National Geographic : 1934 Apr
BY CAR AND STEAMER AROUND OUR INLAND SEAS BY MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS AUTHOR OF "SUMMER HOLIDAYS ON THE BOSPORUS," "EAST OF SUEZ TO THE MOUNT OF THE DECALOGUE," "FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN TO THE YELLOW SEA BY MOTOR," ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE With Illustrationsfrom Photographs by the Author THE turn of a key, a kick at the self starter, and I was off for a 9,000 mile road-and-water tour of the Great Lakes. Early last June, at Buffalo, I visited the worried captain of a splendid freighter which had not moved for two years. Six weeks later, south of the "Soo," we waved to each other from ship to ship. His heart was light, his freighter heavy with cargo. Six times as much ore was moving down the Lakes as had moved in 1932. Once more the big parade of ships makes Detroit River the busiest waterway on earth. Fresh, welcome smoke is again pouring from a thousand chimneys. Not since I traversed Mustafa Kemal Pasha's newly awakened Anatolia have I seen such a large proportion of road improvements. The Civilian Conservation Corps is saving forests and developing manhood on the same job. City folk find recreation at bathing beaches or beside trout streams and Old Sol is spreading sun tan in spots he never even saw before. The Great Lakes contain half the fresh water on earth; enough to cover the con tinental United States 10 to 18 feet deep, or to fill a 30-foot ship canal from here to the sun! THE GREAT LAKES DESERVE THEIR NAME Africa's largest lake, Victoria Nyanza, would cover most of Lake Superior, but it would take 71 Victorias to fill it. Asia's premier lake, the Aral Sea, is a bit larger than Lake Huron, but it would take four Arals to fill one Huron. Two Lake Baikals would scarcely reach beyond the edges of Lake Michigan, although they would con tain nearly three times as much water. If they only lay there, basking in the sun or raging with storms, our inland seas would be impressive. But they have served America as no inland sea has served another land. At every corner of the Great Lakes, and because of them, busy cities have risen. On the banks of a hundred tiny creeks commerce has planted its loading piers or elevators (see map, pages 454-5). Our bridges crossed our Lakes as ore be fore they crossed a river. Scarcely a sky scraper whose framework has not wallowed in the swell of our "Big Sea Water" before combing our urban skies. The story of our Great Lakes is one of unbelievably cheap freight rates, of marvelously active freight ers, of fur and lumber, iron and grain. In the days when the principal crop of America was cold-bred fur, the St. Law rence was the gateway to our Midwest. While the English were seeking the North west Passage to the alluring Orient and colonists along the Atlantic were consoli dating their position against the wilderness, French voyageurs and missionaries were following stream and portage to the heart of America. Colonization was caught between sea and mountain. Exploration paddled its swift canoes on lakes and rivers. FROM FUR TO TIMBER TO ORE Fur was the incentive, and temporal or spiritual empire the dream, of Nicolet, Joliet, Marquette, and La Salle, to whom the watershed between the Great Lakes and the wide Mississippi Basin was famil iar while the British were still settling the seacoast. As early as 1700 one could ride horseback from Portland, Maine, to Rich mond, Virginia, sleeping each night in a village. But the Appalachian barrier held. Meanwhile the French, more nomadic, were spread thinly over a tremendous inland empire. In 1803 most of this land became ours through the Louisiana Purchase, and the vast territory which fur trade and Indian alliances had won for France gave trans Appalachian colonization new impetus. For a little less than four cents an acre the young American Republic acquired rich agricul tural lands stretching to the headwaters of the Missouri and the Yellowstone.* Around the Lakes, fur ceded its primary place to grain or lumber. Hiawatha's * See "How the United States Grew," by McFall Kerbey, and "New Map Reveals Wonders of Our Country," in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, May, 1933.