Miami & Erie Canal
The first large-scale canal project was begun in New York State by the Erie Canal Commission. This canal was built to connect Buffalo and Lake Erie with a direct water route to New York City. Ohio’s canals began with the formation of a canal commission on January 31, 1822. Three years later, construction was authorized for two canal systems along an eastern and western route. Work on the western route or Miami Canal began in July of 1825. The first canal boats reached Dayton from Cincinnati on January 25, 1829. After considerable political lobbying, the state agreed to the construction of the Miami Extension Canal from Dayton north to Lake Erie. One of the chief supporters of this extension was canal commissioner Colonel John Johnston of Piqua. Johnston served on the commission from 1825 until 1836 acting as one of the most vocal advocates for canal expansion. The canal extension cut directly through Johnston’s farm north of Piqua.
Work began on the extension of the canal in the spring of 1833. Local canal contractors included Loring R. Brownell, N. Sumner, Jeremiah G. Furrow, Abel C. Furrow and William Johnston. Construction work reached Miami County in 1835, but the pace of building slowed. Completing the canal bed and the ten locks located in the county took until June 20, 1837. The following day on June 21, Piqua’s first canal boat, the “Emigrant” was launched. The town held a grand dedication of the canal on July 5, 1837. The principal speakers were William Henry Harrison
, John Johnston, and Ohio Militia General Joseph G. Young.
Piqua remained the terminus of the canal until 1842, resulting in major industrial and population growth
for the community. By June of 1845, the canal had been completed, creating a water route reaching from Cincinnati to Toledo. The state officially named the route the Miami and Erie Canal in 1849. The canal was profitable until 1852 when revenues began to decline and competition from railroads began to increase.
The state leased the canal to a private investment company in 1861 for the sum of twenty thousand dollars a year for ten years. In 1871, the state renewed the lease but falling revenues caused the investment company to abandon control in 1877. The State Board of Public Works was once again was in control of the canal.
In 1878, the Miami and Erie Canal Association was formed to help upgrade the canal. Headed by local Physician G. V. Dorsey
and later by local banker Henry Flesh
, the Association promoted the building of new canal boats and the general improvement of the canal. They also supported the Miami and Erie Transportation Company in their attempt to lay tracks and pull the canal boats by means of an electric “mule”. Like many schemes before it, this attempt failed due to a lack of financial support. Traffic began dwindling to fewer that one or two boats a week.
By 1912, large areas of the canal had been either formally or informally abandoned. The last known canal boat to travel through Piqua was the “De Camp Statler” in 1912. The flood of 1913 destroyed the canal’s ability to function by washing out locks, aqueducts and embankments. The Miami Conservancy District began building flood protection levy banks on top of the canal in Piqua along Riverside Drive and South Main Street. The city filled in the last section of the canal from East Water Street north to the Miami River in the summer of 1926. By the fall of 1926, the tracks of the Western Ohio Railway had been moved from Main Street to the old canal bed.
In 1972, the Ohio Historical Society reopened a mile-long section of the canal at the Johnston Farm.
The Society currently runs the “General Harrison of Piqua”, a seventy foot replica of an 1840’s era canal boat, on this restored area of the canal.
Information taken from Piqua and Miami County by James C. Oda and Linda Grimes 1991; page 44
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Coopers William Henry Harrison Colonel John Johnston
Canal Lands (Ohio Dept. Natural Resources) Lockington Locks