George Washington and Thomas Jefferson actually discussed the idea of a canal from Lake Erie to the Ohio River back in 1784. It wasn’t until July 4, 1825, that ground was broken for the Ohio-Erie Canal at Newark, Ohio to move goods more efficiently across Ohio.
Amazing as it seems these canals were hand-dug with shovel and wheelbarrow and sometimes mules pulling drag lines. The canal was about 40′ wide at water level and 26′ wide at the bottom with a depth of about 4′. Farmers and townspeople started digging the canal but were grateful for assistance from German and Irish immigrants.
Pay for canal workers was 30 cents a day plus room, board, and a daily ration of whiskey. The whiskey was to help fight off the Shakes, which happened due to the frequency of malaria on the mosquito infested waters.
Many of us are familiar with the gorgeous towpaths that encourage biking and hiking along the old canal. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have ridden on the Monticello III at Roscoe Village as the horses still pull it along the old canal. However, there are pieces still visible from that early canal that go unnoticed here in central Ohio. Here is a sampling of some of those canal remnants.
New Philadelphia- Lock 13
There were 15 locks in Tuscarawas County. Lock 13 can be found south of US-250 near New Towne Mall in New Philadelphia. Many have memories of using this spot for childhood adventures when it was filled with brush at Blake’s Mill. Now it is cleared and there is an Ohio Historical Maker in place.
The canal was responsible for bringing more commerce to Ohio. Then farmers, lumberjacks, and coal miners could get their products to the Ohio River or Lake Erie.
Tuscarawas – Upper Trenton Lock
Lock 15 was built of sandstone block and named for the nearby town of Trenton, which is now Tuscarawas. There were several warehouses at Trenton where merchants would bring their goods for shipment to all parts of Ohio. Today, the area has been made into a relaxing historical spot with a footbridge built over the canal.
Just down the road a few hundred feet is Lock 16 , Lower Trenton Lock. The lock tender lived on this site and took care of both locks. Both locks are on the west side of SR-416 with the Tuscarawas River on the east side.
Lock 17 was destroyed years ago when US-36 was widened. A small village called Lock Seventeen can be found here today. There are several homes, and an old mill, Wilson’s Feed Mill, that was most likely used during the canal days.
Life-long resident, Loren Lindon, told about its previous history as Beersheba, a Moravian village. The Delaware and Cherokee Indians made Beersheba a regular stop and several are buried in the cemetery there.
Newcomerstown – Canal Ditch
On the corner of Canal Street and Goodrich Street, you can easily see the saved ditch that was once part of the canal. The little red house at the end is said to have a foundation actually built on a wall of the old canal.
Temperance Tavern remains in Newcomerstown as a museum today. During canal days, that tavern, which served no alcohol, was a great place for travelers to get a great meal and spend the night.
Roscoe Village – Triple Locks
Branch canals fed into the main channel. Near Roscoe Village are well-preserved triple locks from the old Walhonding feeder. After the flood of 1913, much of the canal had a difficult time with repairs.
Triple Locks found a new purpose. It furnished water to a hydro-electric plant in Roscoe until 1950. Today, REACT Memorial Park, formerly Triple Locks Park, provides a beautiful, relaxing place for a picnic. Steps into the locks give visitors a chance to walk on the canal bed and see the stonework.
The Ohio–Erie Canal covered 308 miles with 146 locks so was quite extensive. The canal boats, which were 70-80′ long and 14′ wide, were pulled by a team of horses or mules who walked along the towpath. Large loads of cargo might require six horses, while a passenger boat would only need two.
Take a trip back in history and drive along the canal route. View some of these sandstone pieces still in existence from Cleveland to Portsmouth.
The advent of the railroads put a halt to travel on the canal. The trains could go 55mph, 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s interesting to note that the first locomotive came to Coshocton County on a canal boat. Assembly required!