Sunday, February 20, 2011

George Washington, Transportation Visionary

After explaining why he decided not to free his slaves until the death of Martha and disposing of some bank stock, the will of George Washington deals with the fruits of his great dream. He envisioned canals that would enrich Virginia by extending the James and Potomac Rivers into water highways headed west.

Washington's leadership was rewarded with shares in both the Potomac Company and the James River Company. Rather than reap the potential profits, he decided to use the shares to advance education.

The Potomac project failed, dooming Washington's dream of a national university. The James River canal, shown here in 1865, had been surveyed and planned by Washington himself. The project repeatedly went broke and the canal was never finished. After the Civil War much of the completed portion was filled in to become the road bed for trains.

Liberty Hall, recipient of the James River shares, did manage to salvage $20,000. Perhaps as a result, the school still operates, although under a different name.

Happy Birthday, GW!

Related post: George and Martha.

1 comment:

Jim Gust said...

Seems like canals were the high speed rail of their day.

Only the Erie Canal had a transformative economic impact, so far as I'm aware (well, not including the Panama and Suez, I mean). Read a great piece somewhere recently about how the Erie Canal was responsible for launching NYC past Philadelphia to be the economic hub of the country.