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Visit Archeology > Ohio > Timeline > Canal Era

The Canal Era (200 - 100 Before the Present)

As Ohio's agricultural industries burgeoned in the 1820s, the lack of efficient transportation for crops became increasingly apparent. At the time, road transportation was slow, inconvenient, and costly. Transportation down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers was both dangerous and time-consuming. A new means of transporting large quantities of agricultural products inexpensively, efficiently, and safely had to be found. Inspired by New York's canal between Lake Erie and the Hudson River in 1817, Ohio's state legislature investigated the feasibility of canal transportation as a viable option. Canals offered the prospect of reliable transportation between Ohio and its eastern markets. Construction of the Miami & Erie and the Ohio & Erie Canals began in 1825. At their fullest extent, the Ohio Canals included 1,000 miles of waterways and traversed half of the state's 88 counties. These canals were part of a comprehensive transportation system that enabled goods to be shipped from Ohio to various locations on the east coast through an extensive network of man-made and natural waterways.

Canal construction improved transportation for bulky agricultural products, but it also affected lifestyles in Ohio. Ohio's farmers prospered from the new markets opened up by canal transportation. In addition, both national and local market economies were fueled by the faster and expanded pace of business. As a transportation hub, Ohio offered opportunities for stable jobs, drawing both people and businesses westward. Towns cropped up at points along the canals, which quickly became the nexus of commercial activity in Ohio.

Ohio's canal hey-day ended in the late 1800s as canal transportation was slowly replaced by railroads. The final end of commercial canal use in Ohio came in 1913 when heavy storms flooded the canal system. The repairs necessary to restore the canals far outweighed the waning uses for these waterways. However, the effect of canals on Ohio's history is undeniable. Visitors can still explore these famous waterways through a variety of parks and museums.