History of Canals in Ohio


Submitted by Martha Kounse

Tuesday, June 25, 1925—– The Morning Irontonian, Ironton, Ohio

Columbus, June 15 -One hundred years ago, on July 21, was started Ohio’s first general system of transportation superseding the mud roads-the canals.

Historians credit the Ohio canals with “converting a wide, unimproved state into a profusion of wealth, prosperity and greatness.” The Miami and Erie canal was one of the most important factors in opening up western Ohio.

From 1820-1825, the population of Ohio grew from 45,365 to 581, 295. The only means of transportation was by land, and the roads, virtually impossible, constituted an almost insurmountable barrier to commerce.

The state was poor, too. Its population consisted of farmers mainly. In 1825, the entire revenue derived from taxation, was only $131,733 annually. In 1822, wheat was selling for 25 cents a bushel, corn for 12 1/2 cents a bushel and butter brought six cents a pound.

It was these conditions which boosters of the canals promised to remedy, by giving his products to market at a cheap rate.

A Cincinnati, man Ethan Allen Brown, who was governor of Ohio in 1818, was the first to inquire into the possibilities of canal building in this state. He corresponded with De Wit Clinton and became so enthusiastic on the subject that the entire project shortly was jibed at as “Brown’s Folly.” To Alfred Kelly, a Cleveland lawyer and chairman of the board of canal commissioners, however, is given the credit for being the “father of Ohio canals”.

After a great deal of preliminary discussions and investigations, usually marked by hearted and personal debate, the necessary legislation was enacted to permit the start on July 21, 1825. The canals were estimated to cost $5,715,203, but before the system was finished it cost the state $15,967,562, a sum to stagger the imagination in those days.

The Ohio and Erie canal was finished in 1833, but the Miami and Erie was not completed until 1845. Both connected Lake Erie and the Ohio river, but the former linked up Portsmouth and Cleveland and the latter ran through the Miami valley.

To feed the canals, five reservoirs were constructed and the Celina reservoir, now known as Lake St. Mary’s, built in Mercer and Auglaize counties near the watershed of the state, is the largest artificial body of water in the world. It covers 15,744 acres and cost $532,222.

The Laramie and Lewiston reservoirs, which compose Indian lake, were located in Logan and Shelby counties. The Licking reservoir was constructed in Licking, Perry and Fairfield counties and the Portage in Summit county.

Canal building in the state ended in 1847, when the railroads started to come in, and at that time there were 813 miles of the waterways. For 30? years they served as carriers of freight and in 35 years their receipts exceeded expenditures by $7,073,111.

The total cost of the system was $29,023,663, and the gross receipts up to the present time, it is estimated will total around eighteen or nineteen million.

Of late years, the leaser and grant of canal lands has become a subject for controversy in the general assembly the dispute usually certain around the terms of the grant.