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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Early Canal System Plans Began In Little Miami Valley

Dallas Bogan on 26 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 149
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

After the defeat of the Indians and the Statehood of Ohio was conceived, transportation was the next goal for the early settlers. The canal system was deemed the first major building enterprise within the new State, turnpikes and railroads being the next major improvements.
The canals sparked possibly more public enthusiasm than any other venture the State has ever undertaken, before or since. These silent waterways provided transportation facilities, which in turn transformed the State into a leading industrial entity. Manufacturing, mining, and agriculture were quickly ushered into a competitive atmosphere that helped shape the Buckeye State into what it is today. What is probably not known to many of the readers of this column is that plans for the first canal in the State were incorporated in the valley of the Little Miami.
Imagine this valley being a huge lake from the Ohio River to Waynesville! Yes, this was the plan. The first legislation for the first canal in Ohio was formed on the 25th of October 1816. This organization was called the Little Miami Canal and Banking Company. A special act was passed December 29, 1817, with eleven commissioners or managers named to head the project, the names being: Abijah O'Neal, John Satterthwaite, Richard Mather, Thomas Graham, Isaac Stubbs, Ralph W. Hunt, Jeremiah Morrow, John Elliot, Patterson Hartshorn, Zachens Biggs and John Armstrong. Most of these men were owners of mills on the Little Miami and a majority of them resided in Warren County. Any four of them could conduct the affairs of the company until the election of the first board of directors.
The function of the company was "to construct such dams and locks and to open such canals as may be necessary for a practical ascending and descending boat navigation on the Little Miami river from the confluence of said river with the Ohio river to the town of Waynesville." Another authorization that the board had was "to erect and establish waterworks and to carry on manufacturing and banking." The dams were to be constructed "in such a manner that the river should not be obstructed in any way different from the obstructions occasioned by the dams already constructed on the river."
Article I of the charter called for the sale of ten thousand shares at twenty-five dollars each, total monies set at $250,000. Books for the subscription of stock were to be opened on the first Monday in March 1818, at Cincinnati, Milford, Gainsborough, Lebanon and Waynesville. The Cincinnati and Lebanon newspapers were chosen to announce a notice prior to the time of payment of any installment of stock. A twenty- five-year time period was the restriction for the charter to run its limits, or until January 1, 1843. Construction of the canal was to begin at a point nearest the Ohio River.
Early development of many river waterways was accomplished by building dams across them to increase their depth. In these dams were placed locks through which the boats could pass. A requirement of the charter stated that the "private property of stock holders in proportion to the stock they held was liable for the payment of all debts of the company, and if the work of canalizing the river from the Ohio to Waynesville was not completed in five years, or if after the completion of the work the company should suffer the navigation of the river to remain obstructed for more than fifteen months at any time, the charter was to cease and determine and the stockholders were to be liable for all debts of the company." Apparently the project of the Little Miami Canal and Banking Company never got off the ground, although it was granted full powers under the banking law of 1816.
While roaming through my papers, I ran across an article written in Waynesville's Miami Gazette, dated April 12, 1933, by A.C. Thompson, which parallels the aforementioned subject. Mr. Thompson mentions that before the depression of the 1930's, occasional rumors were heard of something going to be done in the Little Miami and Great Miami Rivers concerning the dredging and the building of dams, the idea being to canalize the rivers and thus create a water route to Lake Erie. His summation was that an all water route from Cincinnati to New York could be established much like the old canal systems.
He also stated that sometime later he read a news item from Washington, D.C., in which an order had been given for a survey of the Little Miami River, "with a view to dredge and canalize the stream." Mr. Thompson's calculations were that "taking the volume of water and the head that can be procured in the stream at points above the mouth of Caesar's Creek, from ninety to one hundred horse power can be developed for each unit of power, and below Caesar's Creek 125 to 150 h.p. can be developed for each unit.
"Or by installing one water power electric unit at Oregonia, one unit at Waynesville, these three units combined will develop 300 h.p., and, by installing one of the direct connected hydroelectric units at several different points between Waynesville and the mouth of the stream, one thousand horse power can be procured in the distance of forty miles."
Thompson, in his article, suggests that a bear-trap type dam could be utilized if the purpose of the river were to be used only as a source of power. He says these dams should have a roof shape bracket, the peak of the bracket to be lowered to the low water level of the stream and raised to the desired height by hydraulic power. Thus, on account of the low banks of the stream, the head of water could be held for developing power. At times of flood stage or ice gorges, the bracket could be lowered, leaving the stream to flow clear.
The damming of the Little Miami in this day and time seems preposterous, but look what happened to Caesar's Creek.

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