The Muscle Shoals Canal—My Canal
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Sometimes one never knows what prompts a flight of fancy, but my recent interest in this historic canal probably triggered the chain of events that led to that hike.
For its short history, the canal allowed river transportation on a more reliable basis through the treacherous shoals of the Tennessee River in north Alabama. As the historical marker above shows, the river fell 85 feet in just 14.5 miles. Over a longer stretch of the river here—37 miles--the river dropped 137 feet! For centuries the frequent rampaging floods so common here, combined with the rocky obstacles the Muscle Shoals presented, hampered transportation and development along this stretch of the Tennessee River. An attempt to construct a canal at Muscle Shoals in 1836 (more than three decades after Ireland’s Grand Canal opened to traffic) failed.
The origin of the name “Muscle Shoals” is still debated. The river bends somewhat like an arm in this part of northwest Alabama, and the shoals may have been named for the arm’s muscle. A stronger case may be made for a misspelling of the mussels found in the local waters.
I live on an inlet, called locally a “slough” that opens out into Wilson Lake as shown in the picture from my dock. The Muscle Shoals Canal lies just below the surface of the lake, only a few yards beyond the two points—you’ll see one point on the right and one on the left in the near distance. The wooded and sometimes rocky bluffs on other side of Wilson Lake are clearly visible a little over a mile in the distance.
My son fishes here and with his depth finder can quickly find the sharp drop off that indicates a side wall of the canal.