William Gooding


Picture of young William Gooding

Any history of the Illinois Michigan Canal w0uld be incomplete without considering William Gooding, the chief engineer of the project.

     Mr. Gooding was born in Bristol, Ontario County, New York on April 1, 1803. His father was James Gooding originally from Massachusetts. He moved to western New York.  Young William’s education was in public schools and with tutors.  He had no formal education in engineering.  For a while, he worked on his father’s farm.  

     In 1826, he left for Canada.  He secured a job as an apprentice under Alfred Barrett.  The project was the first Welland Canal.  It was a somewhat primitive canal made with wood.  He returned to New York for a short spell managing a store.  It apparently was not a satisfying job.  2 years later he was working as an engineer on the Wabash and Erie Canal. In 1832, he married his wife Ann Marie.  The next year, he left with his wife and infant son Edward for the area around Lockport, Il.  He joined his father and brothers there.

Elderly William Gooding

        His next position was in 1834.  He was hired to head a group of engineers to plot a survey for the Whitewater Canal from Wayne County Indiana to the Ohio River. He also worked on a survey to extend Wabash and Erie Canal.

     in 1836, he received the job as chief engineer of the Illinois Michigan Canal.  It should be noted that none of the engineers working on canals during this era had formal education.  It was all on the job experience.  These individuals all pretty much new each other.

     As chief engineer, Gooding was responsible for setting the specifications of the canal itself as well as for the locks. He determined their placement.  He supervised the work of the various independent contractors.  He was also responsible for reporting problems and progression of the canal project to the board of comissioners.

     When the original plan for the deep cut of the Summit Division had to be dropped due to cost concern, it was Gooding that developed the alternative of the shallow cut.  This new plan involved the addition of 2 locks and the addition of feeder canals.

     He laid out west Lockport. He had the canal towns of LaSalle, Morris, and Channahon surveyed.  He was responsible for the construction of a mill in Lockport in 1836.

       Gooding was particularly interested in the potential of water power specifically between Lockport and Joliet.  There was a substantial drop in the land levels between these two points.   If the canal had been constructed as originally designed, the potential for hydraulic power would have been greater than it was.

     The period between 1838–1844 was a difficult time in the history of the I and M canal.  Money for the project disappeared.  Contractors and suppliers were paid with script with a promise of cash at a later date.   Eventually worked stopped altogether.  During this time, Gooding was under pressure from local politicians.  He was blamed for all of the adversities occurring during this period. This despite the fact that most of these were not under his control.  Eventually, alternative financing was secured for the project and the canal was completed in 1848.  Despite this, Gooding was dismissed that same year by Illinois governor French.    However, the canal comissioners ( they apppreciated the work of Gooding) appointed him Secretary of the position.  This was an important job.  He held this until 1871.

     In this same year, Gooding was hired by the city of Chicago to help design a deep cut in the Summit division of the canal (ironically this was supposed to be the original design of the canal).    The purpose of this project was to reverse the course of the Chicago River and result in the Chicago sewage being sent down the canal and into the Illinois completed.  When the project was completed, two summit locks were eliminated.  

     Ultimately, this project proved to be inadequate for its stated purpose.  The result was the construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal.  

     Gooding’s health failed in the 1870’s.  He died on March 4, 1878.  He left 2 sons and 5 daughters.  

 Grave marker William Gooding

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s