- Welcome back to Canal Trekker after a long hard winter along the trail where the only people experiencing the joy of the beautiful Farmington Canal were those wearing snowshoes or cross country skis! But the warm spring sun has once again risen and my kids and I are ready to get moving on the canal route again, following in the footsteps of our fearless heroine, Shannon McCarthy.
Our journey up the Farmington Canal begins where the idea was born, in New Haven, CT. The Hillhouse Street neighborhood, named for the family that had much to do with the construction of many of New Haven’s landmarks, is still one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the nation. From the Grove Street Cemetery to the incredible mansion-strewn neighborhood that now houses many of Yale’s administrative buildings, to the famous Elms that once lined the streets, and finally to the Farmington Canal itself, James Hillhouse (1754-1832) was instrumental in much of New Haven’s development during the early part of the nineteenth century. The construction of the canal was meant to give a competitive edge to the western part of the state, as many towns found themselves unable to compete with towns utilizing the Connecticut River to transport goods.
Before actually stepping down onto the canal route itself we took a walk through this neighborhood that was once regarded as one of our nation’s most beautiful. Most of the houses on Hillhouse Avenue were built in the mid-nineteenth Century, and the neighborhood itself, designed to highlight the beauty of the Elm city, is still one of the most remarkable ones in New Haven. This section of the trail here has been nicely reconstructed. Where less than twenty years ago, only remnants of the canal route could be seen beneath the overgrown brush hiding long forgotten granite walls, today a pristine path departs right beneath Hillhouse Avenue, onto a revitalized paved canal route complete with lighting and emergency phones. Ahead the trail runs alongside Dixwell Avenue as it heads out of New Haven toward Hamden and beyond.
Although construction of the canal actually began closer to the Massachusetts border, we begin our journey here in New Haven, once again, following in the footsteps of the fictional canal trekker, Shannon McCarthy. After losing her mother in a tragic accident, Shannon set off from this neighborhood in search of her father, an Irish canal worker. Taking a shortcut, Shannon followed the main road out of New Haven and ended up at our next stop, just outside the city limits–the busy factory village known as Whitneyville.