In 1816, the Virginia legislature chartered the Richmond Dock Company. It operated independently of the James River and Kanawha Canal until 1854, when the Tidewater Connection was constructed. The Tidewater Connection, a series of locks and basins from 17th Street to the Canal Basin, joined Richmond Dock to the Kanawha Canal. Much of the labor to build these waterways was provided by African Americans and immigrants, whose strength and toil moved the earth and hauled the stone. With the opening of the Tidewater Connection, the long-held vision of a canal link from the mountains to the sea became a reality. The canal flourished during the 1850s, but after the Civil War railroad cars proved more efficient than canal boats. The canal towpath was taken for the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad in 1880.
Across the canal is Chapel Island, named for the early Episcopal chapel there, active prior to the 1741 founding of St. John's Episcopal Church (north of here on Church Hill). For many years, when the island was lower in elevation, a good portion of it was often submerged and used as the Sandy Bar fishery. In the late 19th century, Mrs. Jane King's Ice Co. warehouse and wharf were located at the upper end. The island's most famous occupant was William R. Trigg's shipyard, established at the turn of the 20th century. Trigg produced both naval and commercial vessels. In 1900, the United States Navy commissioned several torpedo boats and, a few years later, two destroyers, the USS Dale and USS Decatur, which served in the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Fleet. Today, a substantial portion of Chapel Island is occupied by the Norfolk Southern Railroad yard and the city's sewage retention basin, completed in 1979.