Looking for an outdoor adventure this summer where you can experience a taste of early Ohio history while also discovering some fun hiking opportunities? The Miami & Erie Canal Heritage Corridor is a journey back in time that traverses nearly 50 miles of historic and scenic canal greenway through five western Ohio counties.
From Delphos in Allen County to Piqua in Miami County, history buffs and nature lovers alike can enjoy the outdoors while getting a real sense of what life was like for early Ohioans along the canal.
Ohios canal history began some 20 years after statehood was established in 1803. The young state remained largely unsettled because it lacked an efficient means to transport goods and people through the roadless countryside. Construction of the Miami & Erie Canal began in 1825, cutting its way south to north through the western interior of the state. Moving rock and soil to create the shallow big ditch, canals were dug by hand using mostly picks and shovels. Completed in 1845, this engineering marvel featured a system of 105 locks that raised and lowered canal boats along a 249-mile waterway from Lake Erie in Toledo to the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
But for all this work, the canal era was short-lived as railroads were developed, effectively drawing a curtain on this more-leisurely form of transportation. The heyday of the western Ohio canal system was 1851, when approximately 400 boats passed through the canals, generating revenues of nearly $352,000.
Fortunately, the legacy of this bygone era has been preserved for us to enjoy from historic canal towns such as Minster and Lockington to hiking trails along the old canal towpaths.
A stop in Delphos at the northern end of the heritage corridor offers a museum center showcasing memorabilia including a large model of the canal boat Marguerite. Built around 1850, the boat caught fire and sank in the nearby canal, where remnants of its keel and side rails can still be seen.
Farther south in Auglaize County, towpath hikers will encounter a marker commemorating a grisly 1850s murder at the bloody bridge. Although the old bridge has been replaced, the monument recounts the story of two men who vied for the affections of a boat captains daughter. When she chose one over the other, the spurned lover, in a jealous rage ambushed the pair and killed his competition with an ax. Out of fright, the maiden fell off the bridge and into a watery grave.
Continuing down the corridor is St. Marys, where a full-scale replica of a 19th century canal boat, The Belle of St. Marys, is docked at Memorial Park. Grand Lake St. Marys was originally created as a reservoir to maintain the canals four-foot water level. At the time it was considered to be the worlds largest man-made lake, a distinction it held for many years. Today it is the centerpiece for one of Ohios oldest state parks and is a great place for families to camp, swim, boat and fish.
Close to New Knoxville is Lock 8 North, which is a fine example of an original stone lock. Considered one of the best-preserved canal locks in the nation, it has remained virtually undisturbed for the past 100 years.
In 1832 a group of German immigrants in Shelby County founded the village of New Bremen. Today, evidence of this once-bustling canal town can be seen in its many restored brick structures. However, one of the oldest structures in town, the New Bremen Historic Museum, is a timber-braced frame house lined with bricks, mud and straw.
Fort Loramie is able to trace its roots back to 1769 when a French-Canadian trader established a trading post at Loramie Creek. When the canal came through, Lake Loramie was constructed as a water supply to the canal. Like Grand Lake St. Marys, Lake Loramie was one of Ohios original state parks.
The last stop along the Miami & Erie Canal Heritage Corridor is Piqua where you can truly indulge in the atmosphere of the canal days. At the 200-acre Piqua Historical Area visitors have the opportunity to view a restored mile-long section of the Miami & Erie Canal. Here the public can take a ride on The General Harrison, a replica of a mixed-cargo canal boat.
As Ohio celebrates its 200th birthday, a trip along Ohios Miami & Erie Canal Heritage Corridor is a great way for Buckeye families and friends to travel back in time to an historical, educational and recreational canal greenway.