Monday, February 22, 2010
I was born in Nelsonville, Ohio, in 1943. By then the Hocking Canal was just a memory. In Nelsonville, the canal bed had been filled in and paved to make a place for Route 33 to go through town. The Hocking Canal was authorized in 1836 as a branch of the Ohio and Erie Canal with which it made a junction at Carroll Ohio. Vestiges of the canal can be seen at several locations including Lancaster, Logan and Nelsonville. The region was particularly rich in iron and salt and allowed the canal to operate well into the declining years of the canal era. Partial abandonment of 7 miles of the canal below Chauncey to Athens, including the Athens terminal took place in 1874. Final abandonment and lease of some canal property to the Hocking Valley Railroad took place in 1894.
The Hocking Canal used towpath navigation with both horses and mule power. It was constructed to the dimensions and standards set out by the Ohio and Erie Canal of which it was a branch. In addition to 27 lift locks, there were 5 guard locks, 34 culverts, 8 feeder and slack water dams and one aqueduct that spanned about 80 feet over Monday Creek. Long after the canal had been abandoned and replaced with the railroad, a new invention, the automobile, began to make its presence known. In the mid 1930s, after years of abandonment, the Hocking Canal bed was filled in many places and paved over to create State Route 33 that extended south to the Ohio River.
In Nelsonville, some of the cut stones used in constructing the locks were used to help strengthen the levee along the Hocking River. Other stones were used as bleachers at Estel Crabtree Field, the Nelsonville baseball field, and can still be seen today. My great- great-grandfather’s brother, Charles Albert Harrold, was a stone mason. He lived in Zanesville, Muskingum, Ohio until he got a job building locks on the canal. He liked the village of Nelsonville and decided to build a home and move his family to the small town nestled in the little valley. About three miles west of Nelsonville along Route 33 is Johnny Appleseed Park which has preserved Hocking Canal Lock 19. The stones at this site were cut and placed by Charles Albert Harrold and his crew.
Charles purchased nearly six acres about halfway up the hill on the North side of the valley. Using the skills of his trade, he cut large sandstone blocks from the hillside behind the house. He used these stones to build walls in a cellar and a foundation for the house he built at 510 High Street. My family retained ownership of this home until the death of my Grandmother, Marquise Elizabeth Goodspeed Morris, in 1995.
The Hocking Canal was completed to Nelsonville in 1840. Extending it from Nelsonville to Athens would take another 3 years. It was this initial completion to Nelsonville that benefited this area the most. Businessmen now had ways of exporting coal dug out of nearby mines to the factories and homes in Columbus. Besides shipping coal north, salt, pork and wood products also went north. On return trips, the canals brought manufactured products south.
There were 3 types of canal boats on the Hocking Canal. Most of them were cargo boats designed to carry the crew and mule teams and nothing else. Some were family boats that were, more often than not, cargo boats. The difference was that the family boats had space for the captain and his family. The 3rd type of boats were packet boats which transported mail and passengers, but these were used much less frequently.
Having a canal and canal boats in town was not always a benefit. In one account, on July 19, 1863, after having lost 2/3s of his men in a crushing defeat on Buffington Island on the Ohio River, a confederate cavalry of 400 men led by General John Morgan entered Nelsonville and burned most of the canal boats tied up in the canal basin. The rebels looted the stores in Nelsonville and rode off with all the horses they could find. They also set fire to a covered bridge to slow down the Union forces pursuing them. However, the townspeople quickly put out the fire within a few hours keeping it intact for the Union cavalry to cross over. Some of Morgan’s men showed up at one of my great, great grandmother’s farm and besides taking all of her chickens, they took the baking bread out of her oven. But that is another story…
Check out this link to my new family history business, Legacy Locators.