Miami and Erie Canal

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Along the canal c.1910

The Miami and Erie Canal was a canal in Ohio that ran about 274 miles (441 km) from Toledo to Cincinnati[1] and created a water route from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Construction on the canal began in 1825 and was completed in 1845 at a cost to the state government of $8,062,680.07. At its peak, it included 19 aqueducts, three guard locks, 103 canal locks, multiple feeder canals, and a few man-made water reservoirs. The canal climbed 395 feet (120 m) above Lake Erie and 513 feet (156 m) above the Ohio River to reach a topographical peak called the Loramie Summit which extended 19 miles (31 km) between New Bremen, Ohio to lock 1-S in Lockington, north of Piqua, Ohio. Boats up to eighty feet long were towed along the canal by using either donkeys, horses, or oxen walking on a prepared towpath along the bank at a rate of four to five miles per hour. The usage of the canal gradually declined during the late 19th century due to competition from railroads and was permanently abandoned for commercial use in 1913 after a historic flood severely damaged it.[2] Only a small fraction of the canal remains today along with its towpath and locks.


The canal figures prominently in this 1841 lithograph view of Cincinnati

At the time when Ohio became a state in 1803, very few means of transportation existed within the region to move people and cargo from place to place. Most of the existing roads were of poor quality for carriages to travel across, and the railroads were not yet in common use. In addition, Ohio was geographically separated by the barrier of the Appalachian Mountains. This made life difficult for early citizens because goods from the Atlantic Coast and Europe were difficult to come-by and often very expensive. For the same reasons, it was difficult for Ohio businessman and farmers to sell their products outside of the state. Some entrepreneurs even began to ship goods from Ohio down the Ohio River to New Orleans, yet it was difficult to bring new goods back up the river, even with the invention of steamships. This made the cost of shipping freight extremely high and this severely limited trade and population growth in the state; especially in areas that were far away from natural waterways such as Lake Erie or the Ohio River.[3]

To overcome these obstacles, many people, including George Washington and several other politicians, voiced early support for a national canal system that connected many of the country's waterways together. In 1807, Senator Thomas Worthington of Ohio (who later became governor) asked the Secretary of the Treasury for funds to improve roads and build canals in Ohio, yet this gained little traction.[3] At the time, many prominent leaders in the Democratic Republican party were against improvements being built by the national government and thought that they should be built by the individual states instead. The United States Congress approved national canal legislation in 1817, 1822, and 1830, but each bill was vetoed by the sitting president. Consequently, the burden of building canals passed onto the states, with the Erie Canal in New York proving to be an earlier success when it was completed in 1825.[4] Legislation had been struggling to pass in the Ohio House and Senate for two decades until the Act of February 4, 1825 which finally approved the construction of the Ohio canal system. The canal was largely state-funded by using money acquired from selling off land near where the canals were to be dug. The state government planned and built two canals in the state: the Miami and Erie Canal, and the Ohio and Erie Canal which connected Cleveland to Portsmouth. This system thus provided the interior of Ohio with a new travel route that extended to New York City by traveling across Lake Erie and the Erie Canal.


Because Ohio is not entirely flat, a system of locks was designed to act as a staircase so boats could navigate the difference in elevation. To supply water for the canal, manmade reservoirs such as Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Loramie in Shelby County were constructed, along with several feeder canals. Indian Lake in Logan County was greatly enlarged to provide a steadier supply of water for the Sidney feeder canal.

Branch canals were also built to serve as extensions from the main canal. The Warren County Canal, was a branch canal constructed from the Miami and Erie Canal at Middletown, Ohio to Lebanon, Ohio. This branch was opened in 1840, but remained in operation less than 15 years before being abandoned. A short branch, the Sidney or Port Jefferson feeder canal ran up the Miami Valley from Lockington through Sidney to a dam just upstream from Port Jefferson.

The following list includes measurement standards for the canal, although these varied by region of the state.

  • 4 ft (1.2 m) water depth.
  • 40 ft (12 m) wide at water level.
  • 10 ft (3.0 m) wide towpath in addition to mandated outer slopes.
  • All slopes are 4.5 ft (1.4 m) horizontal to 4 ft (1.2 m). perpendicular.
  • The canal could accommodate boats up to 90 ft (27 m) long and 14 ft (4.3 m) wide. <[3]

Decline and abandonment[edit]

Interior of one of the Lockington Locks. Braces have been installed to prevent the lock from caving in

The Miami and Erie never proved to be as profitable as the state government had hoped it would be. Many people had thought that the canal would be as successful as the Erie Canal, although there were many factors that prevented this. First, the population of New York was roughly double that of Ohio's in the early nineteenth century. Second, while New York only had one canal that was located at the bottleneck of Great Lakes trade, Ohio had two canals which spread usage too thinly. Third, was the expense of building and maintaining the canals. While the Erie Canal was 363 miles in length, with an elevation change of 700 feet, the combined length of Ohio's canals was 557 miles with an elevation change of 2,096 feet. Combined, this means that when compared to the Erie Canal, the Ohio canal system had less trade, fewer passengers, over a longer length, and at a greater expense.

The canal was also completed just before most of the railroads in Ohio were built, and the canal competed with railroads throughout much of its life. Due to the canal freezing over in the winter, as well as the slowness of the boats, the canal was less practical than railroads, especially for perishable goods and passenger traffic. Although the canal services were often cheaper than the railroads, especially when carrying bulk cargoes such as grain and salted pork, the canal had largely ceased to operate by 1906. The catastrophic Great Dayton Flood of 1913 and the subsequent flood control measures constructed by the Miami Conservancy District destroyed much of the canal infrastructure along the southern portion of the route where it paralleled the Great Miami River, and the canal was permanently abandoned. What was not destroyed by the flood was no longer maintained, and slowly many of the remaining locks and sections of canal were destroyed.

Much of the original towpath served as the right-of-way for the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad, an electric interurban streetcar that operated until 1938. Part of the right-of-way was converted to the Wright-Lockland Highway (now part of Interstate 75).[5] From 1920 to 1925, six million dollars was spent to use the bed of the canal to build a downtown subway in Cincinnati. The surface was later paved over to form Central Parkway as funds ran out before the Cincinnati Subway could be completed. In the central and northern regions, a large portion was destroyed when it was filled in to create I-75 and U.S. Route 24.


Barge General Harrison of Piqua on the canal in the Piqua, Ohio, Historical Area, in July 2006. Note the captain steering the canal boat and the towing donkey on the towpath on the far side. The canal is wide enough to permit two barges to pass.

Although urban development has destroyed most of the canal, some locks and sections of the waterway still exist. One of the original locks (#17) is located in the Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. An unrestored, but complete lock (#15) is located just off Main Street (State Route 571) in Tipp City. Remains of the Excello lock are still located in the Butler County Excello Locks Park near the intersection of State Route 73 and South Hamilton Middletown Road in Lemon Township. The massive west abutment of the Old Nine-mile Aqueduct over the Great Miami River is still present ca. 400 ft (120 m) upstream of the Taylorsville Dam east of Vandalia (Montgomery County). The abutment terminates a fairly intact canal segment that extends at least 5 mi (8.0 km) north to Tipp City. This segment includes an intact concrete weir near the abandoned Vandalia water treatment plant (aka "Tadmore Station") and a ruined lock (#16, "Picayune") about halfway to Tipp City along Canal Road. On the canal's southern end, there is a drained section located in St. Bernard, Ohio's Ludlow Park where the canal bed is still visible. The canal remains in water (and navigable for canoes or kayaks) in the rural region between Delphos, Ohio and St. Marys, Ohio. South of St. Mary's, it has degraded to form a shallow ditch in most places, with some ruined locks remaining. From north to south along State Route 66, one can see pieces of the original canal in Delphos, at a small historic park located at the Deep Cut in Spencerville, Lock Two (a hamlet mostly consisting of period brick buildings), New Bremen, Minster, Fort Loramie, and Piqua. The Miami and Erie Canal Deep Cut is a U.S. National Historic Landmark near Spencerville that was designated in 1964. The Piqua Historical Area[6] features a replica canal boat and other related items.

Much of the canal corridor remains a prosperous manufacturing area; today Interstate 75 and railroads provide transportation rather than the canal. There is a historical reenactment of the Miami-Erie canal at Providence Metropark along the Maumee River just west of Toledo near Grand Rapids. Historical actors dress and act as if it is 1876 during the months of May–October. Two mules pull the canal boat titled "The Volunteer" while workers till and provide commentary to the passengers. Providence Metroparks boasts using an original lock 44 as part of the tour. That lock is the only working lock in the state of Ohio. The northern portion of the towpath (from Fort Loramie to Delphos and beyond) is used as a hiking trail.[7]

Cities and towns along the canal[edit]

Former location of the canal in downtown Cincinnati.

The following is a list of towns and cities (arranged North to South) along the Miami and Erie Canal.


  1. ^ Foster, Ellsworth D. and Hughes, James Laughlin (1922). The American Educator. Ralph Durham Company. p. 823. 
  2. ^ "Miami and Erie Canal". Shelby County Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  3. ^ a b c Prof. J.E. Hagerty, C.P. McClelland and C.C. Huntington History of the Ohio Canals: Their construction, cost, use and partial abandonment (Columbus, Ohio: the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1905)
  4. ^ Randolph C. Downes Canal Days: Lucas County Historical Series Volume II. (Maumee Valley Historical Society. Toledo, Ohio. 1968)
  5. ^ "Interstate 75 — 1940s". Cincinnati Transit. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  6. ^ "The General Harrison of Piqua Arrives". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  7. ^ "Miami and Erie Canal". Ohio Hiking Trails. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°06′03″N 84°29′49″W / 39.10083°N 84.49694°W / 39.10083; -84.49694