Canal History

Miami and Erie Canal History

The Miami and Erie Canal was built between 1825 to 1845 extending 249 miles from Toledo to Cincinnati Ohio. The canal had 19 aqueducts, three guard locks, and 103 lift locks.* *The series of 105 canal locks raised canal boats 395 feet above Lake Erie, and 513 above the Ohio River at Cincinnati Ohio. Each canal lock was 90 feet long by 15 feet. The peak of the Miami and Erie Canal at the “Loramie Summit” extended 21 miles from Lock 1-N in New Bremen Ohio to lock 1-S in Lockington north of Piqua, Oh.

**The entire canal system was 301.49 miles long and cost $8,062,680.07.

During the construction of the Miami and Erie Canal, it was a center of disease, and drunken violence. Irish immigrants, convicts, and local farmers use picks, shovels and wheelbarrows to relocate the dirt and clay. This dawn to dusk labor brought in a wage of 30 cents a day.

By its completion in 1845, the Miami and Erie Canal was soon to have competition of the expanding railway system. From 1850 to 1860, the railway system in Ohio went from 375 to 2946 miles of track. In the 1860’s the City of Cincinnati received a 3/4 mile outlet of the Miami and Erie Canal for street and sewer expansion. During that same era, Toledo was given several miles of the canal for similar purposes. In 1861, the Ohio legislature passed a law allowing the leasing canals for a ten year terms to a private company for the annual rent of $20,075. The lease included maintenance mandates of the canals; however, the law lacked conditions to provide documentation of the canal’s value and condition at the time of the lease. During this period, the canals deteriorated greatly. In late 1877, the lessees refused to pay the rent of the prior six months. 

During the active life of the Miami and Erie Canal, canal boats made transportation of passengers and goods possible from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Passengers fees were 2 to 3 cents per mile, with the hauling of freight costing 2 cents per mile per ton with fees going down to 1.5 cents on trips over 100 miles. The canal boats traveled 4 to 5 miles per hour.

Canal minimum construction standards included

  • 4 ft. water depth
  • 40 ft. wide at water level
  • 10 ft. wide towpath in addition to mandated outer slopes
  • All slopes are 4-1/2 ft. horizontal to 4 ft. perpendicular
  • Canal Boats could be up to 14 ft. wide.

Ohio Canals prior to the Civil War returned to the State nearly seven million dollars in net receipts. The canals were also a major factor in Ohio’s major population growth, wealth, and power.  In fact, the population expansion in Ohio jumped 68% between 1830 and 1840. Indirect effects of the Canals in Ohio include raising the prices of labor and products within Ohio, which promoted the growth of industries such as agriculture, and mining. One such example was the price of a bushel of wheat grown in central Ohio went from 50 to 75 cents.

A third major canal was proposed in central Ohio in addition to the Miami and Erie Canal on the west side of the state, and the Ohio and Erie Canal on the east side of the state. This third canal would have run down the northern half of central Ohio along the west side of the Sandusky River from Sandusky Co. to Wyandot Co. at Upper Sandusky. The canal would have then continued south along the Scioto River in Marion Co. , and later connected to the Ohio and Erie Canal in southern Franklin Co. near Lockbourne.

Sources

  • Marker at St.Marys’ Memorial park
  • Marker located in downtown New Bremen
  • “History of the Ohio Canals”, J.E. Hagerty, copyright 1905
  • “Pathways of Progress”,David W. Bowman, copyright 1943
  • Map of Ohio Canals, prepared by Capt. Hiram M. Chittenden, Corps of Engineers, U.S.A
  • Source: “Vol.III The Passing of the Frontier, Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, copyright 1941.