Friends of the Southwick Rail Trail and Southwick Historical Society Inc recently installed a Guard Gate marker at the Connecticut/Massachusetts border on Southwick’s bicycle path. The marker was provided by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to provide communities with historic canal markers.
The marker or plaque says “Farmington Canal. Opened in 1828 to transport goods between MA and CT. Replaced by railroad ca 1847. Remains of original guard gate visible here.”
The Massachusetts Hampden and Hampshire Canal and the Connecticut Farmington Canal came together at this location. The canal ultimately became the New Haven and Northampton Canal Company in 1836.
The purpose of the guard gate or guard lock was to prevent Congamond Lake water from draining into the old canal; a modern guard gate exists just north of this location. The old waterway is long gone and may be forgotten by many. Fortunately, today you can hike or bicycle alongside much of the canal by using this linear park or greenway on the New Haven and Northampton Canal Greenway.
The canal, begun in 1824, was not a commercial success and the right-of-way of the canal became a railroad. In 1968 the railroad came to an end and in the late 1980s advocacy groups started converting this right-of-way corridor one more time into a bicycle and hiking trail.
The Southwick Rail trail is 6.2 miles long and it borders the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Granby to the south and the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail to the north in Westfield. The overall distance of the greenway is about 80 or 81 miles long with just a few sections yet to be connected in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The overall greenway is part of the New Haven and Northampton Canal Greenway Alliance (nhncg.org) made up of seven non-profit groups and is managed by 18 town and city governments. The overall length of the canal as it meandered in and around the terrain was about 87 miles. Using the canal, heading north, to get to Westfield from Congamond Lakes, canal boats traversed through eight locks in Southwick. Lock 9 is along Shaker Road in Westfield. To leave Congamond Lake heading south, canal boats had to travel down six locks in Granby (crossing CT-189).
Lock 7 is 26 miles away in Southington, along the “long level.” The Guard Gate was similar to a lock in that it prevented the draining of Congamond Lake.
Readers interested in additional information can read about the greenway from the Southwick Historical Society’s book New Haven and Northampton Canal Greenway, bike and rail trails following the canal by Robert R. Madison. The watercolors by Madison appear in his book.