Friday, May 27, 2016

Channel Cat Tales: The Embarras River 1892

Channel Cat Tales: The Embarras River 1892

Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Casey,
Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.


Mount Carmel, Ill., November 24,1892.

Colonel: I have the honor to present the following report on a preliminary examination of the Embarras River, Illinois:

In compliance with your instructions I proceeded on October 25,1892, to Lawrenceville, Ill., this being the first town above the mouth of the Embarras River, and where it was expected the most information in regard to the river might be obtained.

The Embarras River takes its rise in Champaign County and passes through Douglas, Coles, Cumberland, Jasper, Crawford, and Lawrence counties, its length being about 180 miles. The river is 250 feet wide at its mouth, and averages 175 to 200 feet wide at Lawrenceville; the discharge at low water is very small, possibly not exceeding 10 cubic feet per second at Lawrenceville, but during high water the current is very swift, and the river overflows its banks some 4 feet, there being between high and low water a difference of about 21 feet.

There is an old mill dam at Lawrenceville which prevents any communication between the upper and lower part of the river except at highest stage of water. This dam, which was built forty years ago and repaired from time to time, is now in a bad state of repair and may possibly be removed in a short time. This dam is about 200 feet long, 8 feet high, and in its present condition and at low water raises the level of pool 3 feet.

Upon inspection of this dam it was concluded that an examination of the river above Lawrenceville would be useless. My examination was then confined to the portion of the river between Lawrenceville and the mouth, a distance of 15 miles.

This examination was made by the aid of a rowboat. The river for the first 10 to 12 miles was found to be very shallow, often having less than 6 inches of water, full of snags and sunken logs, and on one occasion completely barred with drift, involving half an hour's work to pass through, while on many occasions wading had to be resorted to. At another place a barbed-wire fence was stretched across the river. A few rock shoals were also met with. Three miles above the mouth of the river the ruins of an old stone dam were seen. At this point a fall of 15 inches was noted. The 2 1/2 or 3 miles of river next to the mouth were found to be deeper and freer from snags. The river banks were often cutting and caving and everywhere comparatively low, about 16 feet in height above low water, and I was informed that at high water these were overflowed to a depth of 4 to 6 feet, the water spreading out from 1 to 11 miles in width. When starting from Lawrenceville I had provided myself with a copy of the county map showing the river, but after losing sight of town it became impossible to recognize one's surroundings, as the river is certainly much more tortuous than is shown by the map. Two bridges at Lawrenceville and three bridges between Lawrenceville and the mouth were found, all of which were unprovided with draws. (drawbridges)

Commerce.—The commerce between Lawrenceville and the mouth of the river consists only of rafts of logs which go out at high water. Fifteen hundred logs went out last year. The Wabash River boats never come up to Lawrenceville for the reason that when the water is high they cannot pass under the bridges.

The commerce above Lawrenceville is, however, considerable, but it is all done in the interest of one or two sawmills owned by the H. G. Fink Manufacturing Company. This firm has constructed a small steamboat and a barge, which they operate between the dam at Lawrenceville and points above, and bring down rafts of logs and sawed lumber from their upper mill when stage of water is suitable. The lumber is thence shipped by rail to Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and even to England.

Mr. Ward, the manager at Lawrenceville for H. G. Fink & Co., informed me that they can run their boat six mouths every year. Eight million staves and 3,000,000 feet of lumber were handled by this firm last year.
In concluding my report I would say that, in my opinion, this river is not worthy of improvement by the General Government for the following reasons:

(1) The presence of five bridges unprovided with draws within a distance of 15 miles from mouth of river.
(2) The presence of a dam at Lawrenceville.
(3) Very small discharge at low water, thus necessitating a project of slack-water navigation in order to obtain improvement.
(4) Great expense not only of slack-water navigation but also to provide the existing bridges with draws and for payment for submerged lands.
(5) The prospective commerce on the portion of the river improved would not, in my opinion and that of others who have been interviewed, be increased.

As well as I could ascertain there is no demand for improvement of the river below Lawrenceville.

Improvement of the river above that point would undoubtedly be of local benefit, but this has not been considered.
Very respectfully submitted.
 Your obedient servant,

O. L. Petitdidier,
Assistant Engineer.