Our next stop following in the footsteps of the fictional Shannon McCarthy is the lockkeeper’s house in Hamden, CT. As Shannon unloads crates of Bibles onto an awaiting canal boat for transport to Farmington, Father Dickenson goes inside with the lockkeeper. Shannon arranges the boxes in the bottom of the boat, planning to later return to the site and become a stowaway.
Sixty locks were built between New Haven and Northampton to accommodate a five hundred twenty foot difference in elevation. When the slow moving boats pulled into the lock chambers, the lockkeepers took charge, opening and closing the heavy wooden gates in order to raise or lower the boats along the route. By the time the lock filled up with water and the boat rose several feet, the front door would be opened allowing the boat to proceed up stream. Horses or mules assisted towing the boats along the canal route, passing lock houses, taverns, and inns along the 86 mile corridor.
The lockkeeper’s house in Hamden, built in 1828, sits in front of the remains of Lock 14 today. Take a glimpse off the side of the trail behind the house and you’ll see that much of the original stonework of the lock remains. Heavy boulders and crumpling walls sit like silent ruins where the lock once stood. Just a few miles up the trail an example of a completely restored lock, Lock 12 in Cheshire, will be our next stop.
Shannon returned to the lock house late that night, long after the drunken priest had gone off to bed, and the lockkeeper and his wife were fast asleep. And there, in the bottom of the boat, tucked in behind the crates of Bibles, and barrels of grain, and pickled herring, Shannon dosed off, not knowing what awaited her next on this journey up the Farmington Canal.
As Shannon McCarthy takes the reigns of the drunken priest’s wagon, a distant hill, in the shape of a giant, comes into view. The priest assures Shannon, who has been disguised as a boy since leaving New Haven, that the giant will not awaken as long as she remains “a good Christian lad.”
Heading north from Whitneyville, another landmark overlooking the Farmington Canal Greenway in Southern Connecticut is Sleeping Giant State Park. According to the Sleeping Giant Park Association, Native Americans once thought that the giant was actually an evil spirit named Hobbomock, put to sleep forever by a good spirit, Keitan, seeking to end the giant’s reckless and violent behavior.
Today the park, just opposite the Quinnipiac University campus in Hamden, CT, is a great place for hiking, fishing, picnicking, camping (if you are affiliated with a group such as Boy Scouts) and just hanging out. There are over thirty miles of trails across the giant, some extremely challenging and others, like the one my kids and I took to the lookout castle at the top of the hill, (about a mile and a half one way) are more like a walk in the park.
The scalp of the giant marks the site of a quarry where stone was mined during the early years of the 20th Century. One of the more challenging hikes in the parks makes its way along the rocky ridge above the quarry and can be seen from route 10, Whitney Avenue in Hamden.
It is here, not far from the chiseled scalp of the sleeping giant, that Shannon McCarthy finds herself unloading crates of bibles for transport up the canal to Farmington. Although the Hamden lock keeper is less than hospitable to the disguised Shannon, she sees her chance to proceed up the canal in search of her father and at the lock keeper’s house Shannon becomes a stowaway.