Friday, May 6, 2022

Songo Lock bears witness to history of commerce in Lakes Region

A postcard shows a steamboat carrying passengers through
Songo Lock during the 19th century. The lock remains to this
day but was originally part of the waterway system created
during the heyday of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal.
By Ernest H. Knight

A local territory that has been important through the years not only to Raymond and Casco but to all the towns around Sebago and Long Lakes is Songo Lock. A stone’s throw from the original Raymondtown and present-day Casco, before land to the north of Crooked River was taken to help form Naples, Songo Lock is the key to travel by boat between Sebago and Long Lakes.

Originally a natural waterfall contained in a series of ponds and streams including Long Pond, Chute River, Brandy Pond, Songo River, and Sebago Pond (lake was not a term that was used in the early days of settlement), it was necessary to provide a lock for passage of craft larger than canoes.

This was Lock #28 in the route of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal from Portland to Harrison, constructed between 1827 and 1830, with the other 27 locks being in the dug portion of the route between the “Lower Guard Lock” at tidewater near the present Portland Bridge up through Stroudwater, Westbrook, Gorham and Standish to the “Upper Guard Lock” into the Sebago Basin below White’s Bridge.

To complete the intended route to Thomas Pond (now Lake Keoka) in Waterford more locks would have been required to climb from Harrison along Bear River to Bear Pond and Thomas Pond.

The original lock at Songo Falls was of the conventional construction as were most of the others, laid up stone with plank facing to provide smooth passageway of 10-foot width to pass the standard canal boat of the day. Before the abandonment of the dug portion of the canal route to Portland in 1870, the Songo Lock had been enlarged to allow passage of the newer and more sophisticated side wheel steamboats that gave the first competition to the canal boats on the lakes.

These began with the era of the “Fawn” in 1847, or at about the same time with the “Monkeydena,” depending on the history source you prefer.

Later came the larger steamboats, both freight and passenger with further enlargement until the Songo Lock was converted to cement construction in 1913 to accommodate the largest of the steamboats, the “Goodridge,” which was built that year at Bath Iron Works and transported to Naples in pieces for assembly.

When the canal era created a booming commercial enterprise, the Songo Lock area almost became a canal junction with all the status that distinction would have provided.  The Androscoggin Canal was proposed, which was to follow the Crooked River from Songo Lock up to Songo Pond and then on down to the Androscoggin River in Bethel.   

This would have greatly expanded the inland country to be served by direct route for commerce to Portland. But the advent and development of the railroad had spelled out the death knell of the canal and all expansion of the canal system ceased.

Though the dug portion of the canal with its 27 locks was closed in 1870, canal boats remained in operation on Sebago and Long Ponds, with the one lock at Songo left to salvage their feelings of pride in their traditions.

The Songo River itself did not, however, qualify as a canal as there was no tow path as on the rocked route to Portland for horses to draw the canal boats to the open water where their sails could be used for propulsion. Instead, it was necessary to use poles to push the awkward craft up the snaky stream with seldom a chance for a fair wind for their sails, an experience that would seem more frustrating to us now.

At present time, Songo Lock is operated from May through September for the passage of pleasure boats as a Maine State Parks Service activity. For a small fee charged for the lift or drop, once six cents for a canal boat that filled a lock, but now a dollar per boat for as many as can be crowded in at once, a boater can be convinced of the fact that boats as well as other conveyances can climb hills.

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646. <    

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