The Miami and Erie Canal was a canal completed in 1845 between Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio, creating a water route between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. Much of it was abandoned after a severe flood in 1913.
As early as 1787, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had discussed the desirability of a canal linking Lake Erie to the Ohio River. 2 It wasn’t until 1807 that Ohio’s first senator, Thomas Worthington, proposed such a route. DeWitt Clinton was appointed to manage the Erie Canal Commission in 1810. Still, he could not get national aid for constructing a canal linking the Erie Canal to the Hudson River in New York. On January 15, 1812, the Ohio General Assembly passed a resolution expressing its opinion that the connection of Lake Erie with the Hudson was of “national concern.” The War of 1812 ended any hopes for the canal.
On December 11, 1816, Clinton, then Governor of New York, sent a letter to the Ohio Legislature indicating his state’s willingness to construct the Erie Canal without national help. 2 He asked the state of Ohio to join in the endeavor. The Ohio Legislature directed Governor Thomas Worthington to negotiate a deal with Clinton, but the project’s high cost derailed the project.
Governor Ethan Allen Brown made the idea of canals the chief goal of his administration from 1818 to 1822. 12 As a direct result of his leadership, the Ohio legislature created the Canal Commission and passed acts to fund the canal system in January 1822.
James Geddes, an engineer who worked on the New York canal system, was hired to design a network for Ohio. 5 12 Five routes were studied, and it was decided to construct two major canals: the Ohio & Erie Canal from Cleveland to Portsmouth via the Licking Divide and the Scioto River valley, and the Miami Canal between Cincinnati and Dayton. The latter would ultimately be extended as the Miami Extension Canal to the Wabash & Erie Canal, a canal from Indiana to Lake Erie in Toledo. 5 6 Each was to have a minimum width of 40 feet at the top, 26 feet at the bottom, and a depth of four feet. 2
In February 1825, the Ohio Legislature passed a law to borrow money for the construction of the Miami Canal. 1 Construction began at Daniel Doty’s farm south of Middletown 11 on July 21 5 10 14 following a ceremony that was attended by DeWitt Clinton. 16
The first water flowed into the canal from Abner Enoch’s mill race north of Middletown on July 1, 1827. 11 The first lock completed was at Excello, then designated as No. 1 before being renumbered to No. 34. 19 By August, trips between Middletown and Hamilton were possible, with the canal finished in Cincinnati in December. 11 A large crowd had gathered on Main Street in Cincinnati to watch water being let into the newly completed canal for the first time, but they were left disappointed. 15 It took four months before the canal could sufficiently hold water enough to float a boat.
By January 25, 1829, the 66-mile Miami Canal became operational, connecting Dayton to Cincinnati. 6 7 10 Most notable was a 48-foot change in elevation at Lockland, which necessitated a series of locks. 10 This, in turn, supported a host of water-powered mills built at the canal’s edge. By 1832, 1,000 people per week were traveling between the cities. 10 14
After political lobbying, the state agreed in 1831 to build the Miami Extension Canal, which would extend from Dayton to the Wabash & Erie Canal and Lake Erie. 7 Work on the extension started in the spring of 1833 and reached Miami County by 1835. The construction of the canal bed and ten locks in the county was completed on June 20, 1837.
The first canal boat in Piqua, called the Emigrant 7 or the General Harrison, 13 was launched on June 21. The boat, with General William Henry Harrison on board, went only to Troy due to insufficient water in the canal between Troy and Piqua. The release of water from a feeder allowed the group to continue on with only a one day delay. A grand dedication ceremony took place in the community on July 5, with notable speakers including General Harrison, John Johnston, and Ohio Militia General Joseph G. Young. 7
Piqua served as the terminus of the extension until 1842. 7 By June 1845, the entire Miami Extension Canal was finished, connecting to the Wabash & Erie Canal and establishing a water route between Cincinnati and Toledo. In 1849, the Miami Canal, Miami Extension Canal, and Wabash & Erie Canal were merged and renamed the Miami & Erie Canal. 5 7 The total cost of the canal network was $8,062,680.
The canal featured several branches. The Warren County Canal, a branch line, was built by a private company 6 from the Miami & Erie at Middletown to Lebanon in 1840. It was later taken over by the Miami & Erie, 6 although it remained in operation for just 15 years. Other side canals were built at Swan Creek in Toledo, Maumee, Grand Rapids, and Hamilton.
The canal, spanning 246 miles and incorporating four miles of slack water, featured a total of 103 canal locks, three guard locks, and 19 aqueducts, along with various feeder canals and man-made water reservoirs. Starting from Toledo and heading towards Defiance, the Miami & Erie Canal initially followed the Maumee River in a southwesterly direction before veering southward past Junction, ultimately reaching Loramie Summit in New Bremen. 5 Along this stretch, the canal rose by 217 feet through the use of 54 locks. From Lockington onwards, it gradually descended 512 feet in the Great Miami River valley, again utilizing 54 locks, until it reached the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
At Spencerville, between Delphos and St. Marys, was the deepest excavation made along the canal, ranging from five to 52 feet deep for 6,600 feet. 8
All locks on the Miami Canal were of cut limestone masonry 16 except for the 36 wooden locks between Loramie Summit and Defiance that were built on the Miami Extension Canal. 5 Some of the wooden locks were later replaced with concrete structures. Each lock was 80 feet long and 14 feet wide, able to lift a boat 10 feet. 17
The canal featured an average water depth of four feet and a width ranging from 60 feet wide from Toledo to Junction, 50 feet wide from Junction to Dayton, and 40 feet wide from Dayton to Cincinnati. 2 5 The towpath was 10 feet wide. Boats up to 90 feet long and 14 feet wide were able to be towed along the canal by mules, horses, or oxen along the towpath at a rate of four to five miles per hour.
To supply water for the canal, man-made reservoirs, including Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Loramie, were constructed, along with several feeder canals. 2 8 At the time of its completion, Grand Lake St. Marys was the largest man-made lake in the world until the construction of the impoundment behind Hoover Dam in Arizona in the 1930s. 18 Two other reservoirs had been proposed but were never built. 18
The Sidney Feeder brought water from the Great Miami River, and ran from Lockington through Sidney to a dam just upstream of Port Jefferson. 18 It was finished in 1841. 15 Indian Lake was greatly enlarged to provide a steadier supply of water for the Sidney Feeder. The Miami, Mad, St. Marys, and Auglaize Rivers also served as water sources. 8
The canal operators found a way to generate extra revenue for their operations. They started acquiring land along the canal and leasing it to local businessmen for industrial purposes. 16 By October 1834, they had successfully leased 26 mill sites between Cincinnati and Dayton, bringing in over $5,000 in annual revenues. Additionally, they had plans to identify another 150 sites between Piqua and Defiance in the future.
The canal was initially profitable but started experiencing a decline in revenues in 1852. 7 This decline was mainly due to the emergence of competition from railroads, which provided faster and more spacious transportation for both passengers and freight. By 1860, the state had established 2,946 miles of railroads, surpassing the total length of all state-operated canals by more than three times. 9 As a result, the canal became economically viable only for transporting bulk goods such as grain and salted pork. 7 Additionally, the sparse population and lack of industrial development, especially north of Dayton, further hindered the canal’s success.
In 1861, the canal system was leased to a private operator for an annual fee of $20,000 over a ten-year period. 5 7 Due to the need to navigate ten locks, the canal between the Lockport Basin at Sycamore Street and its endpoint at the Ohio River in Cincinnati was abandoned in 1863. 10 In 1871, the state renewed the lease, but declining revenues led the investment company to relinquish control in 1877, returning control to the state Board of Public Works. 7
The Miami and Erie Canal Association was established in 1878 with the aim of enhancing the canal. 7 They advocated for the construction of new canal boats and the improvement of the canal’s infrastructure, including larger locks. These upgrades were gradually implemented between 1904 and 1911. 5 7 The association also backed the Miami & Erie Transportation Company’s endeavor to lay tracks and utilize an electric “mule” to tow canal boats. 7 Unfortunately, this plan failed to materialize due to insufficient financial backing.
By 1906, the Miami & Erie Canal had largely stopped operating. The last canal boat through Sidney was around 1905, with the last boat on the canal piloted by Captain Billy Coombs, who made a run from a gravel pit outside of Newport to Fort Loramie in 1912. 13 In Piqua, the last packet through was the De Camp Statler in the same year. 7
The canal infrastructure south of Dayton, which ran parallel to the Great Miami River, was heavily damaged by the Great Dayton Flood of March 1913. 13 After a winter of record snowfall, heavy spring rains flooded the canal, destroying aqueducts and washing out banks. The remaining segments of the canal elsewhere were neglected and gradually deteriorated.
The canal in Sidney was used for pleasure cruises for several years. 13 One of the boats, the Lenita, was operated by the Verdier family and had a gasoline engine. In 1915, Martin Quinlisk, who represented Shelby County in the state General Assembly, proposed a bill to drain a portion of the Loramie reservoir and create a state park around the remaining lake. This eventually led to the establishment of Lake Loramie State Park.
A formal closing ceremony for the Miami & Erie Canal took place on November 2, 1929, at the original groundbreaking site in Middletown. 11 The legal end of the canal came in May 1931 when Governor George White signed a bill that designated the canal land for the development of a “super highway.”
In the early 1920s, the canal running through Cincinnati and St. Bernard was emptied, and the available space was repurposed for a rapid transit line. 10 Specifically, a subway tunnel was constructed along a two-mile stretch through downtown and Over-the-Rhine starting in 1925, however, the project was never finished. Despite this, the construction of a boulevard on top of the subway proved to be more successful. Known as Central Parkway, it was officially opened in 1928.
Further north, the Miami Conservancy District implemented flood control measures that further contributed to the dismantling of the canal infrastructure in that region. In Piqua, the Conservancy District constructed flood protection levee banks on the canal, and the remaining section of the canal was filled in during the summer of 1926. 7 By autumn, the tracks of the Western Ohio Railway had been relocated from Main Street to the former canal bed.
In Dayton, the canal remained unused for several years until it was completely filled in during 1927. 9 Subsequently, Patterson Boulevard was constructed on the former right-of-way. The Erie Highway in Hamilton and Verity Parkway in Middletown were built over the canal bed in the 1930s. 11 In Toledo, Canal Boulevard (today’s Anthony Wayne Trail) was developed atop the right-of-way.
The original towpath of the canal was partly redeveloped to serve as the right-of-way for the Cincinnati & Lake Erie Railroad, an electric interurban streetcar that operated until 1938. A section of the canal near Lockland was filled in, and the land was transformed into the Wright-Lockland Highway, now part of Interstate 75. 4
Further north, significant portions of the canal were destroyed when it was filled in to make way for U.S. Routes 24 and 25 and later for Interstate 75. 3
The deep cut at Spencerville between Delphos and St. Marys was designated in 1964 as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
In 1966, the Ohio Historical Society made the decision to reconstruct a canal boat near Piqua at the Johnston Farm Park. 13 They obtained three miles of canal right-of-way and started the process of designing and building the boat. By 1972, the Ohio Historical Society had completed the construction and reopened a one-mile-long section of the canal. They named the boat General Harrison of Piqua, a 70-foot replica from the 1840s canal era. 5 7 Today, this boat operates on that section of the canal, pulled by two mules. 13
A replica boat operates on a restored section of the canal in Providence. A historical re-enactment of the canal-era days is held between May and October at Providence Metropark, where re-enactors dress and act as if it was 1876. Two mules pull the canal boat, The Volunteer, while workers man the tiller. The canal boat locks through Lock 44 North.
The canal remains watered and navigable for canoes or kayaks between Delphos and St. Marys. The towpath between Fort Loramie and Delphos and beyond is used as a hiking trail.
|Swan Creek Side Cut||Toledo|
|Junction Swan Creek Side Cut||Toledo||Demolished|
|Maumee Side Cut||Maumee||2.5 miles||Included six stone locks, four of which are still existing.|
|Grand Rapids Side Cut||Grand Rapids||Side canal that served Grand Rapids.|
|Grand Reservoir Feeder||Junction to Celina||11 miles||Feeder supplied water to the main canal at Junction.|
|Sidney Feeder||Lockington to Sidney to Port Jefferson to Miami Dam||14 miles|
|Wabash & Erie Canal||Lock 39 North on the Miami & Erie Canal at Defiance to Antwerp to Indiana state line||18 miles||Included locks 8 to 13.|
|Warren County Canal||Middletown to Lebanon|
|Hamilton Basin Side Cut||Hamilton|
|Swan Creek Side Cut||Branch|
|52 North||Logan St. / Toledo||Lock|
|51 North||Newton St. / Toledo||Lock||Demolished|
|5||Junction Swan Creek Side Cut||Branch||Demolished|
|50 North||Mill St. / Toledo / Armada Mills||Lock||Demolished|
|49 North||Mill St. / Toledo / Armada Mills||Lock||Demolished|
|48 North||Mill St. / Toledo / Armada Mills||Lock||Demolished|
|47 North||Railroad Ave. / Toledo / Sash Factory||Lock||Demolished|
|NYC Water Bridge||Existing (abutments)|
|12||45 North||Port Miami||Lock||Demolished|
|14||Maumee Side Cut||Branch||Included six stone locks, four of which are still existing.|
|30||44 North||Providence Guard and Lift Lock||Lock||Existing (restored, operated)|
|Grand Rapids Side Cut||Branch||Side canal that served Grand Rapids.|
|34||42 North||Rice’s / Rees||Lock||Demolished|
|Bad Creek||Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|Turkeyfoot Creek||Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|Oberhause Creek||Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|57||40 North||Independence Guard and Lift Lock||Lock|
|36 North||Defiance / Defiance Mills / Wilhelm’s||Lock||Existing|
|35 North||Defiance / Palano / Erie Mill||Lock||Existing|
|34 North||Defiance / Paper Mill||Lock||Existing (renovated 1906-09)|
|Six Mile Creek||Culvert||Existing|
|Little Flat Rock Creek||Culvert||Existing|
|Flat Rock Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing|
|Blue Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (north abutment)|
|Little Auglaize River Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (south abutment)|
|82||31 North||Ridenhour’s / John Hipp’s Flouring Mill||Lock||Demolished|
|Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|W. Jennings Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Demolished|
|Jennings Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (south abutment)|
|108||Deep Creek Bridge||Demolished|
|Prairie Creek Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|112.5||Six Mile Creek Aqueduct||Existing|
|115||14 North||Saw Mill||Lock||Existing (replica)|
|13 North||St. Mary’s||Lock||Existing (restored)|
|120||12 North||St. Mary’s||Lock||Demolished|
|St. Mary’s River Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Demolished|
|121||Grand Reservoir Feeder||Feeder|
|11 North||Lock||Existing (good condition)|
|St. Mary’s Reservoir Feeder||Feeder||Dry|
|4 North||Saw Mill||Lock||Demolished|
|126.5||2 North||Flouring Mill||Lock||Demolished|
|128||1 North||New Bremen – North Summit Level||Lock||Existing (restored 2009)|
|133||Loramie Reservoir Feeder||Feeder||Mostly demolished; c. 1906-09 weir extant|
|Loramie Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Demolished|
|Ft. Loramie – Elm Street||Culvert||Demolished|
|Big Painters Creek||Culvert||Existing (poor condition)|
|Painters Creek||Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|Mill Creek||Culvert||Existing (poor condition)|
|151||Lockington – Sidney Feeder||Demolished|
|Lockington – Towpath Change Bridge||Bridge||Demolished|
|1 South||Lockington – Big Lock||Lock||Existing|
|Lockington – Turning Basin and Dry Dock||Basin|
|Piqua – Piqua Hydraulic Basin||Basin||Dry|
|Loramie Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (abutments)|
|6 South||Crooked Lock||Lock||Existing|
|7 South||Landman’s Mill||Lock||Existing|
|152||8 South||State Dam||Lock||Existing|
|155||9 South||Piqua||Lock||Existing (partially excavated)|
|158||10 South||Farrington & Slosson||Lock||Mostly demolished|
|Aldean||Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|160||11 South||Allen’s Mill||Lock||Demolished|
|163||12 South||Troy – Troy Dam & Troy Feeder Canal||Feeder|
|Existing inside a Hobart factory|
|165||13 South||John’s Mills||Lock||Existing|
|166||14 South||Miami Feeder Canal / Shaffer’s Lock||Feeder|
|Existing (good condition)|
|169||15 South||Tippecanoe||Lock||Existing (good condition)|
|172||16 South||Picayune||Lock||Existing (good condition)|
|175||Miami Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (partial)|
|176||17 South||Smith’s Distillery||Lock||Relocated to park|
|18 South||Distillery||Lock||Existing in Canal Lock Park|
|178||19 South||Flouring Mill||Lock||Existing (good condition)|
|Mad River Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (south abutment)|
|20 South||Mad River||Lock||Demolished|
|Mad River Dam & Mad River Feeder Canal||Feeder|
|21 South||Dayton – Cooper’s New Line||Lock||Demolished|
|184||21 South||Dayton – Old Line||Lock||Demolished|
|190||22 South||Snider’s Mills||Lock|
|191||23 South||Dryden’s Mills||Lock||Demolished|
|193||24 South||Carrollton||Lock||Mostly demolished|
|25 South||Carrollton||Lock||Mostly demolished|
|Miamisburg Hydraulic Canal|
|Sycamore Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (good condition)|
|Shepherds Run||Culvert||Existing (good condition)|
|27 South||Sunfish / Smiley’s||Lock||Existing (good condition); built 1829, rebuilt in 1907 and 1990|
|Clear Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Demolished|
|201||28 South||Franklin – Clutch’s Paper Mill||Lock||Existing|
|Middletown Hydraulic Canal||Existing|
|208||32 South||Middletown – Doty’s / Thomas Sons’ Paper Mill||Lock||Demolished for Verity Parkway|
|210||33 South||Amanda’s Mill||Lock||Existing (one chamber wall)|
|34 South||Excello – Excello Mills||Lock||Existing with spillway; built in 1826 as No. 1; stone walls covered in concrete c. 1900.|
|213||Lesourdesville – Lesourdesville Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (south abutment)|
|35 South||Swindler’s / Tangeman’s||Lock||Existing (under a paper mill)|
|36 South||Hamilton – Snider’s Sons||Lock||Demolished|
|37 South||Hamilton – Carl’s Flouring Mill||Lock||Demolished|
|221||Hamilton Basin Side Cut||Branch|
|Port Union – Port Union Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (poor condition)|
|38 South||Rialto / Friend & Fox Paper Mill||Lock||Existing (good condition)|
|39 South||Crescentville – Crescent Paper Mill||Lock||Demolished|
|Crescentville Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Existing (abutments)|
|237||40 South||Lockland – Upper Lockland||Lock||Demolished for Wright-Lockland Highway|
|41 South||Lockland – Collector’s||Lock||Demolished for Wright-Lockland Highway|
|42 South||Lockland – Flour Mill||Lock||Demolished for Wright-Lockland Highway|
|Mill Creek Aqueduct||Aqueduct||Demolished for Wright-Lockland Highway|
|241||Carthage – Ruffner’s Basin||Basin||Demolished|
|Cincinnati – Lockport (Cheapside) Basin||Basin||Demolished|
|44 South (10)||Cincinnati||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|45 South (9)||Cincinnati||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|46 South (8)||Cincinnati||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|47 South (7)||Cincinnati||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|48 South (6)||Cincinnati||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|49 South (5)||Cincinnati||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|50 South (4)||Cincinnati||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|51 South (3)||Cincinnati – Congress St.||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|52 South (2)||Cincinnati – Front St.||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
|250||53 South (1)||Cincinnati – Ohio River||Lock||Abandoned after 1863; demolished|
- Take a Trip on the Canal from the Great Miami Riverway
- Willard, Eugene B., Daniel W. Williams, George O. Newman, and Charles B. Taylor. “Transportation and Communication.” A Standard History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio. Lewis Publishing Company, 1916, pp. 91-93.
- Hagerty, J.E., C.P. McClelland, and C.C. Huntington. History of the Ohio Canals, Their construction, cost, use and partial abandonment. Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, Columbus, OH 1905.
- Dutton, Lisa. “Toledo Area Still Connected to its Canal History.”. Toledo Magazine, 9 Oct. 2011.
- Mecklenborg, Jake. “Interstate 75 — 1940s.” Cincinnati Transit.
- Trevorrow, Frank W. and David G. Barber. “Miami & Erie.” American Canal Society, 27 Jan. 2010.
- “Ohio & Indiana.” Amrican Canal Society, Jun. 2006.
- Oda, James C., and Linda Grimes. “The Miami & Erie Canal.” Piqua Public Library, 1991.
- “Miami-Erie Canal Facts.” Miami & Erie Canal Corridor Association, 2023.
- Walsh, Andrew. “Miami & Erie Canal History: When and Where was Dayton’s Canal?” Dayton Vistas, 15 Jan. 2020.
- “Throwback Thursday: Take a Trip on the Miami and Erie Canal.” Cincinnati Public Library, 2 Sept. 2021.
- Blount, Jim. “Miami-Erie Canal.” The Lane Libraries.
- Wallace, Rich. “Historical Background.” Shelby County Historical Society, Dec. 1998.
- Wallace, Rich. “The Demise of the Canal.” Shelby County Historical Society, Dec. 1998.
- Wallace, Rich. “Beginning of the Miami Canal.” Shelby County Historical Society, Dec. 1998.
- Wallace, Rich. “Opening the Canal.” Shelby County Historical Society, Dec. 1998.
- Wallace, Rich. “Construction of the Canal.” Shelby County Historical Society, Dec. 1998.
- Wallace, Rich. “Managing the Canal Locks.” Shelby County Historical Society, Dec. 1998.
- Wallace, Rich. “Water Sources.” Shelby County Historical Society, Dec. 1998.
- “Photograph of the Excello Lock, Excello, Ohio, 1905.” Midpointe Library System.