A canal is defined as a human-made waterway that allows boats and ships to pass from one body of water to another toward inland. Mother Brook Canal in Dedham, Massachusetts is confirmed as the first canal in America dug by English settlers by The American Canal Society. It is declared as both the oldest man-made canal in North America and the first canal constructed in the U.S. by the state of Massachusetts.
Mother Brook Canal is one of the very few hydraulic canals in America. It initially was not used for transportation. It was instead created as a "diversion" canal connecting the Charles and Neponset Rivers in 1639.
Apparently, the slow Charles River couldn't support a mill for the early settlers of Dedham, southwest of Boston. The diversion to the Neponset River made for a good head of water (and also lawsuits from mills downstream on the Charles).
Today, a quarter of the water in the Charles is still diverted to the Neponset River and the Hyde Park section of Boston still has Mill Pond on Mother Brook. On March 25, 1639, Massachusetts Bay Colony Gov. John Winthrop approved the first manmade canal in the British colonies. It was begun in the summer of 1639 and took about 16 months to complete.
The ditch to be dug would connect the East Brook (behind the present-day Brookdale Cemetery) and the Charles, diverting enough water to power a water wheel. From 1639 to 1640, the settlers dug the canal. Thus a ditch, approximately 4,000 ft. (1,200 m) long, was dug from the Charles River to East Brook, creating what is called Mother Brook today. The colonists dug a 4,000-foot ditch connecting the Neponset River with the Charles River. The mills built along the canal fueled Dedham’s growth as an industrial center. They also provided water power to the town until the early 20th century.
Currently, Mother Brook is part of a flood-control system that diverts water from the Charles River to the Neponset River. The brook's flow is under the control of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and is used for flood control on the Charles. There are three remaining dams on the stream, plus a movable floodgate that controls flow from the Charles into Mother Brook.
The brook has given its name to the modern day Mother Brook Community Group, the Mother Brook Arts and Community Center, Riverside Theatre Works, and the erstwhile Mother Brook Club and Mother Brook Coalition. Today you can walk along a stretch of the brook, beginning at the Mill Pond Park in East Dedham.