The Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal is an abandoned canal in Michigan that was only partially completed. The canal was to connect Lake St. Clair with Lake Michigan. The inspiration came from the success of the Erie Canal in New York, which was completed in 1825. Michigan had just achieved statehood in 1837 and its first governor, Stevens Thomson Mason, initiated an ambitious program of internal improvements which included three railroads and two canals.
The Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal was to begin in Mount Clemens on the banks of the Clinton River and continue through Utica, Rochester, Pontiac, Howell, Hastings, and finally to the mouth of the Kalamazoo River.
In all, the canal was to span 216 miles. It’s purpose was to open up the heavily forested land for settlers and commercial boat traffic.
Construction began in 1838 near the now defunct Village of Frederick in Clinton Twp. The Detroit Free Press of July 19,1838, noted the festivities to mark the beginning of the project. The entire Mt.Clemens area was awakened with the sound of a signal gun. Throughout the day, there were speeches, food, a thirteen gun salute, music, and the governor turning the first shovel of dirt. Hundreds of workers, mostly Irish workers, earned 65 cents a day and carried out the work in one-mile sections using pick and shovel. Included in some of these sections were locks to lift and lower the boats over the 220′ elevation difference over the length of the canal.
Financial troubles related to the Panic of 1837 caused funding for the canal to disappear and all construction stopped in 1843 after only 12 miles had been completed. Engineering miscalculations also contributed to the canal’s failure as the canal was dug too shallow and too narrow (50′ wide) for heavy freight ships. For a short time, there was some boat traffic on the canal from the Village of Frederick to Utica. The boats carried lumber, whiskey, grain and some passenger.
After construction ended, the canal quickly fell into disrepair. Portions were used as a millrace to power watermills that operated well into the 1900s. Remnants of the canal are still visible in Rochester Hills in Oakland County and in Shelby Township and Clinton Township in Macomb County.