Our History & Our Heritage by Bill Kiefer

I really enjoyed writing last week’s column about Guilford Lake and the Sandy and Beaver Canal. While I may have made the Canal seem unsuccessful that was not my intent. In fact the states of Ohio and New York have a rich history of canal operation and culture throughout the 19th Century. The most famous of the canals was the Erie Canal, which stretched from Buffalo to Albany in New York. This canal completed in 1817, was forty feet wide and four feet deep across its entire length. The lock system used to adjust for the rise and fall of the terrain, just like the locks we see on the Ohio River and others today limited the size of the boats which could traverse the canal. The locks were fifteen feet wide and ninety feet in length. The canal had much to do with Buffalo’s growth as a Port and its population expansion from 8,600 in 1830 to 350,000 in 1900. The canal was so successful for the transport of agricultural and other freight cargoes that it was expanded in width to seventy feet wide and seven feet deep, and the locks likewise expanded to eighteen feet by one hundred and ten feet wide in 1836. Moreover virtually every lake, river and stream system in upstate New York desired a connection to the Erie Canal, with the result that six major systems were constructed as feeders of freight into the Erie Canal. While eventually railroads made the Canal system obsolete, it did not entirely cease operation until 1917. Nonetheless its replacement system, today known as the New York State Canal System, has been in operation since 1918. While this system moves a modest amount of freight, it is greatly used by pleasure boats. The author, William Least Heat Moon, in his book “River-horse,” describes a traverse of the canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie in his journal of attempting to cross the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific by water. The book is in itself interesting, and to a great extent follows the journey of Lewis and Clark from Pittsburgh, and to some extent emulates their experiences, e.g. consuming a meal featuring the tail of a beaver. If you are ever in upstate New York seeing a part of the system is recommended, as is a stop at the Erie Canal Museum in downtown Syracuse, New York.

While the Erie Canal might not seem to have much to do with the Ohio Canal system, its success had everything to do with it. The state of Ohio constructed the massive Ohio and Erie Canal to connect to it. It ran from Portsmouth on the Ohio River to Akron on the Cuyahoga River which connected to Lake Erie at Cleveland a length of 308 miles. It was this canal to which the Sandy and Beaver connected upon its final completion. While the commercial life of the Sandy and Beaver was brief, the Ohio and Erie Canal remained in operation until 1913. Much of its existence today is parklike and historic. An example of this is the 87 mile Towpath Trail running from Cleveland to New Philadelphia, Ohio.

Nearer to us, are the historic villages of Zoar, Canal Fulton and Hanoverton. Zoar was founded in 1817 by a society, or perhaps sect if you will, of German Religious dissenters. Like similar villages its residents formed a communal work force. Pious and hard-working, the community prospered economically, and for a time practiced celibacy. Today there are about 45 structures left from the original settlement, (many of which are private residences,) and some placid gardens which are open to the public. These can be seen via a guided tour, or a self-guided walking tour. Until the early 2000’s the Zoar Tavern offered quality food within the village. Closed now, I believe that its exterior has been restored, but the original is still a work in progress.

Canal Fulton, is another interesting stop. Today it is a city of a little more than 5,000 people. It originally was three towns: Milan, Fulton and West Fulton, and was located where the Ohio and Eastern Canal met the Tuscarawas River. Today, a tourist can take a one-hour journey on a canal boat along the river. The entire Ohio and Erie Canal Historic District is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service and contains numerous points of historical interest.

Finally, Hanoverton is my personal favorite. It is a mere 40 or so minutes away. It was located on the Sandy and Beaver Canal along Route 30 a few miles west of Lisbon, and its population peaked in the late 1830’s at around 2,000. Today it is a very small town designated as a National Historic District. There are reportedly over thirty brick and frame homes together with two churches built in a “canal architecture” style between the 1830’s and the 1870’s. A number of these homes are designated as National Historic Trust properties. The main tourist attraction is the Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn. The town itself was settled in 1813 by Quaker abolitionist James Craig and was reputedly a haven for runaway slaves. The “Tavern” was constructed in 1837, by one Will Rhodes. Today lodgings are available in one of five period guestrooms. However, food and drink are the star attractions. Personally, I can state that I have had lunch or dinner there on numerous occasions and have never been disappointed.