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Miami & Erie Canal

The Miami Canal commences at Cincinnati, and passing through the towns of Reading, Hamilton, Middletown, Franklin and Miamisburg, terminates at Dayton. It has been navigated from Dayton to the head of the main street in Cincinnati, since the spring of 1829. The canals authorized by the Act of February 4, 1825, were the Ohio and Erie Canal following the old Scioto-Muskingum route from Cleveland to Portsmouth, and the Miami Canal following the valley of the Great Miami River from Dayton to Cincinnati.

It was proposed to start the canal in the northeastern part of the state, have it cross the state in a southwestern direction somewhat to the south of the center, and terminate somewhere at the southwestern corner of the state. The desire to -effect this compromise led to biased conclusions as to some of the routes. The engineers predicted that the water supply would be sufficient across the Licking Summit between the Muskingum and Scioto rivers, and overlooked the good facilities for reservoirs near the source of the Scioto on the Central route. But they encountered an insurmountable difficulty when it came to crossing the divide between the Scioto valley and that of the Miami. This divide is nearly everywhere higher than the sources of either the Scioto or the Miami Rivers, so the waters of neither of them could be used to feed the canal on the summit level.

To satisfy the western and southwestern interests it was decided to build a canal along the Miami route from Cincinnati to Dayton, with the promise of finally extending it to Toledo. Thus the compromise compelled by political and economical interests was effected. On July 21, 1825, the Miami and Erie Canal was begun.

Navigation began on the Miami Canal on November 28, 1827. Three fine boats, crowded with citizens delighted with the novelty and interest of the occasion, left the basin, six miles north of Cincinnati and proceeded to Middletown with the most perfect success. The progress of the boats was about three miles an hour, including locks and other detentions. The return trip was made with equal success.

The main trunks of the Ohio and Miami Canals, had each a maximum breadth of 40 ft. at the water line, and 26 ft. at the bottom with a depth of 4 ft. These were the minimum dimensions, but a large part of both canals were constructed with much larger dimensions, the water line breadth varying from 60 to 150 feet, with a depth of from 5 to 12 ft. And often for long distances even these dimensions were exceeded. It was a standing rule of the Commissioners to increase the dimensions of the canals beyond the minimum wherever it could be done without materially increasing the cost.

None of the canals constructed by the State were constructed with minimum dimensions except at places where for economical reasons the specifications were adhered to. Wherever it was practical only the tow path embankments were constructed, thus allowing the water of the canal to flow to the opposite foothills. This often formed large basins several hundred feet wide and gave rise to claims for damages.

When the Ohio and Miami Canals were determined upon in the general compromise of 1824-25, the local interests of the west and southwest were placated by the Miami Canal from Cincinnati to Dayton, and the promise of its ultimate extension to Lake Erie. On February 8, 1825, four days after the law passed authorizing the construction of the Ohio and Miami Canals, the General Assembly of Ohio addressed a memorial to Congress asking a donation of land to aid in the construction of the canals. Now, there were several reasons, both economic and political why this request seemed destined to receive a favorable answer.

By act of the Legislature of March 14, 1849, the three canals previously known as the Miami Canal, the Miami Extension Canal, and the Wabash and Erie Canal, became known as the Miami and Erie Canal. It has one summit, the Loramie Summit, which is 374 feet above Lake Erie and 516 feet above the Ohio River at Cincinnati. Thus the total lockage is 890 feet. From the Lake to the northern end of Loramie Summit is 124.75 miles, summit level 24 miles, and thence to the river 100.11 miles,, making the total length of the Miami and Erie Canal 248.86' miles. This canal has 19 aqueducts, 3 guard locks, and 103 liftlocks, 50 of the latter north of the summit and 53 south, all constructed with dimensions 90 by 15 feet.

Ohio had then two canals connecting the Ohio River with Lake Erie; the Ohio Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal. The ones already described, however, by no means constituted the whole of the Ohio canals. They were merely the ones included in the original acts authorizing the canals of the State.

The session of the Legislature of 1836, which abolished the Board of Canal Commissioners and established the Board of Public Works, also authorized the Muskingum Improvement, the Walhonding Canal, the Hocking Canal, the Warren Canal, and other improvements. This was the foundation of the new system of Public Internal Improvements. These additional works up to 1905 cost the State in construction $9,653,763.28, added 422 miles to the canal system of the State, and swelled the cost from $5,715,203, to $15,368,966.

Besides the canals and feeders Ohio constructed vast reservoirs to feed the canals. None of the natural canal routes possessed sufficient water supply facilities when only the natural streams were depended upon. There was plenty of water in the winter and early spring, but the canals were closed then. The canal season was from early April to the latter part of November and it was during the greater part of this season that the streams were lowest and often entirely dry. There were two summits on the Ohio Canal, Portage and Licking, and reservoirs of the same names were constructed one on each of these summits. The Miami and Erie Canal had only one summit but it was supplied with three reservoirs. These reservoirs not only supplied water for the canals but have always been popular resorts for fishing, hunting and boating.

The Miami and Erie Canal was not completed through to Lake Erie until 1845 by which time the competition of railroads was beginning to be felt seriously. Part of the Cincinnati, Sandusky and Cleveland R.R. had been built about 1837 and by 1848 there was railroad communication from the Lake to the River.

The Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati line was opened in 1851, and soon the canals of Ohio were left hopelessly behind in the race for traffic. Between 1850 and 1860 more miles of railroad were constructed in Ohio than in any other decade of her history. In 1850 there were 375 miles of railroad in Ohio; in 1860 there were 2946; thus during this decade 2571 miles of railroad were constructed in the state, which was three times the total number of miles of state canals. The result was that canal business declined in spite of continual lowering of tolls on the canals, until in 1856 the net revenues from the canals fell below the zero point. From that time till the War broke out, the canals were operated at an annual loss.

Notwithstanding the good record of the canals, which had previous to the Civil War returned to the State nearly $14,000,000 in gross receipts and over $7,000,000 in net receipts, and which had been a potent factor in enabling Ohio to become populous, wealthy, and powerful, the Ohio Legislature passed an act May -8, 1861 "to provide for leasing the Public Works of the State." By this act the canals, which had cost the people of Ohio years of labor, anxiety, and sacrifice such as the present generation would not care to undertake, were turned over to a private company, which operated them for personal profit and agreed to pay the State an annual rental of $20,075.

During the time the canals were leased and since then, many portions of the canals have been abandoned. In many of these cases of abandonment the results have been injurious to the canals, and in nearly every case they have resulted to the advantage of a railroad.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:09 ZULU