Augustow Canal – the bicentennial of the start of construction

Kanał Augustowski

The year 2023 marks the bicentennial of the start of construction of the Augustow Canal.

When the Customs War between Prussia, Russia and the Kingdom of Poland began in 1821, the thought of building a canal most likely entered the mind of Prince Franciszek Ksawery Drucki-Lubecki, then Minister of Revenue and Treasury of the Kingdom of Poland. And it was he who convinced Tsar Alexander I, King of Poland, to go ahead with the venture, as well as to lend funds for the investment. The builder of the canal, Ignacy Pradzynski, recorded in his memoirs:

It was the thought reportedly of Fr. Lubecký, so that with the construction of a navigable line from the Vistula River over the Niemen River to Vidava on the Baltic Sea, the entire trade of Poland and Lithuania would be freed from Prussian transit. The thought appealed to Emperor Alexander…”

Czar Alexander I agreed to provide a loan of 500,000. PLN for construction. The preparation of the project was entrusted to Lt. Col. Ignacy Pradzynski, who initially shied away from accepting the task. He felt that he did not have the right education. However, General Hauke, appointed to oversee the task by Grand Duke Constantine, brother of Tsar Alexander, argued:

“I in no way can tell the Prince that in the Polish artillery, engineering and quartermaster corps there is no officer who can do the canal project. If you do not want to undertake it yourself, tell me, but under the responsibility of your conscience, who better than you to do it.”

Augustow Canal – a huge and complicated investment the pride of Poles

Ignacy Pradzynski took up the challenge and in late May/early June 1823. registered in Augustow and began work. They were made at an amazing pace, as they were already made in the spring of 1824. A project for an investment called the Augustow Canal was presented. All triangulation, leveling, lake and river depths, water flow measurements were taken. In addition, an alternative route of the canal was also being developed – more to the south, with an outlet closer to Grodno. However, it was rejected due to the lack of adequate water for sluicing. In parallel, a suitable floating fleet was designed.

The study consisted of a memorandum in French,Memoire sur la ligne de Navigation devant unir la Narew au Niemen,” ten appendices with cost estimates, and drawings. Unfortunately, the graphic designs have not survived to our time, but the main document is in the resources of the Catholic University of Lublin. The course of the canal, in the line that survives to the present day, was designed to be 170 vortices (1 vortex = 1,066 meters). It was to be navigated by berliners 140 feet long and 19 feet wide (1 foot = 28.8 cm) and with a capacity of 100 cetnars (1 cetnar = about 50 kg). The project envisaged the construction of 11 locks – Augustow, at Lake Studzieniczny, in Ruda Gorczycka, in Paniewo (two-chambered), at the inlet of the Perkuć River to Lake Mikaszewo, at the Black Hancza, and on the Black Hancza, Kurzyniec, Wólka, Czortak and Kadysz (two-chambered).

There are also plans to build 14 bridges (fixed on weirs, raised on the canal) and 20 houses for service. The width of the canal bottom was to be 40 feet and the depth 5 feet. It was estimated that 3,000 would travel the route annually. units, which will result in water consumption of nearly 301 million cubic feet. It was planned to draw water (in addition to the lakes along the canal route) from the Serwy and later Wigry lakes. As you can see, the project was developed comprehensively and exhaustively. The total cost of construction was calculated at PLN 9.5 million and 175,000. For other expenses. Since earlier, both Prince Drucki-Lubecki and Tsar Alexander I had estimated the cost at 10 million zlotys, the project already in July 1824. has been approved.

Interestingly, at the same time, a project was developed by the Russians for the Vindava Canal, which was to be an extension of the waterway initiated by the Augustow Canal, with a destination point at the port of Vindava. However, it was never completed.

Augustow Canal
Augustow Canal - the bicentennial of the start of construction 1

The role of technological innovations in successful project implementation

The construction of the Augustow Canal, of course, posed a whole host of problems, just as it does today, in matters of organization, personnel, equipment and materials. And also logistical, since most of the canal ran through a completely wilderness area. The most significant problem, however, was the binder with which the walls of any hydraulic structures were to be joined, especially in the underwater part.

This is where all the open mind of Gen. Prądzyński and his knowledge of technical innovations. In 1818. and in 1822. French engineers Louis Vicat and Raucaürt de Charleville have announced the results of their work on hydraulic lime. It was this solution that was decided to use. An entire system for producing hydraulic lime at the Augustow Canal construction site has been developed. Without going into elaborate descriptions of production methods, it is worth mentioning that when in 1967. samples were taken from several locks, the binder still showed very good strength parameters and retained its properties. There was also no damage related to fluctuating water levels or frost erosion.

Numerous problems accompanying the implementation of the investment

The construction of the canal was developing. Projects for the construction of locks in Dębowo, Sosnovo, Borki, Białobrzegi, Swoboda, Tartak were created. Problems arose on February 25, 1826, when Prądzyński was arrested for participating in Major Lukasinski’s plot. General Mallet took over the construction management. Prądzyński returns to Augustow three years later, but no longer as general in charge. Cooperation with General Mallet does not work out, so he only conducts auxiliary affairs. Initially, he ties his hopes to Augustow. He has a house here and brings his wife here. However, due to the inability to return to supervise construction, he sells the property and sends his family to his brother. After the outbreak of the November Uprising (1830), he finally leaves Augustow. Any redesign of the project, including the decision to add new locks, was already the work of General Mallet. Between 5,000 and 7,000 people took part in the construction.

Construction was interrupted by the November Uprising. Work resumed in 1833.First of all, all war damage had to be repaired. The project was completed in 1838, and in the following year regular shipping began on the Augustow Canal. The total cost of construction was about 12 million zlotys.

It is worth mentioning that the very beginning of the construction of the Augustow Canal resulted in the withdrawal of Prussia from customs duties.

Since the Vistula-Baltic waterway did not eventually come into being, transportation via the Augustow Canal was not very great. In 1840. The administration of the facility was taken over by the Bank of Poland. However, revenues from transport fees were not even enough to cover the cost of maintaining the facility. Traffic on the channel gradually disappeared. The political situation – the Russification measures of Tsar Alexander II – also contributed to this. No industrial enterprises or shipping companies were established. The canal was maintained, but at little cost and insufficiently. In the later years of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The canal was deteriorating. Further destruction was wrought by World War I.

Augustow Canal - the bicentennial of the start of construction 2

The Augustow Canal today

In the interwar period, attempts were made to restore the function of the Augustow Canal. Unfortunately, to no avail. Military operations during World War II left a huge amount of destruction in their wake. The locks in Augustow, Borki and Sosnov were heavily damaged. Most outbuildings and residential houses were destroyed. The gates at the Kudrynki, Tartak, Gorchitsa, Svoboda and Przewiaź locks were blown up. After the war, the Ministry of State Forests was very insistent on the rapid reconstruction of the Augustow Canal, as huge amounts of timber, in which Suwalszczyzna is rich, were needed to lift the country from ruin. And the canal was a traditional route for floating timber. As early as 1945. reconstruction began, and two years later it was possible to transport wood from Kudrynek to Augustow.

The Augustow sluice has been built in a different location than originally. Complete reconstruction was completed in 1950. Over the years, the area around the Augustow Canal has become a tourist attraction. Resorts, new roads, camping spots and campgrounds were being built. Its proximity to Warsaw has made Augustow fashionable. Silence, tranquility, forests, lakes – all this was expected by tourists increasingly visiting the area. A very important date for the Augustow Canal was 1968, when it was declared a Class One monument.

Today, it is rather hard to talk about the return of freight transport on the Augustow Canal. For that, it is undoubtedly a great tourist attraction. As a result, towns along the canal route are developing. The trail itself, by virtue of being a historic landmark, must remain as is. This is the task of the current administrator – Polish Water. In the near future, it is worth directing the development of the canal towards tourism. More marinas and harbors should be built, places where tourists can swim in and relax.

Photo author: Jakub Stonawski

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