|- The canal as seen in Middletown, Ohio. Image via Nick Rechtin.|
192 years ago, on what was probably a sweltering summer day not all dissimilar to now, a ceremony took place in Middletown, Ohio. Governors Jeremiah Morrow of Ohio and Dewitt Clinton of New York put shovels to the ground and turned over the first bits of earth in the largest engineering feat that what was then known as the Northwestern United States had ever seen. Ohio had only been officially a state for 22 years and the Miami-Erie Canal would take nearly that amount of time to complete after the leaders met that day in the city between Cincinnati and Dayton. Running from Toledo and Lake Erie in the North, to the Queen City and Ohio River in the South, the canal was essentially a superhighway in days well before the modern automobile was conceived and only about five years before the locomotive started coming into favor. Nevertheless, the canal soldiered on at around 5 m.p.h as oxen, horses, and mules pulled boats between the locks and various towns.
At the height of its prosperity, nearly 4,000 workers earned thirty cents a day working this canal and others across within Ohio’s borders. The canal saw technology advance and time pass by. It helped ferry slaves to freedom and carried cargo as the Civil War came and went. An essential transportation link, it directly served many destinations such as Cincinnati's Music Hall (this November will mark the 190th anniversary of the first canal trip to the historic venue). After historic statewide flooding in 1913, much of the canal was destroyed and few saw the value in reviving it. All over, the canal’s path was repurposed. Cincinnati attempted to build a subway in its place, but settled for a road above the tunnels. All over you’ll still find major thoroughfares and recreational trails like the Great Miami Riverway following the path of the old canal, using its remains as a guide.
Nearly two centuries later, several folks in Middletown recognize the significance of today’s anniversary. They realize what the canal stood for, how it transformed a young state. You can still ride a canal boat in Piqua, but you’ll find a specific museum in Middletown, located right along the route of the canal which started there 192 years ago on this very day.