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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

For A Time, County Was Connected To World By Canal

Dallas Bogan on 14 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

This week we shall focus on the era of the canal that allowed the residents of Warren County to have a direct trade relationship with the Eastern States, Europe and the Orient.
Towns in the Miami Valley such as Middletown, Hamilton, Franklin, Dayton, Cincinnati, and Lebanon, after 1840 for a short period, all benefited from this venture.
Along this water route passenger and freight was shipped all the way from the Atlantic coast. Merchandise was bought, sold, or traded, and transported from New York to Dayton along a 1,100 mile route in twenty days at a cost of $17.25 per ton.
The route was by steamboat from New York to Albany, by the Erie Canal to Buffalo, by lake steamer from Buffalo to Cleveland, by the Ohio Canal from Cleveland to the Ohio River, by steamboat from Portsmouth to Cincinnati, and by the Miami Canal to Dayton.
New York Governor Dewitt Clinton, commonly known as the father of the canal system, wrote in 1823:
"This canal between Lake Erie and the Ohio river will open a way into the great rivers which fall into the Mississippi; it will be felt not only in the immense valley of that river, but as far west as the Rocky Mountains and the borders of Mexico and it will communicate with our great island seas and their tributary waters and with the ocean by various routes."
The canal system did not seem to create the advantage that had been expected. Tonnage on both the Ohio and the Miami-Erie Canals increased yearly, but most business seemed to stem from local trade.
The long treacherous Ohio Canal, from Cleveland to Portsmouth, stretched for a total of 308 miles. Its 152 locks seemed more of a hindrance than an advantage. At each lock delays were encountered which greatly increased the time factor in transportation of the product.
With the completion of the Ohio Canal, and being not quite as productive as contemplated, a new canal plan was being drawn up that would make the trip from Lake Erie to the Ohio River shorter and more feasible.
The Miami Canal, from Cincinnati to Dayton, had been completed by this time. An extension (Miami-Erie Canal) from Dayton to the lake was not completed until 1843.
A short time later the railroads began their unintended onslaught on the canal system. This faster mode of transportation, along with the stagecoach, soon took its toll on the waterways.
The canal system was the safest in the world. The canal boat never had boiler problems, it was never hurled down a steep embankment, and when it was sunk, no one was drowned.
It suffered no dust problems or jolts such as the stagecoach, but the slow pace of about four miles per hour proved to be most monotonous.
Passengers found relief from this slow-moving gait by getting out and walking along the towpath.
A young student at Dartmouth College, Cyrus P. Bradley, was traveling for health reasons. He was in Cincinnati in June of 1835, and wished to reach Lake Erie for the purpose of taking a steamer to Detroit.
The stage line at that time ran from Cincinnati to Sandusky, but, because of previous rainy conditions, and the absence of turnpikes at the time, he was advised to go by steamboat to Portsmouth, next by canal to Cleveland, and on to Detroit, certainly the long way around. He accepted this route because of the mere comfort of the ride.
Bradley kept a journal that described his excursion. He arrived at Portsmouth on Saturday at 2 p.m., and hoped to find a boat going to Cleveland in hopes he would not have to spend Saturday in Portsmouth. However, because of a delay, he did not leave until Monday.
He stated that he saw more drunk men in Portsmouth on Sunday than he had seen in six years in New England.
His canal boat, the Indiana, was used for both freight and passengers. At that time there were no packet boats exclusively for passengers.
The facilities arrangement was in the forward section. The gentleman's cabin was about 10 by 12 feet; next was the ladies cabin, about 10 by 5 feet.
The main part of the boat was for freight as well as for passengers who did not pay cabin fare. The back section consisted of the dining room about 10 feet square with an adjoining kitchen.
The boat was drawn by two horses driven tandem (one behind the other), the pace being not more than a fast walk.
They were changed every twelve or fourteen miles. The driver, generally a hard swearing and rough looking youth rode the hind horse.
Bradley wrote of the cruel treatment of the animals by the driver. He was described as unmercifully and unnecessarily lashing the lead horse, as well as any other unfortunate animal that the whip could reach. His whip wound around the neck of one old sheep and was carried off to the delight of the passengers.
The boat moved at a very slow pace, making a mere sixty miles in a day and a night. In comparison to a stagecoach on good roads, this was about half as fast.
Bradley commented on the many locks and the delays encountered at each one of them. He said there were no long stretches of water as was on the Erie Canal.
On one of the longest levels the boat was two hours and fifty minutes between locks, a distance of only ten miles.
At one of the locks the passengers went ashore and assisted in opening the gates.
On another occasion, Bradley and most of the passengers went ashore at one of the locks, walked about a mile and waited for the boat at the next lock.
From his comfortable cabin he recorded the many sights and scenes he experienced.
His notations described the fertile Scioto bottoms, the cornfields of a thousand acres, and the forests with trees unfamiliar to him.
His description of the slow-moving canal boat was: "This kind of traveling is undoubtedly pleasant enough for a short time, when one doesn't feel in a hurry so as to be impatient of the delay at the plaguey locks."
He discovered at Chillicothe that a delay of half a day would be encountered while taking on freight. He immediately took to the roads by way of stage to the lake at Sandusky. His route was, over deplorable roads, via Circleville, Columbus, Delaware and Marion.
Bradley, who was not quite eighteen when his journal was written, died two years later. His description of the majestic Ohio Canal was just one encounter with the great waterway.

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This page created 14 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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