canal) in Westbrook led to a lot of play and exploration for the neighborhood kids.  Back in the day, our name for the canal was the "Gully" which today looks a lot drier, more green and not as deep.

My sister, Paula Lowell, has many memories of the "Gully":
I spent my life in that gully! I played in it all the time including winter but the fondest memories are with the Tarzan swings. They were soooo much fun. We used to dig for those old medicine bottles. Every house on Sargent Street had a slew of them in their windows. Some of us kids used to collect frogs from the ponds. I used to put frog's eggs in buckets and bring them home. Mom must have loved that! Lastly, the gully was a great shortcut to walk to Canal School and I did that so many times.
So, how and when did the canal come to be and what were its uses?  It wasn't long after the state of Maine became a state in 1820, that the State Legislature created a lottery to raise funds for the construction of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal.  

The Warren House in Westbrook
with remnants of the canal in the foreground
Irish laborers began construction in 1827 to what would become a hand-dug waterway 20 miles long, 34 feet wide and 4 feet deep to accommodate flat-bottomed boats pulled by horses.  It officially opened in 1832, and provided a means of transporting lumber and farm goods from the lakes region to the coast.  For example, farmers in Harrison could have their farm products be sold in Portland.  On the return trips, furniture and other manufactured goods were transported inland.  
The canal began at Sebago Lake near White’s Bridge, and followed the general course of the Presumpscot River through four towns ending up in what today is called Thompson Point in Portland.  The Westbrook portion of the canal used to run alongside Sargent Street cutting over from Spring Street before it ran parallel with Glenwood Street near the present sight of Canal School.  

Source:  Image taken from a copy at the Maine Historical Society
Literacy rights are held by the Baker Library at Harvard University 
The value of canal transportation declined with the advent of the railroads.  The canal served its purpose for nearly 40 years, and was even used once to transport a man to the House of Correction (see above).  The handwritten receipt comes from an account book of Dexter Brewer.  He was a toll collector at one of the many locks along the route.

Other sources:
A Guide to the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, a booklet by Ernest H. Knight
Article by Dr. Joel Eastman in the Sun Journal, May 14, 2003
Maine Memory Image of the Warren House