By 1820 the new state of Ohio had grown to a population of 580,000 residents. The main industry of the state was agricultural. It soon became evident that the state suffered from a severe lack of reliable transportation to move its products to eastern markets. The National Road was completed only from Cumberland to Wheeling and was an expensive method of transportation. The Ohio-Mississippi river route was long and dangerous.
The opportunity to connect Ohio with the prosperous eastern markets became a reality in 1817 when New York broke ground on a canal connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River and New York City. In 1822, the Ohio state legislature commissioned the first canal feasibility survey in an effort to bring a modern reliable transportation system to the growing state.
On July 4, 1825, at Licking Summit south of Newark, work began on the Erie Canal. Two weeks later at Middletown ground breaking was held for the Miami Canal. At the same time work began on the Ohio & Erie Canal from Portage Summit (Akron) to Cleveland.
On July 3, 1827, two years after the ground breaking, Governor Trimble and the canal commission boarded a canal boat in Akron and the next day arrived in Cleveland. By 1832 the entire 308 mile route of the Ohio-Erie was open to traffic.
Unlike the Ohio & Erie, the Miami & Erie Canal was not initially conceived as a route from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. The Miami Canal was in operation from Middletown to Cincinnati in 1828, and in 1830, the 17 miles were completed to Dayton. The "Miami Extension" to Troy was not started until 1833. To satisfy political demands additional segments were parceled out to contractors until 1845 when the entire canal was open to traffic from the Ohio River to Lake Erie.
The canals prospered until 1855, the year revenue receipts were their highest. At its peak, Ohio's canal system consisted of almost 1,000 miles of main line canals, feeders and side cuts. Located in forty-four of Ohio's eighty-eight counties, the canals touched the lives of all the state's citizens. After 1855 the impact of the railroads began to be felt, and by 1903 water sales income from selling canal water to businesses and industries exceeded the income from freight carried on the canal.
Various attempts at restoration were made between 1904 and 1910, however, on March 23, 1913, Ohio's canal system came to an abrupt end. After a winter of record snowfall, storms dumped an abnormally heavy amount of rain on the state. The flood caused the reservoirs to spill over into the canals, destroying aqueducts, washing out banks, and devastating most of the locks.
In the ensuing years most of the canal lands were sold to private individuals or transferred to other public agencies for recreation, roads, and other public uses. Many structures have been transferred to historic groups for protection. Today less than twenty percent of the original canal lands are still owned by the state. Except for the contiguous watered sections discussed in this presentation, the remaining land is in small parcels, most of which are under one acre.
In 1989 management and operation of the remaining canal system was transferred from the Department of Administrative Services to the Department of Natural Resources. Responsibility for operations of the hydraulics maintenance and water sales was assigned to the Division of Water. The real estate sales and leasing became the responsibility of the Division of Real Estate and Land Management.
2009 brought changes again to the administration of the canal lands. Responsibility for operational management of the canal lands, including real estate sales and leasing, was transferred to the Division of Parks & Recreation. The Division of Soil & Water Conservation retained responsibility for water sales and leases. Hydraulic operations were transferred to the Division of Engineering.
Miami-Erie Canal Today
Of the Miami & Erie Canal's 250 miles that once connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River, approximately 75 miles still remain in state ownership. The largest watered section (44 miles) is located along the Loramie Summit extending from Loramie Creek in Shelby County to Jennings Creek north of Delphos in Allen County. The hydraulics in this section are maintained by Division of Parks & Recreation employees working out of the St. Marys field office.
Another major section of the Miami & Erie Canal is located south of Newport in Shelby County. With the exception of stormwater, the hydraulics are no longer functioning in this section of the canal. In it's current condition, the canal towpath has the potential of being developed into a scenic hiking trail.
Approximately seven miles of watered canal along the Maumee River in Defiance and Henry Counties is under the jurisdiction of the Division of Parks and Recreation.
The Buckeye Trail and The North Country Trail are located on, or near, the towpath from Lucas County to Miami County.
In addition to these major sections, the state still maintains title to hundreds of small tracts of land along the canal and its feeders, most of which are less than one acre. Over the last 80 years, the administrators of the canal lands have sold to private interests, or transferred to other state agencies or historical groups the majority of the original canal land.
The Department of Natural Resources understands the significance of this section of canal land to the local heritage. The department is currently working with local communities and interest groups to develop a long-range strategy for preserving and developing this important heritage corridor.
Ohio-Erie Canal Today
Like its sister canal, the remaining watered section of the Ohio & Erie Canal are located on the summit. The Ohio & Erie Canal is maintained, to this day, as a water supply for local industries. After the flood, a few sections of the canal continued in use hauling cargo to local industries.
The section of the Ohio & Erie Canal from Brecksville Dam (northern Summit Co.) to Rockside Road (southern Cuyahoga Co.) was transferred to the National Park Service in 1989 as part of the Cuyahoga National Recreational Area.
A lease on the canal lands from the Cuyahoga National Recreational Area to the terminus of the canal has been executed with the Cleveland Metro Parks. Metro Parks manages the adjacent real estate and is developing the corridor into the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation.
The section of the Ohio & Erie Canal still owned and maintained by the Division of Parks & Recreation in southern Summit is referred to as the watered section. This section runs from the north end of Summit Lake south to Barberton, a distance of about 12 miles. Included in this section is the feeder canal from the Tuscarawas River and the hydraulics at the Portage Lakes.
The Ohio & Erie Canal is maintained from Akron by Division of Parks & Recreation employees. Like its sister canal, the Ohio & Erie Canal carries a large amount of stormwater. The canals were not designed to accommodate this great influx of stormwater. Most of the siltation and erosion problems experienced today are the result of stormwater inappropriately piped into the canals over the years.
In late 1996, the canal from Zoar to Cleveland was designated a National Heritage Corridor. This designation was brought about through the efforts of many communities, civic organizations, businesses and individuals working in partnership. The Department of Natural Resources is working with numerous local communities and organizations to assure the continued development of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
Reference -- "A Photo Album of Ohio's Canal Era, 1825-1913", Revised Edition. by Jack Gieck, Introduction by George Knepper, 1992