The Ohio and Erie Canal was a canal constructed between Cleveland and Portsmouth, Ohio, much of it 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 was unable to get national aid for the construction of 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. The project’s high cost derailed the project until January 1822 when the Ohio Legislature passed acts to fund the canal system.
James Geddes, an engineer who worked on the New York canal system, was hired to design a network for Ohio. 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 & Erie Canal between Cincinnati and Dayton. The latter would ultimately be extended to the Maumee River in Toledo. Each was to have a minimum width of 40 feet at the top, 26 feet at the bottom, and a depth of four feet.
In February 1825, the Ohio Legislature passed an act to borrow money to construct the canals. 1 Ground was broken for the canal system at Licking Summit near Newark, Ohio, on July 4, 1825. On July 3, 1827, the first canal boat on the Ohio & Erie Canal left Akron for Cleveland, traveling through 41 locks and over three aqueducts over 37 miles. In 1828, the canal was opened from Akron to Massillon, to Dover in 1829, to Newark in 1830, and to Chillicothe in 1831, giving it a total distance of 258 miles.
It was then opened to Waverly in September 1832. 1 It was to have opened to Portsmouth by October, but cholera’s prevalence delayed the opening until early 1833. The Ohio Canal from Cleveland to Portsmouth cost $4,695,203 to complete and totaled 306 miles in length. In addition to the canal mainline with 146 locks, there were numerous aqueducts built atop stone piers and five feeder canals with six additional locks: 1 4
- Tuscarawas Feeder, 3.2 miles
- Walhonding Feeder, 1.3 miles
- Granville Feeder, 6.1 miles
- Muskingum Side Cut, 2.6 miles
- Columbus Feeder, 11.6 miles
The canal system enjoyed prosperous years from its inception until the early 1860s, 3 achieving peak revenue of $432,711 for the year 1851. 4 Ohio grew to become the third most prosperous state, owing much of its growth to the canal, which allowed for massive industrial development along its route. But by the dawn of the Civil War, it became apparent that the canal was losing business to railroads that could deliver goods cheaper at far faster speeds. By July 1855, the canal was in deplorable condition, and only tri-weekly packet lines were making their way to Columbus by March 1858. 1
After the canal suffered from frequent flooding, the state leased the canals in 1861 to private owners who earned revenue from tolls levied at the locks and from selling water to factories and towns. 3 4 The first canal boat in many months came through from Cleveland on November 14, 1866. 1
When the state resumed ownership in 1879, it discovered that the canal had not been maintained and that state lands had been sold illegally to private owners. 3 Additionally, it found portions of the canal filled in for “sanitary” concerns, with railroad tracks taking the place of the waterway in some instances. Nevertheless, the state was able to recoup some money through water sales as well as recover some land that had been illegally sold with the state working to reconstruct the Cleveland to Dresden segment. 3 4
On November 13, 1887, an extension of the Ohio & Erie Canal to the Ohio River opened at the cost of $10,000, but it received practically no use: only one boat made the excursion on the extension. 1 By 1911, much of the southern portion of the canal had been abandoned. 3 Major floods in 1913 caused reservoirs to spill over into the canals, destroying aqueducts and devastating most of the locks. The canal system was not repaired and commercial operations ceased.
Today, the Ohio & Erie Canal corridor is being developed into a linear park between Cleveland and New Philadelphia. 4 This involves renovating portions of the abandoned canal to its historic appearance while building a bike path on the former towpath. Roscoe Village near Coshocton was restored as a canal-era village with a museum and canal boat ride. Operable locks with water flowing as of 2023 include:
- Lock North 4 within Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Lock North 2 at Water Street in Akron
- Lock South 4 at the mill below Canal Fulton
|12||North 38||Valley View||Lock||Existing (operational)|
|38||North 2||Akron / Water Street||Lock||Existing (operational)|
|South 4||Canal Fulton||Lock||Existing (operational)|
|280||South 45||Waverly / Upper Pee Pee Creek||Lock|
|280||South 46||Waverly / Lower Pee Pee Creek||Lock|
|White’s Lake||Feeder Lake||Existing|
|308||South 55||Portsmouth / Ohio River||Lock||Existing|
- 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.
- Captain Pearl R. Nye collection (AFC 1937/002), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
- “Ohio & Erie.” American Canal Society Canal Index.