Kaleidoscope: Canal remains visible in many parts of Ohio

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As a rail fan, I have explored many structures in Ohio related to the railroad industry -- dilapidated and restored depots, bridges, trestles, viaducts, yards, tunnels and interlocking towers.

I've walked across bridges over creeks and rivers and through tunnels which no longer carry train traffic. I've examined remnants of former railroad lines such as stone piers, and I've visited museums in once-busy passenger and freight depots.

In the last six years, I've written about many of these experiences in this column.

I've also visited many remnants of an older form of transportation -- canals -- including museums, stone / concrete locks, old canal towns, replicas of boats, and warehouses and mills -- some abandoned, some now used for other purposes.

Canals were a major innovation in Ohio. They were responsible for bringing the state out of the wilderness and putting it "on the map." They provided farmers, lumberjacks and coal miners the means to get goods to Lake Erie and the Ohio River.

There were about 1,000 miles of canals in Ohio, starting with the first -- the Ohio & Erie -- in 1825. It meandered 308 miles from Cleveland to Portsmouth, featured 146 lift locks and is sometimes referred to as "Ohio's Grand Canal."

The other major canal, also started in 1825, was the Miami & Erie running more than 250 miles from Toledo to Cincinnati. Construction continued until 1847.

Major canals feeding into the Ohio & Erie were the Pennsylvania & Ohio from Youngstown to Akron, the Sandy & Beaver from East Liverpool to Bolivar and the Hockey Valley from Athens to Lancaster.

There were numerous side cuts and feeder canals into the Ohio & Erie and Miami & Erie, such as the Tuscarawas, Walhonding, Granville, Columbus, Sidney and Wabash & Erie. And there was a short canal from Huron on Lake Erie to Milan.

The heyday for Ohio's canals was from the 1820s to early 1860s, with the highest revenues recorded in the 1850s. As more rail lines were built, canal use declined, and by the 1870s-80s many stretches of the canals were dry and unusable.

A few boats still plied the waters and canal water was being used for industries and governmental purposes in the early 1900s, but that ended when the flood of 1913 caused massive destruction to the infrastructure.

Today, some portions of canals hold water. There are a handful of canal boat replicas which offer peaceful excursions, such as the St. Helena III at Canal Fulton, Monticello III at Roscoe Village near Coshocton and General Harrison at Piqua in western Ohio.

Groups such as the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and Miami & Erie Canal Corridor Association have undertaken efforts to preserve canal history. Established in 1989, the canalway coalition focuses on the stretch between Cleveland and New Philadelphia.

REMNANTS PLENTIFUL

Even though it's been almost 190 years since the first canals were built, many remnants remain.

The most abundant relics are the locks. They were made of massive stones or concrete and were built to last a long time. Some are in tip-top shape; some are crumbling. Many are visible along highways; others are tough to find in grown-up fields and woods.

Several can be found in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Lock 38 is just outside the Canal Visitors Center in Valley View, and not far away is the site of the old Tinker's Creek Aqueduct, which was disassembled a few years ago.

Lock 28, known as Deep Lock, is just south of Peninsula. At 17 feet, it was the deepest lock on the Ohio & Erie. A quarry nearby provided stones to build the lock and grinding stones for area mills. It is now in Deep Lock Quarry Park.

Cascades Locks just to the north of downtown Akron is an interesting place to visit. Several locks are clustered together, just south of where the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal, which ran through Ravenna and Kent, entered the Ohio & Erie.

Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron has become an entertainment venue. Just north of it, the canal runs under the Civic Theater. Lock 2 can be explored behind Canal Park stadium, and just to the south is the location of Lock 1.

There are watered portions of the canal through Barberton, and Canal Fulton boasts Lock 4 Park. Down through Massillon and Navarre, remnants of the canal are scarce. At Bolivar, the Ohio & Erie and Sandy & Beaver crossed the Tuscarawas River over two aqueducts.

The locks most familiar to me are south of New Philadelphia. As kids, a friend and I played in Blake's Mill Lock 13 when it was clogged with brush. It has been cleared in recent years, and an Ohio Historic Marker stands at one end.

Down Route 416 about 2 miles, Lock 14 stands out along the road. Lock 15 at the southern edge of the village of Tuscarawas has been cleaned up and a foot bridge built over it. Lock 16, a few hundred feet away, is overgrown, and Lock 17 was destroyed years ago when Route 36 was widened.

A small village called Lock Seventeen once existed at Lock 17. Only a couple of homes remain, as does an old mill which I've passed many times. I have a book with a photo of a boat passing through that lock in the late 1800s.

Near Roscoe Village are well-preserved triple locks from the old Walhonding feeder. Nearby, an aqueduct once crossed the Walhonding basin, which is now part of Coshocton Lake Park. The Monticello III canal boat operates there.

There are several other multiple locks visible on canal beds, including triple locks at the Dresden Side Cut in Muskingum County and Lockville in Fairfield County. A string of five locks are on the Miami & Erie at Lockington north of Piqua.

In addition to the Cascades Locks in Akron and the ones in Tuscarawas County, I've visited ones at Roscoe, Dresden, Lockville, Haydenville and recently passed Locks 7-10 on a 6-mile hike canal towpath hike between Bolivar and Zoar.

In recent years, Lock 9 in Newark has been restored. It's near downtown, and a 170-year-old lock keeper's house stands across an alley from it. I lived in that house in the early 1980s after it was converted into four apartment units.

SOME OLD BUILDINGS

When canals fell into disrepair and were becoming less used, the state sold some portions to private citizens. Trees, brush, homes, buildings and roads filled in the channels, and today, it's tough to recognize where many sections were.

There are some old business structures which still stand along the canals, and some are occupied.

For example, the Canal Visitors Center in Valley View once was a notorious tavern; the area around it was called Hell's Half Acre. South of it is Alexander's Mill, built in the 1850s and still operating as the Wilson Feed Mill. In Akron is the restored site of the old Mustill General Store.

As a kid, I remember Blake's Mill standing along the canal in New Philadelphia. It was razed about 30 years ago. The New Philadelphia Brewery was about four blocks from Blake's Mill, but was razed in 1964 to make way for the Route 250 bypass.

An abandoned building at Lock 17 in Tuscarawas County, which housed a mill, is another familiar canal relic to me, as is an old canal warehouse in Newcomerstown which now houses the Eureka-Orme Hardware Store.

Another warehouse, which several years ago was transformed into one of my favorite places to eat in Ohio -- the Warehouse Steak N Stein -- is one of the restored buildings in Roscoe Village. Many other old buildings have been restored there, and it has become a popular tourist attraction.

There are several other buildings I'm familiar with along old canal beds, including the Canal Tavern of Zoar and the Canal House (formerly Metzger's Tavern) in Tuscarawas, both restaurants / taverns that afford good eating.

Colorful murals have cropped up on buildings in old canal towns, including Massillon, Newark and Delphos (on the side of the Delphos Herald newspaper building). The one in Newark is across the alley from the lock keeper's house I lived in.

Along many old canal beds and towpaths, walking and bicycle trails have sprung up, such as the 101-mile Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail between Cleveland and New Philly.

In fact, a new 213-foot bridge built over the original stone piers of one of the two Bolivar aqueducts has provided a towpath link between southern Stark County and northern Tuscarawas County. About five or six years ago, a bridge was built over Interstate 77 to link Bolivar and Zoar.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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