• Kendall Hills in summer bloom by Jeffrey Gibson

    Cuyahoga Valley

    National Park Ohio

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  • Towpath Trail Closure

    Towpath Trail is closed from Mustill Store to Memorial Parkway for riverbank reinforcement. Detours posted. Closure will last 1 - 4 weeks into August. More »

  • Other Closures

    Valley Bridle Trail south of SR 303, across from golf course, is collapsed by river. Hard closure. Plateau Trail Bridge, north of Valley Picnic Area is closed. No detours. Plateau & Oak Hill trails are open. More »

  • Riverview Road Repaving

    Riverview Rd is being repaved from the Cuyahoga-Summit Cty line to Peninsula through Mon, 9/15. Road is open but there are still delays due to construction. Allow extra time. More »

Canal Era

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Canal boat family

NPS COLLECTION

The Ohio & Erie Canal quickly changed the Cuyahoga Valley from a remote backcountry to an industrial region. When the Akron to Cleveland section of the canal opened in 1827, the valley’s pioneer settlements became boomtowns. Workers originally from Ireland and Germany flooded into Ohio to dig the canals for 30 cents a day. Quarries provided stone for canal locks and new buildings. The falling water of the locks was also used to turn waterwheels. Mills and small factories sprang up nearby, making everything from cheese and flour to bricks and lumber. The canal was a cheap way to ship anything made or grown in the valley to buyers back East or down South.

With industry came workers. Peninsula and Boston became boat building boomtowns. Everett specialized in stables that housed, fed, and cared for mules and horses needed to pull the canal boats along their towpaths. The new families settled into growing Cuyahoga Valley towns with schools, churches, and stores full of goods from New York, Massachusetts, or even Europe. The canal created a more civilized life in the valley. It brought fine china and spices and dependable mail from faraway relatives. The valley’s residents went from mostly independent frontier farmers to townsfolk who lived in wooden homes. Children went to local schools and food could be purchased in stores and markets.

 

The canal itself was a kind of community. Going through canal locks took time, so taverns at each lock quenched the thirst of travelers and at times rowdy canal boat workers passing the time. Some canal boat captains lived on their boats with their wives and children. Imagine growing up on a boat stopping at towns from Lake Erie to the Ohio River—and rarely going to school!


 

In Their Own Words! To learn more about daily life in the Cuyahoga Valley during the Ohio’s Canal Era, read quotes from canal boat painter Robert Andrew’s 1849 journal.

In Their Own Words! To better understand what life was like for African Americans during the Ohio’s Canal Era, read quotes from canal boat captain John Malvin’s autobiography.

In Their Own Words! To find out how things changed from the Western Reserve period to the Ohio’s Canal Era, read quotes from Amzi Atwater’s letters. Amzi Atwater was a member of the first two survey teams to map the Western Reserve.


 
VIDEOICON


Kids Asked, We Answered!

Click the questions to play video of real kids getting answers from park experts.

Where there more trees before the canal?

What was life like on a canal boat?

How big were canal boats?

Who was John Malvin?

Was the canal polluted?


 

End of an Era

The valley’s canal boom years didn’t last very long. Railroads began to compete with the canal by the mid-1800s and were used more than the canal after the Civil War. The canals could only operate March to November, depending on ice, and at 4 miles per hour. Trains could operate all year and the early ones could go about 15 miles per hour. However, the Ohio & Erie Canal was still carrying coal north for Great Lakes boats and passengers south to Portsmouth in the early 1900s.

 
1913 Flood Damage

1913 flood damage in the Cuyahoga Valley

NPS COLLECTION

The final blow to the Ohio & Erie Canal was the Great Flood of 1913. The devastating flood swept houses away, twisted railroad tracks, and drowned shops. The building that is today the Canal Visitor Center was under so much muddy water that dirt ended up in its rafters. The flood also ruined the canal. It washed out banks. Locks were dynamited to release the floodwaters. The damage was too expensive to fix, ending the canal era in the Cuyahoga Valley.

While the canal is gone, its important legacy lives on thanks to Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) and other organizations. The Ohio & Erie Canalway is a national heritage area that includes CVNP. Its boundaries stretch from Cleveland, through Akron and Canton, to New Philadephia. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and the Ohio & Erie Canalway Byway are important features. CVNP sightseers are also visiting the Ohio & Erie Canalway when they bike along the Towpath Trail, stop and see the ruins of old locks and other canal structures, and tour the park’s canal-era buildings.

 
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Park ranger in historic costume in front of Boston Store Visitor Center

NPS/Arrye Rosser

Boston Store Visitor Center is a restored 1836 warehouse building where you can see canal boat-building exhibits. The park’s Canal Visitor Center was once a tavern, a general store, and a residence. Today it has displays about life along the canal. Outside the Canal Visitor Center is a restored canal lock where 21st century citizens can learn a bit about 19th-century canal technology and history.

Did You Know?

Historic photo of canal boat on the Ohio & Erie Canal.

Lock 27 along the Ohio & Erie Canal became known as Johnnycake Lock after several boats ran aground due to flooding. While stranded, supplies ran low and canal passengers and crew ate only corn meal pancakes, known as "johnnycakes".