Exploring the Miami & Erie Canal

I joined Jeffrey Jakucyk on a photography excursion where we had the opportunity to explore the remains of the Miami & Erie Canal. Our journey took us from Cincinnati all the way to Miamisburg, Ohio.

I joined Jeffrey Jakucyk on a photography excursion where we had the opportunity to explore the remains of the Miami & Erie Canal. Our journey took us from Cincinnati all the way to Miamisburg, Ohio.

The Miami & Erie Canal was completed in 1845, connecting Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio. This canal created a water route between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. It spanned 246 miles and included four miles of slack water. The canal system featured a total of 103 locks, three guard locks, and 19 aqueducts, along with feeder canals and man-made water reservoirs. Each lock was 80 feet long and 14 feet wide, capable of raising boats by 10 feet.

Initially, the canal was successful, but it faced a decline in revenue starting in 1852. This decline was primarily due to competition from railroads, which offered faster and more spacious transportation for both passengers and freight. By 1906, the Miami & Erie Canal had largely ceased operations. The section of the canal south of Dayton, which ran parallel to the Great Miami River, suffered significant damage during the Great Dayton Flood of March 1913. Subsequently, the canal was mostly abandoned.

We made our first stop in St. Bernard to explore the former right-of-way that passed through the village. The path of the line was clearly discernible, especially in areas where parts of it have been transformed into a linear park.

St. Bernard - Miami and Erie Canal
Miami & Erie Canal right-of-way in St. Bernard.

As we traveled northward, passing through Lockland, the visible signs of the canal’s influence have progressively diminished over the years. One notable relic was the Stearns & Foster mattress factory, which once stood adjacent to the canal. This factory relied on the canal for transportation, receiving shipments of cotton from packet boats. Additionally, the factory utilized the canal’s water resources to power its textile mill, employing a water wheel that was connected to a mechanical system consisting of gears and shafts. After the canal was abandoned, the right-of-way was used for the development of the Wright-Lockland Highway which later became a part of Interstate 75.

Lockland - Miami and Erie Canal
Miami & Erie Canal right-of-way in Lockland.

In Evendale, there is a well-preserved former pump house situated in a small park along an industrial roadway. This octagonal building houses a pump manufactured by the A. D. Cook Company of Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The company was established by August D. Cook, who was originally from Bremen, Germany, and migrated to the United States, eventually settling in Lawrenceburg. In 1881, Cook founded the A. D. Cook Company with the purpose of manufacturing tube well supplies and steam pumps. By 1901, it had become the largest factory in the world exclusively dedicated to producing deep-well pumps of the plunger type. Over time, the company expanded its production to include various types of pumps such as deep-well steam-driven pumps, plunger pumps, turbine motor-driven pumps, shallow-well pumps, as well as well supplies. Additionally, they manufactured compression-type fire hydrants and pumps for use in domestic water supply systems and power installations.

The remains of a waste weir can be found in Port Union. This structure once had slatted gates on each canal level. These gates served two purposes: to remove excess water and to facilitate the draining of the canal when repairs were needed or during winter shutdowns.

Port Union - Miami and Erie Canal
Waste weir ruins in Port Union.

There is an unidentified structure located between Hamilton and Le Sourdsville that is not depicted on a canal plat map. This structure is constructed with poured concrete and has a stone facade, suggesting that it was built after the canal era. It is probable that this structure served to impound water for hydraulic purposes.

North of Hamilton - Miami and Erie Canal

To the north, within the Rentschler Forest Metropark, are two stone arch structures over Kennedy Creek along the former Miami & Erie Canal right-of-way.

The first bridge we encountered was originally constructed for the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad’s East Middletown Branch, which was finished in 1895. In 1917, it came under the ownership of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, serving the stretch between Hamilton (milepost 0) and Woodsdale (milepost 5.9). However, when a shortcut was built connecting Wooddale to New River Junction in New Miami in 1927, this particular section was abandoned. As part of the changes, a new bridge over the Great Miami River was erected. Nowadays, the stone arch bridge is utilized as a roadway within the park.

Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad’s East Middletown Branch Kennedy Creek Bridge
Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad’s East Middletown Branch’s Kennedy Creek bridge.

Adjacent to the railroad bridge, there is another stone arch bridge intended for a trail. At the time of our visit, this trail bridge was undergoing partial reconstruction of a deteriorating wing wall. This crossing was originally part of Canal Road, which followed the path of the Miami & Erie Canal north of Hamilton.

Canal Road's Kennedy Creek Bridge.
Canal Road’s Kennedy Creek bridge.

In Excello, you can find the remains of Lock No. 34 South, which was constructed in 1826 and served as the initial functioning lock on the Miami & Erie Canal. It was initially known as Lock No. 1, with water from the spillway powering the machinery at the nearby Harding-Jones Paper Company.

Excello Lock No. 34 South - Miami and Erie Canal
This is a view of Excello Lock No. 34 South in 1905. Front row, from left to right, are Tom Jones, Henry Craig, Richard McLaughlin (McGoughlin), Clarence Jones, George Adrion, and Robert Boxter (or Baxter). Back row, from left to right, are Robert Butts, Percy McLaughlin, Carl Adrion, Paul Craig, Henry Cahill, and Ed B. McLaughlin (McGoughlin). Source: George C. Crout Collection, MidPointe Library System, Middletown, Ohio.

A local historical society once built a monument to commemorate the lock and tried to transform the surrounding area into a small park. However, the site appears to have fallen into disrepair and is no longer properly maintained, evident by the presence of garbage and neglect.

Sunfish Lock No. 27 South, located near Miamisburg, was initially constructed in 1829 and later rebuilt in 1907. In 1990, the lock underwent restoration and now serves as a feature at Crains Run Nature Park.

Equally as impressive is a skewed Pratt through truss and viaduct to the north that carries Norfolk Southern Railroad over the remains of the canal and Cincinnati Pike. Originally, it was built for the Cincinnati Division Main Line of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four. The construction of this bridge was prompted by a major flood along the Great Miami River in 1913, which caused significant damage to the Big Four’s infrastructure.

After the flood, the railroad saw an opportunity to make improvements. They decided to realign their tracks between Miamisburg and North Middletown, opting for higher ground and completely bypassing Franklin. The relocation project began in 1914 and included the construction of two bridges over the Great Miami River at Miamisburg and North Middletown, as well as the skewed Pratt through truss and viaduct over the Cincinnati Pike and Miami & Erie Canal in Miamisburg. The original mainline through Franklin came to be known as the Cincinnati Division Old Line and was eventually abandoned.

We concluded our journey at the Miamisburg Community Park, where we had the opportunity to observe the canal right-of-way which has been preserved as green space and a reconstructed culvert topped with a stone cap. This culvert dates back to September 1895.

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When I was a small Cleveland kid the family would picnic near the route of the vanished(?) Ohio and Erie Canal. But there was a lock there, complete with a gigantic timber used to swing the gate open or closed. There were some boards still attached down there in the water, and the six-year-old me could operate that gate. God only knows what the gate pivots looked like. This would have been about 70 years ago.

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