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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

OHIO AND ERIE CANAL - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The OHIO AND ERIE CANAL, connecting Lake Erie at Cleveland with the Ohio River at Portsmouth, was constructed by the State of Ohio between 1825-32 to provide cheap transportation and to promote the state's economic development. Cleveland became the canal's northern terminus through the efforts of attorney and state representative ALFRED KELLEY†, who supervised construction of its northern division as acting canal commissioner. The canal was a minimum of 40' wide at the water line, 26' at the bottom, and 4' deep, dug by laborers using picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows, with oxen to drag heavy trees and stones. When construction began in 1825, wages were $5 per month plus temporary housing, board, and daily rations of whiskey. With its terminus on the eastern bank of the CUYAHOGA RIVER near the foot of Superior Ave., the canal opened officially between Cleveland and Akron on 4 July 1827. Built at a cost of $4.3 million, the canal was 308 miles long and required 146 lift locks. Wooden canal boats were limited by the size of its locks--90' long in the chamber and 15' wide, with a pair of wooden gates at either end. Large-capacity freight boats were towed by mules in tandem and passenger packets, designed for faster travel, were towed by horses at a speed of 4 mph or less.

State Boat No. 1, south of Stone Rd., on the Ohio-Erie Canal, 1902. WRHS, Courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.

After 1850 canal use and maintenance declined as railroad mileage increased. In 1872 the State of Ohio transferred ownership of 3 mi. of canal at the terminus to the city of Cleveland. The weigh lock was relocated to S. Dille St., and a guard lock was provided for an outlet onto the river by 1875. The abandoned canal bed was leased to the Valley Railroad in 1879. The original terminus was obliterated with the construction of the Detroit-Superior Viaduct. Although there was extensive reconstruction from 1905-09, the state declined to rebuild the canal after many sections were destroyed by the spring flood of 1913. A section south of Cleveland was maintained for industrial use of the water; 3 locks and an aqueduct became part of the CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL RECREATION AREA.

Kilbourne, John. Public Documents Concerning the Ohio Canals (1928).

Scheiber, Harry N. Ohio Canal Era (1969)

Last Modified: 22 Aug 2002 06:49:26 PM

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