Introducing the Windsor Locks Canal

imageAs I mentioned Tuesday, this post is a little bit of an exercise for me. I don’t normally work with a lot of photos in one post, and I don’t think I’ve ever tried to describe a “destination” before. I’m not sure that The Windsor Locks Canal is much of a destination; I mean I wouldn’t travel to Connecticut just to see it. But, it is one of my favorite places.

The official website says that construction started oimagen the canal in 1827. It also says that “Charles Dickens was a notable visitor who passed through the canal on February 7, 1842.” It’s probably good that Mr. Dickens rode through after the canal was operational as opposed to as it was being built, as I’m not sure he would have appreciated to conditions under which men labored. But this isn’t a post about labor. It also isn’t a post about futility, which could also be used to characterize the Windsor Locks and other canals built in that era, since the railroads made them obsolete by the late 1840’s But the Windsor Locks Canal survived. Its longevity is the result of a good design which incorporated stone into the design of the locks and as lining of the canal walls.

I am very glad they built this to last.

For as long as I’ve lived in Windsor Locks, the path that the mules once used to pull boats along the 4 ½ mile canal has been “paved” for walkers and cyclists. I put paved in quotes because, back in the early days you had to look pretty hard to find more than a few feet of contiguous pavement. At some point in the 90’s, the State of CT started talking about making the area around the canal into a State Park. They passed some legislation and put up a few signs, but the bulk of the plans were tabled due to our perennial budget crisis. It’s OK; they had enough money to repave the path. That was welcome relief to our family.

Shortly after our daughter started riding a two-wheeler, we started riding the canal path. Most people begin their ride imagefrom the north end, in Suffield, CT. There’s a large parking lot there, a porta-potty and one of the best views of and from the canal are at the north locks. We usually begin our ride from the south end, near the abandoned and half-burnt Montgomery manufacturing building.

Starting from the lower end, the path and the sights ease you into the imagecanal experience since there is so much land on the eastern side of the path, that you can’t see the river. This land is home to waterfowl and many small animals. We have stopped to watch as a mother duck nudges her ducklings into the water and we have been made to stop by a mother goose. Geese, in case you aren’t aware, can, be, mean. I guess any mother can be mean if she thinks her children are threatened, but no other animal has ever pecked at my chain as I was riding past. These days, I simply wait at a good distance.

The Connecticut River and the canal get close enough to see together as you approach the railroad bridge that crosses both waterways. We always stop at this bridge. We always take pictures and for the longest time, we paid fun homage to Jenn and Ken who professed their love for each other in a bit of harmless vandalism. Unfortunately, the paint outlasted the love affair and now we have a good laugh as we drive over the updated message. I should mention that the water is usually not as high as it is in the center photo below, but it was the first time my wife rode with me. It was pretty scary and she wasn’t happy.


The canal was built to help barge traffic navigate around the Enfield Rapids. A dam at the north end fed water into the upper locks and provided the necessary depth for further travel upstream. Since the arrival of the railroad, the dam has been allowed to gradually fail. It’s hard to say if the canal will retain a source of water if the dam fails completely but it’s a slow process so I think we have a few bike rides left.

The canal elevation rises only about 15’ along the 4 ½ mile journey so the ride is easy. It’s also an easy walk, so you have to be prepared to deal with walkers, joggers as well as opposing traffic. You also have to watch for photographers as the canal is a rich source of natural beauty.

My favorite spot on the canal is where it crosses Stony imageBrook. The brook is about to enter the CT River, but it cuts through about 25’ below the level of the canal and its towpath. In what must have been amazing engineering feat in the day, the builders of the canal constructed a viaduct to carry the canal over the stream. I am still impressed with this crossing, even though the original 2-lane wooden viaduct has been replaced by a single-lane concrete version.

My favorite day on the canal was one very hot and imagestill morning. The surface of the canal was as smooth as glass and the rising sun was at the perfect angle to create some amazing reflections. You can see the entire set of these photos on my Flickr site, but this is one of my favorites. In case you haven’t guessed, the masthead photo for this blog is also from the canal. It was taken on that same still day.

I would leave you with an invitation to walk the canal if you are ever in north-central Connecticut, but there’s a catch. The canal path is closed to human traffic from November 1st to April 1st since the area around the canal is a Bald Eagle nesting area. For the past three years the ban has been extended on the lower end of the path until the eaglets have left the nest. It’s disappointing to have to turn around, but it’s for a good cause.


35 thoughts on “Introducing the Windsor Locks Canal

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  1. Pictures – The building is located at the south end of the Canal, near the southern locks. I took that picture as part of a Photo-365 project and it was only after I got home that I realized my lens was reflecting sunlight into the water and up onto the building. The next picture down shows the stone work that has kept the northern locks in service for over 180 years. Farther down are a few shots from the southern end of the canal, including the access point (gate) and the geese. I hope that the rest are self-explanatory. If not, click on them and visit my Flickr site for a better description.


    1. Thanks! The eagles returned several years ago, but they have only had eaglets during the past three years. When they have babies, the southern end stays closed until July. I’ve only seen them a few times. They fish in the river and in a nearby tributary. I’ve seen them circling, but not diving.


  2. Lovely series of images, and write up! I have a friend that lives in Windsor..who is also a photographer I don’t think she’s ever blogged this. I enjoyed the history, and seeing it through your lens.
    I’m sharing this with my CT. friend. :)


    1. Thanks. The canal opened for the full length earlier this month. My daughter and I rode the top half on Father’s Day, but we’ll be going back for the full ride soon. It can be a slow ride for a photographer, on and off the bike, passing the same walkers over and over, but it’s worth it, especially if she’s never been.


  3. Dan, I am no expert on writing, but you’ve done a great job here writing on destination.I think you should continue this (if you prefer writing on destinations). The place is no less than heaven and I am tempted to take a walk here with friends and my wife.I read this while I was commuting in a crowded train, but I felt like I am teleported to this heavenly place. I can see the ducks, geese and the entire landscape in my mind as I read the description of the place. If you consider me as one of your readers I demand few more articles like this one or any that you know well. Give me a tour of USA that I’ve never seen on TV. :) Will ya?


    1. Thanks Sharukh, I take that as high praise. I will give some thought to mixing in a few destination descriptions. I have been on a few photo shoots with my daughter to waterfalls and interesting short hikes around the state. Maybe that will be a good place to start.


  4. It looks like a wonderful place to spend time and would warrant several teips to fully enjoy everything there. You did a great job of presenting such ana mazing spot on your state! My only wish, as a photographer, is that the photos were larger so I could see more detail. They look amazing. I hope you do more of this style of blog, sharing more of your experiences.


    1. Thanks. I usually avoid the large photos on the blog because of the difficulty wrapping the text around them in a meaningful way and what they end up looking like on mobile devices. HOWEVER – you can click on any photo and a new window will open with that photo, at full resolution on my Flickr site or Pinterest page.


    2. Ack – After I sent that reply, I tested the pictures and found that the links were missing from 5 of them. I have corrected that. Now, you can click on ANY picture and see the full resolution version. Thanks.


      1. Thanks for the follow up. I really thiught I must be a dolt because it wouldn’t work for me! I’ll check them out in full version now. I apprecaite it. I had tried on the original post but it just wouldn’t work. I thought it was my ipad. :)


  5. What a great place for a bike ride, or to take a hike, or just unplug and enjoy. The pictures are terrific, Dan. Really makes me wish Windsor Locks was close by. Fortunately, though, most of us DO live within reach of at least SOME of Mother Nature’s beauty. This post is a helpful reminder that we should get out at least once in a while and experience it. Nice job!


    1. Thanks Paul. This is one of those places that a lot of people in the area ignore. On the other hand, I’ve lived in CT since 1981 and I still haven’t been to the Mark Twain House. They have added benches at a couple of point where the view of the river is special. I often see people sitting there and just watching the river flow.


  6. Beautiful photos and great description of a place many of us would love to have near our homes. I don’t know Connecticut as well as other New England states, so this post makes me want to see more. It is a good idea, by the way, to try something new for your blog. A destination in your state is great. The photos are really good. Thanks.


    1. Thanks. This little challenge turned out very well. I learned (a little) about working with more photos than i normally use and apparently, both blogs benefited from my reblogging the India waterfalls post first. There are other Connecticut destinations that I can write about. I think I’ll add this in every now and then.


  7. Very nice. We have friends in Fairfield, and Google tells me it’s over an hour to drive the distance between them, so I appreciate the photos.
    Bald Eagles, amazing. Only seen one in person, and one nest. Huge. Couldn’t quite get over the size of the nest, much like seeing a beached whale for the first time.


    1. Thanks. Yes, well over an hour from Fairfield. For a tiny state, CT is a “you can’t get there from here” kind of place. I have seen the eagles but I have never seen the nest. By the time the path is open, the trees and the foliage obscure everything. By the time the leaves are off the trees, they are closing the lower portion of the path. I’d like to walk the path in Winter but it’s been closed in the winter since the late 90’s. And, I’ve never seen a beached whale up close. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


    1. Like many such places, those of us that live close by often take it for granted and ignore it for long periods of time. I make sure to ride it at least once every season. Usually, when i go on longer bike rides from my house, I try to include the canal. It’s a great way to avoid riding on a busy road with a narrow shoulder. Thanks for reading and for your comment.


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