The Miami and Erie Canal

by Barb Turner, Publicity Chair

The 2017 Family Campers & RVers Campvention in Lima, Ohio, hosted by the Great Lakes Region, July 9 – 16, will offer new areas for our members to explore either before, after, or during Campvention.  With this in mind, we’ll explore areas that might interest attendees in the next few months leading up to Campvention..

The Miami and Erie Canal provides interesting sites within easy driving distance of the Allen County Fairgrounds, site of Campvention.

The Miami and Erie Canal was constructed on the western side of the state of Ohio to create a water route from Toledo (on Lake Erie) in the north to Cincinnati (on the Ohio River) in the south.  Why?  Commerce!  The canal provided an easy mode of transportation for goods to travel from the northern part of Ohio to the Ohio River.  From there the products/goods could be transferred to river transportation to go on down the Ohio to the Mississippi River and New Orleans where they were sold..

What an undertaking!  Construction began in 1825, 22 years after Ohio became a state.  It was completed in 1845!  That’s 20 years, at state expense of $8,062,680.07.  ‘At its peak, it included 19 aqueducts, three guard locks, 105 canal locks, multiple feeder canals, and a few man-made water reservoirs.  The canal climbed 395 feet above Lake Erie and 513 feet above the Ohio River to reach a topographical peak called the Loramie Summit which extended 19 miles between New Bremen (Lock 1 North) to Lock 1 South in Lockington, north of Piqua.  Boats up to 80 feet long were towed along the canal by mules, horses, and oxen walking on a prepared towpath along the bank at a rate of 5 miles per hour.’  ‘Locking Through’ was the process to raise and lower the canal boats as they traversed the topographical changes along the canal.

Construction of such a canal in 1825 was far different from what it would be today; thus, the 20 years.  Construction requirements: water depth – 4 feet; width at water level – 40 feet; towpath width in addition to mandated outer slopes – 10 feet; all slopes were to be 4 ½  feet horizontal to 4 feet perpendicular; and the canal must accommodate boats up to 90 feet in length and 14 feet in width.  How were these requirements met?  Manual labor!  ‘Irish immigrants, convicts, and local farmers used picks, shovels and wheelbarrows to relocate the dirt and clay. This dawn to dusk labor brought in a wage of 30 cents a day.’  Disease was a problem for the workers.  Drunken violence was also a problem along the construction route.

A canal, of course, needs water.  Man-made reservoirs such as Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Loramie were constructed.  Several feeder canals were built.  Indian Lake was greatly enlarged to provide a steady supply of water via feeder canals.  (Today, you might want to enjoy the state parks at Grand Lake St. Marys, Lake Loramie, and Indian Lake, all of which are within easy driving distance of the Campvention site.  They have excellent campgrounds.)

As the canal was completed in 1845, railroads were being built in Ohio.  Railroads were the canal’s major competitor for the remainder of its operation.  Problems for the canal versus rail transportation?  The canal froze over in the winter.  Moving goods by canal boat was slow, especially for perishable goods as well as passenger traffic compared to the train.  Even though canal services were cheaper, particularly for bulk cargoes, overall they couldn’t compete with the railroad.  By 1906 the canal essentially ceased operation.  The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 and the dams subsequently built to prevent a similar event destroyed much of the southern infrastructure. The canal was abandoned.

What can you see today within easy driving distance of Campvention?

About 40 miles south of Lima is the historical site of Johnston Farm & Indian Agency (9845 N Hardin Rd., Piqua, Ohio) where you can travel a small section of the Miami and  Erie Canal aboard the General Harrison canal boat.  It is a 70-foot replica canal boat like those used to transport passengers and goods in the 19th century.  The boat is pulled by mules along the towpath.  Costumed guides will take you back to that quiet time along the Miami and Erie Canal.

In addition to the canal, tour the site which tells the story of early Ohio and the Upper Miami Valley.  The site was the home and farm of Col. John Johnston who served as a Federal Indian Agent in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Piqua, Ohio.  Again, costumed guides will take you back to that early period of 200+ years ago.  The farm is open to the public Thursday – Sunday in June, July, and August.  To learn more, visit the website at http://johnstonfarmohio.com.

North of Johnston Farm & Indian Agency, about 20 miles south of the campvention site, is Lock 1 North at New Bremen which was founded in 1832 by a group of German immigrants near the mid-point of the canal.  Lock 1 North in the center of town was built at the north end of the Loramie Summit.  The canal brought great prosperity to the village with grist mills, woolen mills, sawmills, and several pork-packing plants and grain warehouses along the canal.  Visit the lock and the lockmaster’s house beside it.  While in the village, visit the Bicycle Museum of America (7 W. Monroe Street, near the lock).  Over 300 bicycles are on display.

Visit http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/Portals/parks/PDFs/canals/ME_canal_booklet.pdf for much more information on the Miami and Erie Canal and other sites along the old Miami and Erie Canal in planning your trip to Campvention 2017 in Lima, Ohio next July.

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