Hiking the Miami and Erie Canal Ohio

It is well known that during the Industrial Revolution many canals were built in Great Britain and Europe to aid the transportation of goods in the period prior to the vastly more efficient railways being constructed. What is less well known is that in the United States too, canals were built for the same purpose, and but they fell into disuse once railways proved to be faster and more efficient that transport by canal boat.

Ohio has a good network of canals, one of which is the Miami and Erie Canal which runs down the western side of the state to provide a good transport route between Cincinnati on the Ohio River and Toledo on the shores of Lake Erie.

Work started on the 249 mile canal in 1825 and took 20 years to complete, just before the railroads were built. One of the major reasons for railroads proving to be better suited as transport corridors was because the canal tended to freeze over during winter, making it difficult for barges to proceed.

Today there is a popular 40 mile section of the canal that is designated as a hiking trail beginning in Delphos and proceeding south to Fort Loramie.

To gain a good knowledge of the history of the canal, a visit to the Delphos Canal Commission, which has an excellent museum dedicated to preserving artefacts and information about the Miami and Erie Canal. The museum’s origins hark back to 1987 when local youth began a project to remove and preserve the hull of the canal boat `Marguerite’ which was built in 1856 and worked on the canals for about fifty years before being abandoned.

The canal boats were normally hauled by three mules which walked along a towpath, and today the hiking trail follows the towpath that is located on the west side of the canal. There were 103 canal lift locks located along the canal, and many of these can still be observed today, although some have been converted into spillways. The construction of these canal lift locks were quite an engineering feat for the time, being able to lit the boats 395 feet above Lake Erie and 513 feet above the Ohio River at Cincinnati.

Some of the original buildings are also still preserved, including the houses of the canal toll takers, as boats had to pay to use the canal.

There are signs along the trail pointing out places of historical interest, and in the town of St Mary’s you can see and look inside a recreated canal boat to appreciate what a significant form of transport they really were.

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