Lesson Plan

The Ohio & Erie Canal: Catalyst of Economic Development for Ohio

House at Lock 38 on the Ohio & Erie Canal

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10, 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.3, 11-12.RH.4, 11-12.RH.5, 11-12.RH.6, 11-12.RH.7, 11-12.RH.8, 11-12.RH.9, 11-12.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 4 Standard 2A: Students understand how the factory system, transportation, and market revolutions shaped regional patterns of economic development.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies.
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How can transportation change regions?


1. To describe the construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal;
2. To compare the economy of Ohio before and after the completion of the canal system;
3. To identify industries that were made possible by the construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal;
4. To analyze the development of transportation routes in their own community and determine how these routes affected their local economy.


"Low bridge, everybody down!" yells the canal boat captain. As they clear the bridge, his wife begins hanging her laundry from a rope tied on posts running between the cargo holds. Their smallest child sits tied to the deck, so she will not fall into the water and drown. The oldest son is the steersman. He must always compensate for the sideward pull of the mule team that plods along the edge of the canal tugging on ropes attached to the boat. The mule skinner walks silently with the mules, making sure they do not sit down on the job. This boat is the family business--their livelihood--and their home.

Gliding gracefully along the Ohio & Erie Canal, the boat is heavily laden with lumber on its way north to Lake Erie where it will be transferred to a lake freighter and sent to Buffalo and the Erie Canal. As the boat approaches a lock, the mule skinner prepares to unhitch the mules, and the crew grab their pikes, ready to push the boat into the lock. Inside the lock chamber the sluice gate on the downstream gate opens and the water slowly begins to drop eight feet. After "locking through," the crew again hitch the mules and continue on their way.

Lesson Hook/Preview

In the 1820s, Ohio was one of the poorest states in the Union. On the edge of the wilderness, the state had ample natural resources, but the settlers of the region had few means of exploiting these resources. Ohio farmers were unable to get their products to primary markets. Roads--the only transportation routes to eastern markets--were poor to nonexistent. Rivers and other bodies of water within the state were not navigable for any distance. They could, however, be used to feed a canal system. With the completion of the Erie Canal in New York, Ohio had the potential to be linked to New York markets. Ohio officials felt that if they built their own canal system, some of their transportation and economic problems could be solved.

On July 4, 1825, New York Governor DeWitt Clinton ceremoniously lifted the first shovelful of dirt to start Ohio’s canal system. During the next two years, workers completed the first 38-mile section of the Ohio & Erie Canal, between Cleveland and Akron. This section of the canal, with its 44 lift locks, would raise and lower boats, accommodating the almost 400-foot difference in elevation between the two cities. Within one year of the opening of this section of the canal, Buffalo merchants increased their purchases from Cleveland’s wheat market from 1,000 bushels annually to more than 250,000. By 1832 the canal was completed from Lake Erie to Portsmouth on the Ohio River, a total of 308 miles. The canal system provided a much needed shot in the arm for Ohio’s economy. The canals provided a boost for agricultural, industrial, and political advances, helping to improve the quality of life throughout the region.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.



Additional Resources

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a unit of the National Park System. Visit the park's web pages for more information about the history of the area and to access several in depth on-line tours of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and Historic Brandywine Village Area.

The Ohio & Erie Canal Association
Visit the CanalWay Ohio website to learn more about this area that stretches from Zoar to Cleveland's lake front. CanalWay Ohio follows the course of the Ohio & Erie Canal and the Cuyahoga Valley Line Railroad and it incorporates a landscape noted for its rich natural beauty, distinct historic and cultural resources, and vibrant commercial districts. CanalWay Ohio is a new kind of park, blending existing park sites, neighborhoods, downtowns and even industrial facilities with new parks, trails and museums into a mosaic of special places marked by the stories that have defined our region’s growth.

National Park Service Travel Itineraries 
The Discover Our Shared Heritage online Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor travel itinerary features information on more than 40 places associated with the canal. These include the canal itself, the Canal Fulton Historic District, the Clinton Ohio and Erie Canal Historic District, and the Hudson Historic District.

Stretching 150 miles from Bristol to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor follows the routes of the Delaware Canal, the Lehigh Navigation System, and the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad. This National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary explores 46 historic places that illustrate the history of this extraordinary 19th-century transportation system--mountain railroads, rivers, dams and canals, devised to move anthracite from mine to market.

Cleveland's First Infrastructure
The Cleveland State University Library's special collection, "Cleveland's First Infrastructure," provides detailed drawings, documents, and information about the development of the Ohio & Erie Canal. In addition, there is text for the "Canal Boat Song" published in the Rochester (N.Y.) Telegraph. The site was meant to serve as a gateway through which people can learn about the canal, identify resources for further investigation of canal engineering and history, and find opportunities to visit preserved areas of the Ohio & Erie Canal in Ohio.

Canal Society of Ohio
The Canal Society of Ohio has information on the present day condition of the Ohio & Erie Canal as well as the Miami & Erie Canal. Also, explore the map of Ohio's canal network and the bibliography of topics related to the canals in Ohio.

North American Canals
This website provides information about the history of canals throughout the United States, notices about upcoming events at various canals, and links to related sites.

National Canal Museum
The National Canal Museum's web pages offer more information about the canals role in American commerce and transportation.

Ohio History Connection
Ohio History Connection is a dynamic online encyclopedia that includes information about Ohio's natural history, prehistory and history. Each section contains written information, maps, time lines, and images.

Maritime Heritage Program
The National Park Service's Maritime Heritage Program works to advance awareness and understanding of the role of maritime affairs in the history of the United States by helping to interpret and preserve our maritime heritage. The program's web pages include information on National Park Service maritime parks, historic ships, lighthouses, and life saving stations.

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Last updated: March 12, 2020