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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Warren County Canal

Dallas Bogan on 26 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
(Portions were taken from an article written by Gwen Milbern inserted into The Western Star in 1976.)
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The Warren County Canal Company was organized Feb. 22, 1830. Actual construction began in 1833 with the distance from Middletown to Lebanon being a winding 20 miles, which included the feeder. Original estimated costs were $123,000, but the total cost to completion was $217,000.
Six locks were constructed, four at or near Lebanon, providing an aggregate lift of 28 feet, and two locks at Middletown, each having a fall of eight feet locking down into the Miami Canal.
No locks were necessary between Middletown and the Muddy Creek Valley, as the terrain was considered flat and acceptable for canal construction. However, the gravelly soil along the terminal moraines made it challenging to hold water in the channel. (The canal followed a natural waterway course from Lebanon to Middletown where geologists believe that the Great and Little Miami rivers were once joined.)
Many culverts were constructed. Three aqueducts were erected, one crossing over a branch of Turtle Creek in Lebanon, and the other two creating a passageway over branches of Dick's Creek.
The locks were built at different locations. Lock No. 1 was located at the foot of Clay Street in Lebanon. Lock No. 2, and also an aqueduct, were located just south of the Lebanon Orphan's Home. Lock No. 3 was located near the present Pennsylvania Railroad and Rt. 42. Lock No. 4 was located near Glosser Road and Turtle Creek.
Just a short distance from the western terminus at Middletown, the canal descended another 16 feet through Locks 5 and 6.
Lock construction on the Warren County Canal differed from those on the Miami-Erie Canal, as locks on the latter were built of reinforced concrete, while the locks on the former were built of Dayton stone quarried at Centerville.
Water supply for the canal was by way of four feeders. To supply the locks at Lebanon, 2000 cubic feet of water per minute was brought from the Mad River via the Miami Canal and interjected into the Warren County Canal through a three mile long feeder that emptied into Lock No. 5, located near the present intersection of Old State Route 25 and Oxford State Road.
Shaker Run was a feeder that entered the canal at the western edge of the Shaker lands.
Another feeder was created by damming up the East Fork of Turtle Creek, about one-half mile from the canal basin in the locality of Harmon Park.
At Lebanon was constructed a dam on Turtle Creek about 100 feet long, which enclosed a 45 acre reservoir that supplied lockage water to the canal. (The writer inserted an article in this column concerning this reservoir, dated April 13, 1997.)
The Warren County Canal branched off the Miami Canal about 200 feet south of Third Street, now Central Avenue, in Middletown, followed Reynolds Street to a point just north of the rise of the land above Clark Street, and then proceeded on the south side of Third. A sawmill and flourmill were constructed at these locks to maximize the waterpower.
The canal then continued eastward paralleling Third Street to the road to Blue Ball, and then turned southward. It flowed to the old Harkrader farm south of Blue Ball, thence to Union Village.
It then entered Lebanon from the southeast by way of a basin located in the area between South and Sycamore streets and Cincinnati Avenue. (The canal boats could turn around in this basin and proceed up the North Branch feeder to unload at Mulberry Street.)
It is believed that the canal's construction was accomplished in segments. Farmers would sometimes contract to build the section, which crossed their land, while the Shakers, rather than serving in the militia, presumably dug the portion that crossed their land.
Canal construction was slow and lackadaisical, and so, the State of Ohio, in 1836, bought out the Warren County Canal, paying each shareholder 50 percent of his original investment.
Some innovative canal contractors had underbid the costs of construction and managed to adjust by using shoddy materials. Under state supervision, some locks and sections had to be rebuilt.
The Western Star noted in an October 1838, issue that the canal would be navigable within 1 1/2 miles of Lebanon by the middle of November. However, by March 15, 1839, the canal only stretched to the second lock below Lebanon.
After completion of the canal, travel was from the beginning quite sluggish. As roads improved and the railroads began taking over, the Warren County Canal business was linked almost entirely to Lebanon, which could not support the project alone.
Engineering flaws accelerated extinction of the canal traffic. One such occasion was that the floor of the aqueduct over Dick's Creek was built above the bottom of the channel. Fully loaded boats could not cross the aqueduct because of their excessive weight, which generated a continuing annoyance to shippers.
The Shaker Run feeder also promoted havoc. This body of water was a constant nuisance, it being allowed to run freely into the canal channel. With the creek running full at every rain, the canal bed quickly filled up with mud and gravel, generating a bottleneck several hundred feet long.
A considerable break in the canal walls at Shaker Run, in 1848, ceased all through traffic on the canal. The break was never repaired, and consequently, in 1852, the State was asked to survey the canal for repairs.
Many farmers were disgruntled over the canal project. They threatened to sue the State for compensation for use of their land, which they originally donated; the canal backers seemingly had not lived up to their promises.
John W. Irwin, the resident engineer, in his report of 1852, provided some detail of the canal structure and wrote of the maintenance required to keep the canal bed in top condition. His report stated that a total estimate to repair the canal system would cost $31,613, and that "the gates of all the locks are almost entirely gone"; also, "the banks have been cut through in many places to accommodate private roads."
In 1855, J. Durbin Ward, a member of the State Legislature, introduced a bill calling for an end to the "Lebanon Ditch."
Lewis D. Campbell, of Butler County fame, made a bid for the rights of the entire canal, but apparently the deal fell through, for the Board of Public Works indicated that two men, John W. Corwin and R.H. Henderson, bought the project for $40,000.
After the canal lands sale the right-of-way regressed back to farmlands and accesses. The stones from the locks and structures were used in barn foundations, etc.
The stones from Lock No. 1 were first used in the foundation of the Lebanon Opera House, it being constructed in 1878. It was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1932, and many of the stones were then used in the foundation of the present City Building. The remainder of the stones were taken to Silver and Sycamore streets and used in the foundation of a bridge over the North Branch of Turtle Creek.

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This page created 26 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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