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Canal Land Records

With the success of the famed Erie Canal and others in the eastern states, government officials were quick to advocate further construction as a way to open more land to settlement as the nation set its sights on expanding westward. The result has been termed "canal fever," and of course was a preview of what would happen in a few years after that, when railroad-building proposals swept the nation, sealing the fate of many canals, which fell into disrepair and were soon abandoned.

On May 26, 1824, Congress authorized the State of Indiana to survey a canal route through the public lands, reserving a 90-foot strip on either side of the route. A grant to aid construction of a canal from the Maumee River at Fort Wayne to the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers (near Lafayette) was approved March 2, 1827. That marked the first federal grant to a state for the benefit of canal construction. The federal government retained interest in each alternate section, but Indiana was entitled to one-half of five mile-square sections on each side of the route, and its legislature accepted those terms on January 5, 1828.

This canal was the Wabash and Erie Canal, designed to connect the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, and was started at Fort Wayne on February 22, 1832, becoming the longest canal built in the United States (458 miles, 71 of which had been built in Ohio). Never profitable, however, it began to be closed down soon after its completion in the 1850s.

Residents of Lake County and Porter County, although far removed from the proposed route, actually bought tracts of the Canal Lands, as they were known. Two canals were proposed to branch off the main canal at different sites and extend through Porter and Lake counties, ending at Lake Michigan. Land bordering a canal would obviously be of greater value in terms of getting crops to market, transportation, and other business ventures.

If you visit http://www.indianatraveler.com/canal_map.htm you will find a map of the canals proposed and ones actually built (Note the underline between canal and map in that website address). All of the Canal Lands bought in Lake and Porter counties are referred to as the Wabash and Erie Canal Lands, and another useful website is http://www.indcanal.org where you will learn about Indiana canals specifically and the history of canals in general. You can also search Google and type in "Indiana Canal Lands."

The first sale was to take place on October 3, 1830. A purchaser would examine a plat book to find the location of a tract, and then his name would be entered in a tract book register, arranged by township but noting only the location and the name of the purchaser as well as the date of the transaction.

The purchaser, once the tract was registered, had to make payment and then received a "patent." Once the lands were formally transferred from federal to state title, the word "canal" was entered in the purchaser column of the respective federal district land office's tract book, and any further tracing of the land title is in the state records.

It is important to note that the government's interest was keeping track of the land's location, date of purchase, and schedule of payments; the identity of the purchaser was a secondary consideration to his ability to pay, and his residence was not always deemed significant.

If you wish to trace a particular tract, you must know the legal description. The Indiana State Archives holds all Indiana Canal Land patents, and those pertaining to

Lake County and Porter County

counties have been indexed by the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society, showing the microfilm and page number, but you may email or write to the Indiana State Archives for help in copying and mailing patents. A form for ordering those records is provided here: Canal Land Form

This material was submitted by Martha Latko. A special thanks goes to Martha, and Marlene Polster and Alice Smedstad for extracting and proofing this material!

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