March 5, 1880: James River and Kanawha Canal Co. Ceases Operation

Mar 5, 2018

On March 5, 1880, the James River and Kanawha Canal Company ceased operations.

Canal work on the lower James River started in 1820.
Credit e-WV / WV

The original company had been formed by Virginia in 1785, at the urging of George Washington, who’d traveled through the Ohio and Kanawha valleys the previous year. Washington envisioned a navigable water route, with canals, connecting Richmond and the Ohio River.

Canal work on the lower James River started in 1820. A new road—known as the James River and Kanawha Turnpike—linked the town of Covington with the falls of the Kanawha River near Gauley Bridge and then continued to the confluence of the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers at Kenova. The canal work was completed to Buchanan, Virginia—near present Roanoke—in 1851. Workers cleared channels and dredged the Kanawha, but the Civil War halted the project.

After the war, there were tentative plans to build a grand waterway from Tidewater Virginia, through West Virginia, eventually reaching the Rocky Mountains. However, by that time, roads and railroads had become the primary means of transportation. The James River and Kanawha Company continued to operate the Virginia portion of the canal until 1880.