THE MIAMI & ERIE CANAL
by Charles F. Sullivan
The original settlement of Dayton was made April 1st, 1796, with three parties and including men, women and children there were just 36 people arrived here at that time. After fourteen years, 1810, the population had only increased to 383, but this did not include many who had settled upon farms outside of the new town.
By 1820 we had increased to 1139, and we were sixty miles from help and all supplies at Cincinnati and the only way to get there was to walk or horse back. This was slow and the trails were mud and streams had to be forded and it took two days to get goods from there in a four horse wagon. Can you imagine a town of that size, living mostly in log cabins, promoting the building of a canal 60 miles long to Cincinnati, to transport people and goods back and forth? In 1811, the first steamboat made a trip from Pittsburg to Louisville and when the river was high it went down the river to New Orleans and back upon its own power, but they were stopped at Louisville by the falls or the Ohio, until many years later when a canal was built around the side of it. Soon after this another boat was built and made regular trips as far as Louisville. This seemed marvelous that a boat could go up stream upon its own power and if this was possible, why not use the Miami for steamboating?
The Miami has a great way of getting very low in summer time and this did not encourage steamboating upon the Miami. However, this suggested another plan of building a canal just like New York state had done, for it had developed that state by its good work.
A meeting was called at Col. Reid’s Inn June 29, 1821, and a committee consisting of H. G. Phillips, George W. Smith, John W. Steele, Alexander Grimes, and Joseph Crane were appointed to look into the (?) and promote it especially in Miamisburg, Franklin and Middletown and to get the surveying done. Funds were solicited and the surveying started and by 1825, it was ready to present to the legislature, and it authorized its construction.
New York had just finished the Erie Canal and DeWitt Clinton, the author and builder of it was to come to Newark, Ohio, to assist in the inaugural of the canal at that place, was invited to come on here and with Governor Morrow of this state, assist in the services here.
A large number of people from Dayton went to Fairfield to meet them and escort them to Dayton on July 9th. They went to Comptons Tavern where Governor Clinton made a speech, to which Judge Crane replied.
From here they went to Miamisburg, Franklin, Middletown and Hamilton by horse back and carriage, with a jollification at each place.
It had been suggested that the canal come up the center of Main Street with a roadway on each side but that was turned down and the canal came up what is now Patterson Boulevard to Third and soon after, it was continued on to First Street, making it wide enough to turn boats in it and it was called the “basin” and it was a very busy place, loading and unloading boats there. The canal was finished in 1829 and boats began to arrive with passengers and freight. The canal was quite a success for many years, making it possible for people to get to Cincinnati in 24 hours, cutting the former time in half.
This required that a bed would be needed for the passengers at night and so this was the beginning of sleeping cars.
Much flour, pork, oil, and other things were made here and at other points up and down the canal, which was hauled to marked by the canal and goods needed here brought back by the boats.
The population of Dayton in 1825 was 1168, then work started building the canal and by 1830 it was 2954 almost doubling in five years and by 1840 it was 6067.
Daniel Cooper had built a grist and sawmill at the corner of Mill and Water (now Monument) streets in 1800 and operated it by water power getting the water from Mad River and wasting it down what was later the canal and placed Robert Edgar in charge of it. In 1804, he built another one upon ground owned by him on Rubicon creek, getting his power from the creek and soon after he sold this mill to Col. Robert Patterson, who moved here from Lexington, Kentucky, and made quite a success of the mills and from this we have the two streets named Sawmill and Stone Mill Roads. Then Mr. Cooper placed a dam near Keowee and First and brought this water down from his mills and gave him plenty of power for its operation. While the soldiers were gathering ready to go to Detroit, Mr. Cooper hired them to extend his hydraulic to the corner of Wyandot and Fourth, where he placed another saw mill. This opened the way for more factories and gave more employment thus drawing more and more men to settle here.
When the canal was built, it showed the way to increase the number and prosperity of the factories, not only here but all the way up and down the valley. The year the canal was finished, there were 27,121 barrels of flour shipped away from Dayton and the next year 1830 it almost doubled, 56,364 barrels. Before the canal was built, this would have been impossible, but the canal did it easily.
From then on, more and more power was planned and as fast as it was ready, it was taken by some kind of factory.
Is it not surprising that the canal was built to Dayton in less than four years, when you think that there were no experienced men to be had? Much dirt had to be moved, many locks to be built, many creeks to be built under the canal and many overflows to be built and tools were scarce and crude, yet it was completed for use in such a short time. A dam was thrown across Mad River above the present Finley street bridge and the water brought down to the canal at Sixth street by the route now used by the elevated tracks and this filled the canal at this end. Additional water had to be provided further down the line. There was one objective to the canal and that was that it would freeze up in winter and could not be depended upon for about four months in the year. Since the canal must go upon the level except at the Locks, bridges had to be built at all streets making quite a hill for teams with heavy loads. Stone arch bridges were built over the canal at Second, Third, Fifth and Jefferson, and they would still be in good condition, had they not been torn down.
This stone was hauled here from quarries located between here and Beavertown, using only the thick stone from 15 to 30 inches thick and one stone was a good load for two horses. When they arrived there it took much work to prepare them for the space they were to occupy and place them in position and hold them until the arch was complete. When Third street was paved in the 1890’s the center of the arch was removed and I beams placed there, thus reducing the hill, and about the same time the Second and Jefferson bridges were removed and a draw bridge placed there, but after the canal was given up they were removed also. The Fifth street bridge was in use until the tracks were elevated when it was removed to make the street straight as it is today. At Keowee, Monument, First, Sixth and Warren streets iron bridges were used and at Main a suspension served until the canal was abandoned. At the point of ground between the two canals at Sixth street, George Hoglen operated a saw mill with water power and hauled his logs here by canal boats for many years, but now there is a large brick building used as a paper warehouse located at this place. The canal started on up to Toledo using the race as far as Mad River, reaching Piqua in 1837 and Toledo 1845. At Mad River, it was necessary to lock up to the aqueduct which carried the canal across the river at Rita street and then followed the level ground up to the Taylorsville Dam and about a thousand foot above it is one of the piers of that old aqueduct still standing.
Since the water in the “basin” had no inlet to it, the water became stagnant and this raised objections. In 1842, the city straightened the Mad River as it is today placing much land upon the south side of the river that had formerly been upon the north. In 1845, the canal was brought down parallel to the river to the basin and this made an end to the stagnant water, and the boats all used this way, the old being used as a hydraulic only. During the Mexican War, many soldiers went to Cincinnati on the canal on the road to Mexico, there changing to river boats. After the change in the canal as mentioned above, a hydraulic was built from the race, near Fifth street crossing Wyandot and then turning parallel to it and running to Third street. Between this and the canal a solid line of factory buildings was erected taking water from the hydraulic and wasting it into the canal making lots of factory space with power.
This explains why there is this unbroken line of factory buildings along Patterson Boulevard.
William Hamer, a local preacher of the Methodist denomination, came to Dayton in a two horse wagon with his family with the first settlers and made his home upon the ground now used by the Focke Packing Company because he thought that section was to be used for religious work.
After he had been there some time he had some trouble about it.
It is reported that in 1802 he built a grist mill, probably in the present Eastwood Park and had the whole country coming to him to grind their meal. In 1812, Henry Leatherman built a dam upon this same location and carried the water down past Focke’s and along the present Gaddis Boulevard to the north end of Harbine Avenue, where he operated a sawmill. He used this until 1820, when Cooper’s mills burned, and he rebuilt them and used them giving up the old location.
In 1844, he sold this site to Horatio Phillips, Daniel Beckel and F. D. Edgar as the Dayton Hydraulic Company and they extended it along the edge of the hill to west of Beckel street where it made a Tee furnishing water to all the factories along Front street and also to some on First street east of Front. This made a fine factory district, furnishing power for two flour mills, a paper mill, a flax mill and others and when this water was wasted down the hydraulic and at Fifth street it was used again by the factories there and wasted into the canal when it went to Ludlow street where it was used again, so between the Hydraulic Company and the state three water rents were charged for this water going through Dayton.
The state also charged rent for water at every lock up and down the canal and at Middletown they are still using the old canal for water power.
Greer and King, operating a stove foundry across the canal from the Public Library, found the canal a handy way to deliver stoves in the new country up north, opened by the canal.
Robert Chambers operated a warehouse between First and Second along the east side of the canal and also some canal boats up and down the canal. His picture is on exhibit at the Newcom Tavern.
Charles Starr was a dealer in building supplies and bought Shiverdecker cement, made in Germany, because at that time there was no Portland cement made in this country. It was shipped by boat up the Hudson to Troy, New York there transferred to the Erie Canal and taken to Buffalo transferred to a lake vessel for Toledo and from there by canal.
This cement was packed in wooden barrels in order to stand this transferring.
Portland cement is so named because it looks like the stone that is quarried at Portland, England, but really the meaning is that it is made of several materials mixed together.
In the 1880’s I was attending the intermediate school on Brown street, and as a boat was going under a bridge that I was crossing, I jumped from the bridge to the boat and rode to Second street, and I thought I had a fine ride. At the front end of the boat was a cabin for the horse or mule and in the rear was the home for the Captain of the boat and his family.
Financially the canal was not a success, even with the water rents yet it was worth all it cost because of the developments of this side of the state. After the canal was a dead issue, the old hydraulic was sold to the railroads for their elevated tracks, and these crossings save lots of time and besides they are much safer than the old grade crossings. Later the City bought the canal bed from Monument to the Fairgrounds and made the Patterson Boulevard out of it.
The old canal bed is used as a parking lot along the Frigidaire plant for the autos of their employees.
I am sorry that our city authorities did not have the vision, when they had the opportunity to make Patterson Boulevard a through road, going under or over all streets in this city. Then make about three places where traffic could enter and leave the boulevard and thus do away with all the traffic lights upon this route.
Charles F. Sullivan
Dayton, Ohio December 9, 1942