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Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal









UP to 1840, the only access to, or egress from, Akron, except by wagon, etc., was by the Ohio Canal, completed from Akron to Cleveland in 1827, and through to the Ohio river in 1830. As early as 1825, however, the project of constructing a canal from the Ohio river, a short distance below Pittsburg, to connect with the Ohio canal, then just commenced, at the Portage Summit, began to be agitated, a meeting of prominent citizens of Trumbull and Portage counties, in the furtherance of that project, being held at Ravenna, November 6, 1825, Gen. Simon Perkins, of Warren, and Dr. Elinkim Crosby, of -- Middlebury, being placed upon the committee to collect information as to the most favorable route, etc.

     The ensuing Winter, a bill was introduced in the Ohio Legislature to incorporate the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal Company, "for the sole purpose of making a navigable canal between some suitable point on the Ohio river, through the valley of the Mahoning river, to some suitable point on Lake Erie, or to some point on the Ohio Canal, "said act to go into effect when the Legislature of Pennsylvania should pass a similar act, but final action upon the bill was postponed until the next session.

     The people along the line now became "terribly in earnest" on the subject, and numerous meetings were held at Beaver, New Castle, Warren, Ravenna, Franklin Mills, Middlebury, etc., in which Gen. Perkins, Judge King, Dr. Crosby, Judge Wetmore and others participated, and on the 10th day of January, 1827, the bill passed the Ohio Legislature, with Jonathan Sloane, of Ravenna, and Frederick Wadsworth, of Edinburg (afterwards for many years a resident of Akron), as the corporators for Portage County, a similar bill passing the Pennsylvania Legislature the following April.

     Outside of preliminary surveys, under the auspices of the Canal Commissioners of Pennsylvania and Ohio, nothing further was accomplished for the period of nearly eight years.

Interest in the project at length having revived, on the 20th day of February, 1835, the charter was renewed with an amendment, giving the company ten years from December 31, 1835, in which to complete the work; Pennsylvania taking similar action April 13, 1835.

     The Company was organized at Newcastle, May 21, 1835, with judge Leicester King as a director, and as the Secretary; Col. Sebried Dodge (afterwards owner of the "Dodge farm," three miles west of Akron), being appointed Chief Engineer. The State having promised to take one dollar of the stock of the company, for every two dollars subscribed by private parties, judge King pushed the matter so vigorously, both at home and in Pittsburg, Philadelphia, etc., that he was soon enabled to report private subscriptions to the mount of $840,000, the State promptly responding in the sum of $420,000; the Pennsylvania Legislature, in 1839, contributing $50,000 for the completion of the work. In those days the present system of exchange was not in vogue, nor were there responsible express companies everywhere in operation, as now, and on his return from his successful canvass for stock subscriptions in Philadelphia, he brought with him, over the mountains, several hundred thousand dollars of gold and paper money in a common leather satchel, an exploit that would be considered very risky now, with all our improved police regulations and methods of travel.

     Though pushed quite vigorously for two or three years, for those comparatively slow times, the work was somewhat retarded by the panic of 1837, owing to the difficulty of collecting stock installments, so that the canal was not fully completed and opened to through navigation until the spring of 1840, though portions at either end were in use as early as May, 1839.

     The project, originally, contemplated running the canal directly through Middlebury, with its western terminus above Lock One, on the Ohio Canal. This would have entirely given Cuyahoga Falls and North Akron the go by. But in the intervening years a material change of interest had taken place with Gen. Perkins, Judge King, Dr. Crosby and several others of its early promoters, which, together with some engineering difficulties encountered by the management, and the powerful influences brought to bear by the people of Cuyahoga Falls, resulted in a change of route, by which, after crossing the valley of the Little Cuyahoga, it should merge itself with, and follow the route of, the Cascade Mill race, and unite with the Ohio Canal below Lock One. This change necessitated the construction south of Cuyahoga Falls, of nine descending locks to meet the level of the race, and of one lock up, at Mill street, in Akron, to meet the level of its junction with the Ohio Canal, thus very materially augmenting the waters of the race, and by so much the power and value of the mills.

     Under this arrangement, and to somewhat mitigate the disappointment of the Middleborians, a side-cut was constructed, following the race from the junction southward to the mills and warehouses in that village. The first boat to navigate the western end of the new canal was the "Joseph Vance," which, on May 9, 1839, carrying a jolly load of passengers, sailed from the junction, in South Akron, making a triumphant entry into the "port" of Middlebury, and the joyful plaudits of the people of that ancient metropolis.

     It was not only supposed that this canal would greatly inure to the advantage of the towns and villages, through which it passed, but that Pittsburg, Philadelphia and other points in Pennsylvania, as well as Cleveland, Columbus and other points in Ohio, and further west and south, would he largely benefited thereby.

     On this point, the BEACON of May 6, 1839, said: "This canal will be of very great importance to the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburg. In the Spring goods can be brought from Philadelphia four or five weeks earlier than by the New York Canal, which will make a vast difference with merchants who live far in the interior, who are naturally impatient at the long interruption to navigation which now occurs between the West and New York; and all the Eastern purchases will find their way to their destination by this route!" [sic] the idea also being advanced that during the long seasons of suspension of navigation, by reason of low water in the upper Ohio, shipments of merchandise and products to the lower Ohio and Mississippi could be made over this route; a Pittsburg paper of about this date, saying: "This very important canal will open to our city the trade of Warren, Akron, Massillon, Cleveland, and all the north and western portions of the flourishing State of Ohio; also of the lakes and Michigan, New York, Canada, etc."

     On the eastern division, the first trip from Beaver to Warren was made by the packet "Ontario," May 23, 1839, quite a jollification taking place on its arrival; among the impromptu toasts offered and responded to, being: "Judge Leicester King and Col. Sebried Dodge, to whom the public is much indebted for the early completion of this part of the P. & O. Canal, in which they have done the company great, justice, and themselves much credit!"

     The first boat through from Beaver, freighted with merchandise from Pittsburg, mostly iron, nails, glass, etc., arrived in Akron, April 4, 1840, on noticing which fact the BEACON said: "Pennsylvania and Ohio are now united by a canal which promises to be of immense benefit to both, and the citizens of Akron should felicitate themselves upon the completion of this important work, which, from its termination at this point, cannot but be of great importance to our already flourishing town."



     In May, 1840, Judge King, Secretary of the company, successfully negotiated, at par, in Philadelphia, a sufficient amount of the bonds of the company to cancel its floating indebtedness and place it upon a firm financial foundation, with abundant funds to fully complete the line.

At a meeting of the Board of Directors, at Warren, June 18, 1840, it was resolved to celebrate the completion of the work, all along the line, and a committee of arrangements was appointed, consisting of Judge Leicester King, Hon. David Tod, Jonathan Sloane, Esq., and Col. Sebried Dodge; the programme being for the boats to start from Newcastle, Pa., at 6 o'clock A.M., August 4, proceed to Youngstown for dinner, and to Warren the same evening; leave Warren at 6 A. M., August 5, dine at Ravenna, and arrive at Franklin Mills (now Kent) the same evening; August 6 leave Franklin at 7 A. M., and with brief stops at Munroe Falls, and Cuyahoga Falls, proceed directly to the junction of the two canals, in South Akron.

     The programme was successfully carried out. The Pennsylvania party, including Gov. David R. Porter, were met at the State line, by delegations from Warren and Youngstown, and were warmly welcomed to Ohio, by Judge King (in the absence of Gov. Wilson Shannon who had promised to be present), which was fittingly responded to by Gov. Porter. Similar ceremonies were observed at Youngstown, where the party dined, with a banquet, speeches, toasts, etc., at Warren in the evening.

     The next day, at Ravenna, a dinner was given the excursionists with an address of welcome by Hon. Darius Lyman, and responses by Gov. Porter and Col. Dickey, of Beaver, and in the evening, a supper and reception were given the party on its arrival at Franklin Mills.

     The next day, making a brief halt at Munroe Falls, where the villagers and surrounding farmers made the welkin ring with cheers and shouts of joy, the party, on arriving at Cuyahoga Falls, were escorted by a band of music, to the American House, where an enthusiastic reception, with a bounteous collation, was given them, with an eloquent address of welcome from Hon Elisha N. Sill, and spirited responses from Gov. Porter, Col. Dickey, Judge King and others.

Soon after leaving Cuyahoga Falls, the party was met by a boat carrying Akron's reception committee and other prominent citizens, when the entire fleet, consisting of six new and freshly painted boats, with banners and pennants flying, to the music of the Akron Brass Band, led by the late Henry S. Abbev, drove gayly into Akron, amid the plaudits of the multitude who lined both banks of the canal from Tallmadge to Mill streets, and as soon as the lockage at the latter point could be made, continued on to final destination, in the lower basin of the Ohio Canal in South Akron, where an equally demonstrative crowd welcomed its arrival with booming cannon and prolonged and enthusiastic cheers.

     The six boats were drawn up side by side on the east side of the basin, many other boats already in the basin, quietly drawing near, when in the presence of the large concourse of people upon the shore and surrounding boats, Hon. Rufus P. Spalding delivered an eloquent address of welcome to the distinguished visitors, and of congratulation to the officers of the company, at the final consummation of the great work whose completion they were met to celebrate, to which an equally eloquent and happy response was made in behalf of the visiting party, by Governor Porter.

     At the conclusion of the exercises at the basin, the visitors were transferred to carriages, and, headed by the band and the Summit Guards, commanded by Capt. Philo Chamberlin, and followed by nearly the entire populace, were escorted to the Universalist Church, on North High street, where judge King, on behalf (if the directors, made a concise report of the work which had been so successfully accomplished, and of the highly satisfactory condition and prospects of the company, Mr. King being followed by brief and spirited congratulatory speeches from Hon. David Tod, Gov. Porter, Hon. E N. Sill and others.

     At the close of the exercises at the church, the party repaired to the spacious hall in the third story of May's block (the present Clarenden Hotel), where a sumptuous dinner had been spread by that ancient prince of hotelists, Mr. Samuel Edgerly (father of Mrs. B. F. Battels and Charles H. Edgerly).

     Here the balance of the afternoon was spent in feasting, drinking, toasting and speaking, in which both visitors and citizens heartily participated.

     Upon the Akron boat had been borne an elegant silk banner, upon which, in the line of his early artistical profession, the writer had painted in gilt, two right hands clasped underneath the legend, "Pennsylvania and Ohio." Towards the close of the festivities, Mr. Spalding, offering as a sentiment: "Pennsylvania and Ohio, distinguished by unity of interest, unity of principle and unity of friendship," presented the flag in question to Gov. Porter, "as a slight testimonial of the respect entertained for him by the citizens of Akron, and as a memento, in subsequent life, of the joyful festivities of the day."

     On receiving the flag, the Governor feelingly responded, expressing his great gratification at the kindness of his reception by the people of Ohio, and especially at the extreme cordiality that had been extended to him by the citizens of Akron and Summit County.

     Much wonderment, and very great regret, was indulged in over the absence of Governor Shannon, after his unqualified agreement to honor the occasion with his presence, and on his non-appearance, without explanation, it was feared that he had been suddenly taken severely ill.   

     But when it soon afterwards transpired that, on the very days when the festivities named were in progress, the Governor was in attendance upon political meetings in the south part of the State, making stump speeches in behalf of his own re-election, the indignation hereabouts was both intense and emphatic, aiding to some extent, no doubt, in compassing his defeat, a previous historical writer has given the date of the celebration as 1841, and Gov. Thomas Corwin as the delinquent official, an error that should be corrected, as Gov. Shannon was defeated by Mr. Corwin, at the ensuing October election after his shabby treatment of Gov. Porter and the people of Northeastern Ohio.



     In the evening of the celebration in Akron, as above related, there was an impromptu reception, with rather a late supper, accompanied with the usual liquid refreshments then so universally in vogue, at the Ohio Exchange, on the present site of Woods block, corner Main and Market streets. The visitors retiring to their several rooms at rather a late hour, were not very early astir in the morning, and when finally assembled for breakfast, Major General Seeley, of Warren, was found to be absent. A friend going to his room to call him found him dead, from an attack of apoplexy during the night. The General was 70 years of age, of genial manners, and a great favorite, his sudden and unexpected death, creating great excitement and the profoundest sorrow among his fellow excursionists, as well as the citizens of Akron and other towns, along the line of the canal generally.

     But sometimes the most serious event has a comical side to it. A middle-aged son of the General, a physician by profession, being bibulously inclined, not having entirely recovered from the indulgencies of the night previous, on being informed of his father's death, broke out into uncontrollable and hysterical fit of weeping. A lady acquaintance of the family, a former resident of Warren, then living in Akron, endeavored to comfort him urging him to cease weeping and control his feelings, but the Doctor, in his maudlin phrenzy, pathetically exclaimed: "Why, always cry when my dear father dies!"

            Among the incorporators and active promoters of the enterprise was a rather eccentric and somewhat profane lawyer, of Ravenna, named Jonathan Sloane, and when the sudden death of Gen. Seeley, who was one of his most intimate friends, was disclosed to him, rubbing his hands together he gleefully exclaimed: Dom'd fine! Went out of the world with his belly full of beefsteak and brandy!"

     Hitherto transportation of iron, steel, nails, glass and other Philadelphia and Pittsburg manufactures and merchandise, coming into Northern Ohio, had to be made overland in "Conestoga wagons"-- immense schooner-like affairs, drawn by four, six and eight horses-the products of this region, black salts, potash, wool, cheese., flour, etc., etc., being in like manner transported thither. Among the commanders of this class of crafts, the writer remembers, Mr. Peter More, of Sharon, (father of the well-known cattleking, More Brothers, of California), Mr. George Crouse, of Tallmadge, afterwards of Green, (father of ex-Congressman G. W. Crouse) and Mr. Patrick Christy, of Springfield, (father of Messrs. James and John H. Christy), Mr. James Christy himself making an occasional trip both with his father and by himself. Indeed, the writer, then with a brother running the carriage making and painting business on the present site of the Paige block, on South Main street, made several excursions to Pittsburg with a four-horse rig, for iron, steel, paints and other supplies, in 1839-40, previous to the completion of the canal.

The opening of the canal to navigation, as above narrated, changed all this, quite large warehouses being erected upon its banks, at Akron, Cuyahoga Falls and other points, for the storage and forwarding of produce and merchandise through the large number of boats that immediately commenced plying thereon.

     For 12 or 15 years receipts for tolls were quite satisfactory, and several small dividends upon the stock were declared and paid. The tolls received at Akron amounted to about $7,000, in 1852; over $8,000, in 1853; and nearly $9,000, in 1855; quite large shipments being made by this route between Pittsburg and Cleveland, Massillon, etc.

     In the meantime, however, railroad competition had come in, the completion of the Cleveland and Pittsburg, and the Akron branch, in 1852, very materially interfering with the canal, and the  building of the Mahoning Valley road, from Cleveland to Youngstown, a few years later, seriously crippling its resources and impairing its usefulness and prosperity.

     In 1862, under a resolution adopted by the Legislature, in 1858, the Sinking Fund Commissioners sold the $420,000 worth of the stock of the canal owned by the State, to the Mahoning road for $35,000, which with stock previously secured from private parties, at equally low rates, gave that company a controlling interest in the canal. From that moment its doom was sealed; transportation rates largely discriminating in favor of the road and against the canal being adopted, traffic upon the latter soon almost entirely ceased.

     It will be remembered that in the erection of the canal, the Cascade Mill race, from Middlebury to Akron, had been merged therein under an arrangement that gave the mills the advantage of the surplus or lockage waters from the canal. So when, in 1867, the Legislature authorized the company to abandon or lease any portion of the canal it might deem advisable, the Akron Hydraulic Company leased, in perpetuity, all that portion of the canal between the Portage summit, near Ravenna, (including the reservoirs, feeders, etc.), and Akron, with the view of maintaining the full supply of water that had hitherto, since the constructing of the canal, accrued to their several mills.

     By a provision of the charter, any portion of the canal not used for navigation purposes for the period of one year, became forfeited, the lands covered thereby reverting to their original owners. The middle and eastern portion having thus gone into disuse, its stagnant waters were drained off by contiguous land owners, and its bed and banks largely brought under cultivation.

     The Akron Hydraulic Company, however, fully maintained its rights, under the charter, and its lease, by keeping the section between Akron and Ravenna in repair, and passing an occasional boat along its channel. In the meantime, the people of Cuyahoga Falls, feeling that not only was the health of the neighborhood being imperiled by the comparative stagnation of its waters, but that a large proportion of what water did pass, was just so much is wrongfully kept from the wheels of their own mills and manufactories, in the Spring or early Summer of 1868, the bank of the canal was clandestinely cut in three several places, both at, above and below that village, by which the entire waters of the long level between Kent and the nine locks were drawn off into the river.



     The Hydraulic Company several times repaired the breaches thus made, and sought to protect them by stationing watchmen along the line, but as often would the waters mysteriously "percolate" through the soft earth, and wash it out again. In this way the fatal year was permitted to pass, without a resumption of navigation, and quo warranto proceedings were at length brought in the Supreme Court, in 1872, under which Gen. A. C. Voris, of Akron, and Hon. Samuel Quinby, of Warren, were appointed trustees to sell the property, rights, franchises, etc., of the Canal Company to the highest bidder which was accordingly done, in September 1873, for the sum of $38.000, the Mahoning Railroad Company, being the sole beneficiary of the sale.

     This sale did not, of course, affect the rights of the mill men in that portion connected with the original mill race, between Middlebury and Akron, nor the short section, between the junction with the race, in Main street, and the Ohio Canal basin in South Akron, the benefits of whose waters, through the Mill street Lock, the mill owners still for some years continued to enjoy.

     To this enjoyment the South Main street people, through whose lands the canal ran, put in an emphatic demurrer on, night, in the Spring of 1874, by filling the canal with earth at the Exchange street bridge, and tapping the towing path at one or two points further North, and discharging the waters of the leve upon the bottom lands, and into the Ohio Canal on the west. Legal proceedings against the supposed nocturnal violators of the law were instituted, but finally abandoned, and that portion of the canal also reverted to the contiguous land owners, and the and Ohio Canal, as such, became a thing of the past, and its bed and banks, from Newcastle junction to Akron are now covered by the tracks of the Pittsburg & Western Railway, as fully set forth in another chapter.

     The conception of the scheme, however, was a grand one, and one which, through the sagacity and enterprise of Gen. Perkins, King, Dr. Crosby and their contemporaries, did its fu1l share towards establishing the commercial and manufacturing reputation and importance of Akron, Middlebury and Cuyahoga Falls, and but for the advent of that still more potent factor - human enterprise and progress--the modern railroad-would still have been one of the cherished institutions of the State, and a source of profit to its proprietors.

     As a mill race, however, conveying the waters of the Little Cuyahoga river, Springfield Lake, etc., from Ancient Middlebury, now the populous Sixth yard, of Akron, to the several extensive flouring mills of the city, it is still doing valuable service, though hidden from sight by a substantial conduit through Main, and that portion of Mill street, east of Howard. Peace to the "ashes" of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal



Lane, Samuel A. Fifty Years and Over, The History of Summit County. Beacon
     Job Department, 1892. p71-79.
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