The "P & O," as the new canal was called, opened officially on August 4, 1840. It was 82 miles long and connected New Castle, Pennsylvania, with Akron, Ohio. It followed the old Indian trails and ran beside the Cuyahoga River. There were big celebrations all along its route.
Using the P & O along with other canals, boats could transport goods and passengers all the way from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, and connect with ships traveling on Lake Erie. This was a great boost to trade and connected northeast Ohio to the eastern states. All along the canal route, villages sprang up, and existing towns grew larger.
Workers dug the canal with hand tools: picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. They had to blast through rock with dynamite. They slogged through mud every time it rained. Many men died of malaria carried by mosquitoes. Many canal locks had to be built. These used massive wooden doors in front and behind to contain the water and raise the boats up or take them down several feet at a time.
Dams, to the early settlers, meant power: the power of falling water harnessed to do the hard work of grinding grain and sawing logs.
In about 1812, Francis Kelsey, a millwright, and Isaac Wilcox built a dam across the Cuyahoga River at the place in Cuyahoga Falls where the railroad bridge now crosses. There they erected a gristmill and a sawmill. At about the time the gristmill was ready to grind grain, it caught fire and burned up. The fire was supposed to be the work of its rival in Northampton. The next year, Wilcox and Kelsey rebuilt, but their dam was soon carried off by a flood, and being disgusted with the business, Wilcox returned to his farm. Kelsey built anew upstream at the present-day Munroe Falls. This is how the little settlement became known as Kelsey's Mills.
Kelsey teamed up with two other men to build this dam, made of logs, in about 1817. They erected the first sawmill in Stow Township there. Kelsey also built a gristmill. The mills used millraces, one on each side of the river. That way they only needed one dam. The dam was washed out and replaced a few times over the years.