Italian laborers who dug a huge power canal by hand were overseen by brutal ‘bosses’

Jul 12, 2018 571


Creating a canal to go around river rapids was no easy feat in the early days of the Industrial Revolution and at times it could get ugly, as work at Sewalls Falls may have shown. On Aug. 16, 1892, the Concord Evening Monitor ran a story about the digging of the canal, which extends a quarter-mile around the rapids, described the work being done by “about 100 Italians who are engaged in making the excavation for the canal” by removing 50,000 cubic yards of dirt.

“It was all dug by hand by laborers – it was a huge effort,” said Dennis Howe, an industrial archeologist who has studied Sewalls Falls extensively. The canal was so deep and wide, in fact, it was used not just to channel water around the rapids to power the electric generators but to actually store water, a reservoir that could be tapped to help keep power going during dry periods.

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