[graphic] Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary
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Transportation: Trails & Roads, Canals and Railroads


Colonel Simon Perkins Mansion
Photo courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, photo by Jeff Winstel

The first transportation routes established in the Canalway were foot trails. The history of the human presence in this region stretches back to the Ice Age and continues to the present day. The first humans to enter this region of the country came as early as 12,000 to 10,000 B.C., and are known as “Paleo-Indians,” consisting of small hunting and foraging groups which roamed through the area following herds of mastodon and mammoth. During the Archaic Period (7000 to 800 B.C.), small nomadic groups grew in number and density and tool-making of cold-hammered copper became common. The “Archaic Indians” settled only seasonally in campsites in interfluvial rock shelters along bluff edges and the floodplain. Toward the end of this era, group territoriality and long distance trading systems began.The period A.D. 700 to 1200 is not well defined nor are there many extant sites other than winter hunting camps. From A.D. 1000 to 1350, summer agrarian villages along the edge of the forest revealed an increased density of semi-permanent habitation. The following 200 years saw organized fields ringing stockaded villages, but overall the region was not heavily settled.

The continent’s interior in the 17th and 18th centuries experienced an intense European rivalry over the lucrative fur trade. In 1744, the Iroquois confederacy recognized British hegemony over the territory north of the Ohio River. Tensions soon came to a head in 1754 as the French-Indian War began at Fort Necessity when a French-Canadian force, intent upon capturing the Ohio River valley for France, clashed with Virginian troops led by George Washington. Upon resolution of the conflict in 1763, French activity ended and the region belonged to Great Britain.

The Native American trails were part of a large regional trail network and the early European settlers established trails that linked the early communities. The Portage Trail, which linked the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas rivers, was a vital link in a American Indian trading route. The Portage Trail is now a road that passes by many historic places including the Simon Perkins Mansion and the Stan Hywet Gardens and the Stan Hywet Hall National Historic Landmark. Another noteworthy trail in the valley is the David Hudson Trail, which is the trek David Hudson and his party made from the Cuyahoga River at Boston Mills, through the wilderness, to the southwest corner of the township. This trek is credited with the founding of the town of Hudson.

With the advent of the American Revolutionary War and the peace treaty of 1783, Britain relinquished all of Ohio to the United States, but British activity did not cease until the conclusion of the War of 1812.American leaders knew that the key to developing the continent’s vast interior was in establishing a good transportation system. That meant a series of canals would be needed to link the Great Lakes with the nation’s river systems. As early as 1784, George Washington espoused a plan to boost the fur trade and interior communications by utilizing the Great Lakes. His plan included the Cuyahoga River. In 1788, Washington formally proposed canals linking the Cuyahoga, Big Beaver, and Muskingum rivers to allow easy intercourse from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River.Building and repairing roads in early Ohio was largely the responsibility of supervisors appointed by township trustees. According to the Act of 1809, every able-bodied man of 21 years or more had to give two days per year to work on public roads in his community. Riverview Road was established in 1811 and links four historic districts and two individual listings in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). It should be noted that “establishment” in this context refers to a local judge designating the route as a public right-of-way. Regional road networks in northeast Ohio did not greatly impact the Canalway, due to its north-south orientation. From 1816 onward, major road building movements in the region were designed to connect Cleveland with Buffalo to the northeast, with Pittsburgh to the southeast and with Columbus to the southwest.


[photo] Historic view of one of the canal locks
Courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park

When the Canal was constructed from Cleveland to Akron (1825-27), local roads led to this regional transportation link. Canals were the interstate highways of their time and created a transportation revolution in the early 19th century. The regional canals built in the early 19th century developed into an interconnected national network of waterways. Canals of the northeast and Midwest states linked the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The Ohio and Erie Canal linked the interior of Ohio to Cleveland, on Lake Erie, and from there to Buffalo and the Erie Canal in New York. The canal also linked to the Mississippi River System connecting Ohio to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. By connecting the Ohio frontier with New York and New Orleans, the Ohio and Erie Canal helped people and products flow across America, fueling westward espansion, a national market economy, and regional industrial might. Some sources suggest that the total canal mileage in Ohio exceeded that of any other state.

Ground was broken for the Ohio and Erie Canal on July 4, 1825. Exactly two years later the first section of the canal, between Cleveland and Akron, was opened to traffic. By 1832, the 309 miles of the Ohio and Erie Canal linked Lake Erie with the Ohio River and became a major catalyst for Ohio's economic growth. The canal opened the resource rich hinterlands of the young state and greatly spurred settlement and development in the area. Between 1825 and 1847, the State of Ohio constructed 813 miles of canals. The Ohio and Erie Canal’s first link opened on July 3, 1827, when a group led by Ohio Governor Allen Trimble left Portage Summit aboard State of Ohio. The 38-mile trip to Cleveland and Lake Erie saw a 395-foot drop in elevation as the boat wound her way through the Cuyahoga Valley’s 44 locks and three aqueducts. The canal trench itself was 40 feet wide at the top and 26 feet at the bottom. The entire canal was completed in 1832 at a cost of $5 million. The engineering miracle proved to be an economic wonder as well. Barges could now cross the state in eighty to ninety hours.

Mustill Store, Cascade Locks Historic District
Photo courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, photo by Jeff Wiinstel

The northern section of the remaining canal is the Ohio and Erie Canal National Historic Landmark in CVNP and the Akron area includes the Cascade Lock Historic District. These inland waterways transported grain and coal to eastern ports and finished goods and settlers to the developing Northwest Territory. By the 1850s, the canals were declining and east-west transport and related economic development resulted from railroad expansion.


To supply the growing industries of Cleveland with coal from south of Canton and West Virginia, the Valley Railway was chartered in 1871. The right-of-way was surveyed in 1872, the Cuyahoga Valley provided a route with easy grades and wide curves. Construction of the rail line began in 1878 and operations started between Cleveland and Canton in 1880. In 1882 the line was extended to Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1890 the Baltimore & Ohio acquired a controlling interest in the railroad to gain access to Cleveland.

[photo] Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway Train
Photo courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, photo by Jeff Winstel

Unlike other railroads, theValley Railway was never double-tracked for expanded traffic, and the right-of-way remains virtually unaltered.Guide Tourist & Traveler Over Valley Railway, 1880 promotes itself as “Containing a Complete Description of the Scenery and Objects of Interest Along the Road.” The descriptions of the valley in the book illuminate the landscape of the time. This book is available at the railway offices and CVNP visitor center bookstores. The right-of-way through the CVNP into Akron and continuing on to Canton is still maintained and used by the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Future plans include expansion north to Cleveland’s Terminal Tower.

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