Tamara and I tend to go out to lunch or dinner a fair amount. Occasionally we will try a new place. That happened last Saturday evening. We decided to journey out to the Lisbon area to try Mark’s Landing at Guilford Lake. I am not in the habit of writing restaurant reviews, so I won’t attempt to write about my meal. I will only say that I joined the “clean plate club” at that particular meal. However, what grabbed me most was the natural beauty of the lake. And watching the lake with its small cadre of low horsepower pontoon boats was certainly a peaceful way to dine. Add to that the village which surrounds the lake could make one imagine themselves at almost any rustic lake resort.

Again the view of the lake actually quite captivated me and got me to thinking about other lakes around us. To my knowledge we don’t have too many in the Northern Panhandle. I could only think of the ones at Tomlinson Run State Park, Cherry Lake, Brooke Hills Park, Castleman’s Run Lake near Bethany and Schenk Lake at Oglebay Park. Sometimes what we call lakes can be misnomers in that some are no more than ponds. But they are all bodies of water. Some are natural and some are man-made. As I exited the Guilford Lake area I saw a moderately sized earthen dam which indicated that the lake was man made. I quickly did a mental checklist of why we build dams and create lakes: flood control projects, hydroelectric projects, drinking water (reservoirs) and recreation. None of these purposes, except maybe recreation seemed to fit with the lake’s location. So I decided to dig a little deeper.

As it turns out the lake is part of Guilford Lake State Park and is part of Ohio’s state park system and administered by the Ohio DNR. The Park’s website gave a brief history:

“Guilford Lake was constructed as a canal feeder reservoir for the Sandy and Beaver Canal in 1834. An ambitious project undertaken by a private company, the canal was to be 73 miles long and would require two tunnels, 30 dams, 90 locks, three reservoirs, and one 400-foot aqueduct before it was completed. The park is named after E.H. Gill who was chief engineer of the canal company for several years. He established a road through swampy areas of the present park which became known as Gill’s Ford.

When the canal era ended, adjacent landowners breached the embankment in two places and proceeded to use the lake bottom for farmland. In 1927, the land was purchased by the state with the intent of rebuilding the reservoir. The new dam was completed in 1932 by the Division of Conservation. In 1949, Guilford Lake and Ohio’s other canal feeder lakes were the first areas to be dedicated as state parks in 1949.”

Mr. Gill was born around 1806, reportedly in Ireland. He became an engineer, principally engaged in the construction and operation of canals. Among those on which he served were: the Savannah, Ogeechee and Altamaha canal in Georgia; Schuylkill Navigation Co. in Pennsylvania; James River and Kanawha Canal in Virginia; all in addition to the Sandy and Beaver Canal. Only one of his positions touched history as on December 26, 1861 he was hired as Superintendent of the Richmond and Petersburg Railway in Virginia. He is a footnote to history in his response to the inquiry: “CAN TRAINS RUN THROUGH TO PETERSBURG?” The inquiry was made by Southern General Robert E. Lee on June 18, 1864. While there were a number of Railroads which converged at Petersburg and led into Richmond, as of the date of Lee’s inquiry the answer would be yes. However, all but one had been captured or rendered inoperative by July 25, 1864. That was a mere five weeks’ time.

After the war, there is in existence at least one letter which Gill wrote to President Andrew Johnson dealing with railroads and reconstruction. Based upon his work history E. H. Gill must have been an excellent transportation engineer. There are in existence are a number of reports that he wrote concerning the Sandy and Beaver Canal.

When my generation was in 4th grade (at least at my school) we sang a song in class titled “Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.” After learning the song, it served as an intro to history lessons on the “Canal Era” of U.S. History. In early America the rivers were the major highways and became the fastest and most economical means of travel after foot or horseback. But to move freight and numbers of people other than by river, roads had to be built. In the early 1800’s there were precious few of those. The National Road which we tend to think of as U.S. 40 was started at Cumberland Maryland in 1811 and reached Wheeling in 1818. A practical railroad system had yet to be developed. After all James Watt only developed a useful steam engine in about 1775. It wasn’t until 1807 that the first steam powered boat was demonstrated in the U.S. The first commercially successful steam locomotive was developed in England in 1812. It was little wonder that Americans found a way to link river systems by building canals. The Erie canal of 363 miles, constructed between 1817 and 1825, linked Buffalo and Albany. In practicality, it linked Lake Erie and the Hudson River, and that meant it linked to New York. The  opening of the Erie Canal was celebrated by New York Governor, DeWitt Clinton, dumping a vessel of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean at New York City. In essence it opened the great lakes region to settlement and served as the conduit to transport crops and goods from there to all of New York State, and from New York harbor to the world.

When one canal succeeds can others be far behind? The Sandy and Beaver Canal was only 73 miles long and had the goal of connecting the Ohio and Erie Canal at Bolivar Ohio with the Ohio River at Glasgow, Pennsylvania. To do so it needed 90 locks, 20 dams, several tunnels and aqueducts. It seems that Guilford Lake was the result of building a dam to create an impoundment to create flowing water for the canal. It took from 1834 to 1848 to complete the canal. It only operated until about 1852 when the completion of a railroad connecting Pittsburgh and Cleveland took away a substantial portion of its traffic.