In 1832, Elisha Camp spearheaded the completion of a canal that ran from Huntingtonville to Black River Bay.  Along the way, it supplied power to his mills at Jewettsville and Camp's Mills, and finally to the village of Sackets Harbor.

        Maintenance of the canal was given up after ten years of landslides at the Watertown end, and the story of what became derisively known as Camp's Ditch faded into the memory of only a few citizens, surfacing periodically in local newspapers. 

        This website serves as a memorial to that visionary community project and its maker.


The location of the last visible remnant of Camp's Ditch in existence today is cited in the book "Harbor Walk: A Guide to the History and Architecture of Sackets Harbor," prepared by Michael D. Sullivan for the Village of Sackets Harbor and Sackets Harbor Historical Society:

". . . turn north on Jericho Road opposite Star Grange; just past the first bridge over Mill Creek is a small body of water which is the only known remnant of Camp's Ditch, the power canal built by Elisha Camp in the 1830s."


Articles from the Watertown Daily Times:
(presented online with permission)

Camp's Ditch Remembered -- 8 September 1930
City Fills Old Camp's Ditch -- 4 February 1933
Section of Old Camp's Ditch Uncovered -- 15 July 1971






Claim City Should Be Linked With Lake By Canal In Order to Reap Benefits of River Canal

     The approaching canalization of the St. Lawrence river recalls again the century old discussion of a ship canal connecting Watertown with the lakes and the feasibility of such a project is again being brought forth with considerable vigor here.
     The present rapidly materializing sentiment for the St. Lawrence ship canal and the again recurring proposals that a canal be constructed from this city to Sackets Harbor in anticipation of the completion of the former canal brings to mind that in the early 19th century when canalization plans swept the country.  It also recalls the construction of what was known as Camp's Ditch from Huntington's Mills to Sackets Harbor in 1830.  The wavering banks of thsi ditch still remain to show the course it took.
     This early canal was 20 feet wide at the top and 12 at the bottom, being four feet deep.  Elisha Camp was appointed a commander and in 1832 it was finished, supplying water power to the village of Sackets Harbor.  The greatest difficulty, however, encountered was in maintaining the first half mile of the ditch which was constructed along the margin of Black River where it was liable to be washed away on one side and filled by slides of clay and sand on the other.  These difficulties finally led the work to be abandoned after having been in use about ten years.
     One school of thought holds that in view of the probable completion of the St. Lawrence ship canal in the near future, Watertown should anticipate its effect and begin to consider a ship canal connecting the city with the lakes in order that the city may not be left out of this program.
     This school maintains that the route between the city and Sackets Harbor paralleling the state highway is ideal for such a canal and that it is at lake level.  There are two possible bases or harbors which would furnish the terminal of the canal in the city.
     The first would be in the lower Arsenal street section and on the west side of the railroad tracks in Haney street.  The other site for a basin would be in Black river near the Van Duzee street bridge and would permit ships to come into the center of the city.  This would necessitate the purchase of power rights by the city which would be advantageous in view of the benefits to be derived from such a canal.
     The canal could either be built by the state or by private capital and it is estimated that it could be constructed for in the neighborhood of $50,000 a mile in view of the sand bottom along the proposed route.  At Sackets Harbor the basin would be near the Standard Oil docks in that village.  The distance would be about 12 miles.
     The canal, according to this school of thought, would be closely patterned after the Welland canal with the difference that it would not be necessary to cut through rock.  Those actively urging this project point out that the completion of the St. Lawrence ship canal will bring no particular benefit to this city which could not hope to expand through this circumstance.  Rather, they maintain, Ogdensburg, Massena and other points along the river will be those upon which an era of prosperity will descend.


City Fills Old
Camp's Ditch



Connected Black River at Huntingtonville With Lake Ontario at Black River Bay--Named From Col. Elisha Camp

     Making an earth fill, between the river bank and Huntington street about a 100 feet east of the city filtration plant, as a city work relief project last month, recalls the history of Camp's ditch of a little more than a century ago.
     Camp's ditch, so named for Colonel Elisha Camp, Sackets Harbor pioneer, early Jefferson County industrialist and North Country promoter, was one of the first water power projects in this part of the state.
     In January a gang of about 25 city residents operating under local relief work, was engaged under public works department supervision in filling in and grading a stretch of the old ditch just north of the Huntington street road.  Stone and earth dumped there during the past year or two was used for the purpose.  Some of the brush and scrub cedars about the site have been cut and a general effort made to give the location a more tidy appearance.  The fill is on the site where the old tubercolosis summer camp was 15 or 20 years ago.
     It was in 1832, 101 years ago, that Camp's ditch, costing in the neighborhood of $150,000 to $200,000 was constructed to supply water power for miles at Camp's Mills, a few miles southeast of the village of Sackets Harbor and at Jewettsville, a small but thriving community east of the present Madison Barracks.

The Route of the Canal

     Much of the definite history of the ditch or power canal has been lost, but information obtained from Joseph P. Burns, engineer, member of the construction firm of Burns, Brothers & Haley, from Leonard L. Allen, Assistant City Engineer Leonard G. Murray and Engineer Arthur H. Emerson of W.T. Field Engineers, Inc., quite accurately establishes the route.
     The ditch was 20 feet wide on the top, twelve feet on the bottom and four feet in depth.  It connected with Black river immediately above Dressor's grove, for many years a popular picnic ground at Huntingtonville near the foot of the long stretch of Black river stillwater that reaches eastward to the picturesque region at the Woodward Hill curve.
     This point of connection of the ditch with the river was but a few feet west of where the New York Central railroad tracks cross the Huntingtonville highway above Dressor's grove, from there it followed the river rather closely past the present Calvary cemetery past the city pumphouse and filtration plant.
     Just west of where the new fill has been made, the ditch crossed the highway and swung off through the lots to the southwest.  South of the Huntington street road there is still a short section of the canal that stands out well defined.  Its contour is readily apparent to those passing along the road. 

From that region onward, however, it is mostly obliterated as the result of fills and erosions of the past 90 years, for at the end of ten years' utilization the ditch was abandoned as a power project. because of yearly earth slides caused by spring freshets at the Huntingtonville end, and a fire which devastated several of the mills at Jewettsville.
     Mr. Burns, whose brother, Louis Burns, was engaged several years ago in making a survey and plans for the Carthage-to-the-Lake navigation canal much sponsored at that time, is authority for the statement that after following through the fields of the city's eastern quarter, the ditch crossed State street near Pleasant street.
     Peter Anderson, city water department employee now in charge of the city pumphouse, said today that in 1922 he excavated into the ditch at Riggs avenue, a short narrow street running parallel to Academy street just south of it between Hamilton and Arlington.  Mr. Anderson was excavating for a water line at the time, and after digging down to a depth of six feet uncovered some two-inch planks of the canal, which were in excellent state of preservation from their long protection from the air.

Crossed Franklin Street

     The canal then went across Franklin street, continuing between Brainard and Cadwell to Gotham street, which it crossed below Brainard.  It intersected Myrtle avenue bewteen Flower avenue East and Park avenue, touching Frank W. Allen's property at 721 Myrtle avenue and formed the back boundaries of the lots on those two streets, crossing Washington street back of Woodruff street, running some distance in the rear of the House of the Good Samaritan.
     Back of Flower avenue, west, it cut Holcomb street, passed through the fields near Mayor John B. Harris' Hillcrest farm at the southeast, went over Ives street and crossed the railroad tracks outside of the city limits, emptying into Hull creek into the fields beyond Massey street.
     There it entered the natural water course of the Beaver Meadow swamp edging L. L. Allen's property on the south side of the swamp and went on its way to Camp's Mills, where it was to supply power for the operation of three mills including a grist mill, saw mills and a tannery.  The ditch ran near the Sulpher Springs cemetery, and passed through the highway leading south from the state road to Sulpher Springs.
     Beyond Camp's Mills, it passed through the fields to Mill Creek, entered it and followed within its banks for a considerable distance crossing the Watertown-Sackets Harbor state highway where the bridge over the creek now is.  It is said that it diverged from the creek course as it neared Black River bay, and emptied into the bay near the old stone mill, now the summer home of Chard Powers Smith.
     At Jewettsville there was one of the county's early paper mills, a grist mill, two sawmills and a plaster mill.  The big fire of 1843 devastated these properties and Elisha Camp who had in large measure financed the canal, lost heavily.

Built for Water Power

     Early in the 19th century when Sackets Harbor promised to be a more important community than Watertown because of its location on a good harbor, the need of water power made itself apparent.

     If Sackets Harbor was to develop industries and become  prosperous it must have power.  Accordingly a plan was visualized to divert the waters of Black River at Huntington Mills, now known as Huntingtonville about two miles above Watertown.  To do this a plan or power canal much similar to the power canals of the St. Regis Paper Company at Deferiet and the Northern New York Utilities, Inc., at Black River, but vastly longer, was to be built.
     The plan was given consideration in 1823, was presented to the state legislature which referred it to the attorney general on the question off right to take private property for a right of way.
    Henry Coffeen and others whose lands were affected, together with residents of Brownville, who were stoutly opposed to the proposition brought about its defeat.  Joseph Kimball, Amos Catlin and Daniel Hall, jr., however, secured the passage of an action April 20, 1825 giving them authority to make the water diversion,  Egbert Ten Euck, Clark Allen and Joseph Hawkins being appointed a commission to place a valuation on the land to be taken, and provide for highway and farm bridges to be maintained.  The act provided that the water was not to be taken from any then existing dam, and this is said to have killed the project.
     Sackets Harbor residents continued insistent and would not discard their idea.  They called a meeting Feb. 13, 1826 and passed resolutions strenuously opposed to the conditions imposed in the act of 1825 and urging the repeal of those restructions.  Accordingly the act was amended April 17, 1826.
     No action followed this and the advocates next gave thought to making the canal a navigation course as well as a power way, estimating the cost of the changed plans at $200,000, but figuring $16,000 a year tolls from it.

Incorporated in 1828

     The Jefferson County Canal company was incorporated April 15, 1828 at $300,000.  Shares were to be sold for $100.  Vincent Le Ray, son of James De La Ray de Chaumont, great Jefferson county promoter, Phillip Schuyler, Colonel Elisha Camp, Egbert Ten Eyck, Jasan Fairbanks, Levi Beebee, Arthur Bronson, John Felt and Joseph Kimbalt were the directors.
     Still nothing was done until an understanding was reached whereby Colonel Camp was to take sufficient stock to insure the construction.  This he did with certain reservations, and a meeting was held in this city Dec. 30, 1829, when a committee of three was selected to decide what was best to do.  An act was passed fixing real estate tax on mills sites on benefitting property in Sackets Harbor, the tax being according to benefits derived and reaching $2,000 in two years.
     Colonel Camp was chosen commissioner to succeed Daniel Hall April 20, 1830, and the act was extended to June, 1830.  Work was started excavating soon after that and in 1832 the canal was finished and placed in operation.


Section of Old Camp's Ditch Uncovered by Hospital Work
     A section of Camp's Ditch, one of the first water power projects in this part of the state was uncovered this week while excavating was being done for the addition to the House of the Good Samaritan Hospital.
     John F. Wilcox, assistant administrator of the hospital, said that the section of Camp's Ditch was discovered on the northwest corner of the hospital property where construction excavation was being done.  The ditch was identifiable by the way it was filled in and the materials found in it.
     Camp's Ditch was named for Col. Elisha Camp of Sackets Harbor, early Jefferson County industrialist and pioneer settler who was prominent in the War of 1812 action in this section.
     Camp's Ditch was constructed in 1832, at the expense ranging between $150,000 and $200,000 to supply water power for mills at Camp's Mills, a few miles southeast of the village of 
Sackets Harbor, and at Jewettsville, a then small but thriving community east of Madison Barracks.  The ditch was used as a power canal.  It ran from the Sackets Harbor section to Watertown and through parts of the present city to the Black River near Huntingtonville.
     Camp's Ditch was 20 feet wide on the top, 12 feet on the bottom and four feet in depth.  The point of connection at Huntingtonville was just west of the New York Central railroad tracks which crossed the Huntingtonville highway above Dressor's Grove for many years a popular picnic site at Huntingtonville.
     From Huntingtonville the ditch followed the river rather closely past the present Calvary Cemetery past the city pumphouse and filtration plant.  Just west of the filtration plant, Camp's Ditch crossed the highway and swung off to the southwest.
The ditch passed south of Huntington Street Road and passed across the city.
     Camp's Ditch was filled in by the city in 1933.  Much of the routeof the ditch by that time had been obliterated by fills and eroisions of the 90 years that had passed since its use.  Camp's Ditch was used as a power canal for 10 years but because of yearly earth slides at the Huntingtonville end and a fire which devastated the mills at Jewettsville it was abandoned as a power project.
     From the House of the Good Samaritan section the canal went back of Woodruff St. crossing Washington St. and then intersected Myrtle Ave., between Flower Ave. and Park Ave. and then crossed Gotham St. below Brainard St. and went cross Cadwell St. to Franklin St.  From there it went across Riggs Ave., and Academy St. continuing across State St. down to the Huntington Road St. section.
     The canal, which was to become known as Camp's Ditch, was first proposed in 1823.  There were a number delays but in April 1828, the Jefferson County Canal Company was formed and shares were sold.  Among the moving forces, besides Colonel Camp, were Vincent LeRay, son of James LeRay de Chaumont; Philip Schuyler, Egbert Ten Eyck, Jason Fairbanks, Levi Beebee, Arthur Bronson, John Felt and Joseph Kimball.  Work began in the summer of 1830 and the canal was done in 1832 and began its operation.