Buchanan in Botetourt County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Buchanan & The James River & Kanawha Canal
Celebrating more than two centuries of history
The General Assembly passed an act on January 14, 1785 approving the project. The James River Company formed as a result and George Washington was made its honorary president and Edmund Randolf its acting president.
The James River Company’s Charter provided for a continuous waterway from Looney’s Ferry to the navigable water at Richmond. The first part of the Canal’s construction from Richmond seven miles westward took ten years to complete. Another twenty years passed and by 1816, difficult navigation from Richmond to Buchanan was possible.
In 1820, the State took over the James River Company and operated it until 1835. In 1832, the legislature passed a bill incorporating the James River and Kanawha Company to be a joint
By 1835, sufficient funds were raised and work resumed on the section of canal between Richmond and Lynchburg. The second leg of construction from Lynchburg to Buchanan was started in 1841 and was completed in 1851. This 196 miles of the James River and Kanawha Canal cost $8,259,187.00.
The first packet boat to travel from Lynchburg to Buchanan was named the “John Early.” It carried a large number of dignitaries, prominent citizens, members of the “Saunders Band” and cannoneers of the Lynchburg Artillery. The “John Early” left Lynchburg for Buchanan on November 11, 1851 at 6:30am. Newspapers reported of crowds gathered along the canal and at every lock to cheer the arrival of the packet boat as it passed from Lynchburg to Buchanan. About 8pm, a long blast from the packet boat horn echoed through the darkness and bounced from the banks and cliffs above the James, announcing to the residents of Buchanan, the arrival of prosperity and the “John Early.” The crowds along the banks had waited through the cold day for the “John Early’s” arrival and cheered in celebration
When plans were announced for the construction of the James River & Kanawha Canal to Buchanan, it sparked a tremendous boom within the community. John Wilson expanded his business and completed construction of his Wilson Warehouse and Jacob Haney began construction of the Hotel Botetourt.
Edward Beyer’s 1855 painting of Buchanan illustrates the many warehouses and businesses which sprang up along Water and High Streets. It is difficult for us to imagine how the physical isolation due to poor modes of transportation affected every day life and opportunities for trade. Cargoes of wheat and tobacco, iron ore and timber that once required the efforts of scores of animals and dozens of wagons and drivers to transport, now were pulled along by a few draft animals, a boy to ride one, a captain and a hand or two. What might have once taken weeks to travel, now only took three days to three and one half days.
By the 1860s, revenues from the tolls on the Canal had substantially decreased due to competition from the newly constructed railroads combined with damage to the Canal system sustained during the Civil
In 1887, Buchanan’s Major John W. Johnston, father of author Mary Johnston, became the last president of the James River and Kanawha Canal. On the verge of financial collapse, the James River and Kanawha Canal was expected to go bankrupt, however, Major Johnston is credited with the creativity which kept the company afloat until a deal was closed with the Richmond and Alleghany Railway Company to purchase the assets of the James River and Kanawha Canal Company ending its ninety-five year existence, passing into history making way for the construction of the Richmond and Alleghany Railway along the tow path of the James River and Kanawha Canal, the easiest grade from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Seaboard.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & Commerce • Man-Made Features • Waterways & Vessels. A significant historical month for this entry is January 1909.
Location. 37° 31.785′ N, 79° 40.768′ W. Marker is in Buchanan, Virginia, in Botetourt County. Marker can be reached from Lowe Street (County Road T-1305) west of Main Street (U.S. 11), on the right when traveling west. Located in the parking lot near Twin River Outfitters. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 635 Lowe Street, Buchanan VA 24066, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Buchanan Bridge (a few steps from this marker); 19857 Main Street (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); A Bridge Over Time (about 400 feet away); 19827 Main Street (about 400 feet away); Kemble Building (about 400 feet away); 19806 Main Street (about 500 feet away); 19785 Main Street (about 600 feet away); 19781 Main Street (about 600 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Buchanan.
More about this marker. On the upper left is a painting with the caption, “Personally surveyed and planned by George Washington himself, the Canal was begun in 1785 under the James River Company.”
On the left is a portrait of Joseph Carrington Cabell, “Father of the James River and Kanawha Canal.”
On the lower left is an image with the caption, “Still standing at 421 Lowe Street, the John S. Wilson Warehouse is known today as the Community House.”
In the center is a “View on the James River Canal from Harpers Weekly, Sept. 28, 1861”
On the upper right is painting with the caption, “An 1855 View of the Town of Buchanan by Edward Beyer on display in the Bank of Botetourt on Main Street. Today the Swinging Bridge stands on the footers of the old covered bridge.”
On the lower right is a painting of the “James River Canal”
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on May 29, 2012, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia. This page has been viewed 836 times since then and 28 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on May 29, 2012, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.