Roscoe Village
An 1800's Canal Town

Coshocton, OH

July 9th, 2007

History can sometimes be grouped into "ages", such as the age of steam or the industrial age.  Ohio and Pennsylvania shared the age of the canal.  The early 1800s saw the completion of the Erie Canal.  A marvel in engineering, this watery highway quickly proved its economic value and became the envy of states around it. Ohio, which became a state in 1803 was seriously lacking in usable roads.  That state's legislators decided that the most economical and quickest way to open up the state to trade was to build canals.  The first of the Ohio canals, Ohio and Erie Canal, connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River at Portsmouth in the east, and opened in 1832.  A second canal, the Miami and Erie Canal connected Lake Erie at Toledo with the Ohio River at Cincinnati. in 1840.  the canals in OhioWith additional branches and feeders, Ohio would end up with over 1000 miles of canals, more than any other state or country in the world.  The Canals were built with 1/2 mile contracts issued by the State, in many cases to the local farmers who owned the land on which the canal was to be built.  Contractors were responsible for all aspects of the work.  They did the hiring, paid the workers as well as housed and fed those who actually dug the canal.  As most of the land that the canal would pass through was primitive, the work was hard and dangerous.  Generally they worked from sun up to sun down, 6 days a week, for about 30 cents a day.  They slept on the floor of group huts and ate whatever could be caught locally, backed up by dry stock hauled in by cart or carried in by hand. Harsh conditions, poor diet and insects, along with close living, caused sickness to run rampant though many crews.  Even before the first shovel of dirt was turned, Model of a canal lock being built the land had to be prepared.  After surveyors had set the course and the ground had thawed, woodsmen with axes move in and chop down the trees and pull the stumps. Any rocks in the way had to be broken up with hammer and spike, then dragged out of the way.  The final preparation was to run a harrow over the path to remove roots, thus speeding up the digging.  It is amazing that with all that had to be done, on an average, it took only 4 days to complete a mile of canal.  The next problem that the builders had to solve was that Ohio is built in a kind of convex shape, being higher in the middle then on either the North or South end.  This meant that the water needed to flood the canals would have to come from the middle of the state.  The answer was to  expand several lakes and swamps in the Akron and Newark area.  The final obstacle was to build some 250 locks to raise and lower the water.  The Canals were specified to be a minimum of 40 feet wide at water level and 26 feet wide at the bottom, a depth of just 4 feet.  The The canal boat running out of Roscoe Village locks' walls were made of sandstone cut from quarries in Ohio.  The bottom of the locks were lined with either hand hewed hardwood or white oak planks.  As the canals became functional, dry goods could make it to the interior of the state and farm  goods could make it out.  At the exchange points, Canal towns sprung up.  Roscoe Village was one of those towns.  Canal traffic peaked between 1830 and 1860. However, the Civil War brought to the State an even better mode of transportation, and the age of the Train began.  The canals continued to function for many years as they slowly declined until the flood of 1913 washed out several locks, causing the entire canal system to shut down.  Today there are still some 70 miles of canals channeling water for irrigation and a very small portion such as the canal at Roscoe Village still operate a canal boat pulled by horses, carrying tourists instead of coal and whiskey. 

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