Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal

Canal boat

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.

Canal boats had no power by themselves. They were always pulled by mules or horses walking along the towpath on the bank. Nowadays this seems like a very slow way to travel, but then it was a welcome improvement over carting wagonloads of coal, lumber or grain through the forested or swampy land.

The crew of the boats included a captain, a steersman, a mule driver, and a cook. The ride for passengers was smooth and pleasant. When the boats had to go through a lock, passengers could go to the shore for a while.

For about 15 years the canal system was an important method of transportation in Ohio. Canals carried farmers' produce to market, including apples, corn, whiskey, and beef, and delivered to them lumber, gravel, coal, furs, ropes, tools, coffee, tea and many more items.

Then, in the 1850's, railroads began to be built. Trains could carry more goods and deliver them faster, so the canals gradually lost business. The P & O Canal was officially closed in 1869. There still remain faint traces of the canal bed in Munroe Falls today.