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100 Years Ago


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Effect on Local Commerce

Just as the construction work pumped thousands of dollars into the budding economies of the county's local communities, the opening of the canal resulted in an immediate increase in commercial activity. The report of the collector of tolls at the canal in Piqua noted that in the first 3 months of canal activity in 1837, there had been received over 375,000 pounds of salt, 87,000 pounds of iron and nails, and similar quantities of other merchandise.

The canal was key to the development of Ft. Loramie. Old time Ft. Loramie natives reported steady commercial activity through their village. Three or more boats a day would stop by to unload cargo or pick up sawed lumber. The Borchers boat yard in Ft. Loramie, one of the busiest on the canal, built 5 or more new boats and repaired 40 or so each year. Frank Fleckenstein related to local historian Clarence Raterman that the boat yard had a large dry-dock where boats could be floated into place and repaired after the water was drained from the drydock. A brick steam box was used to bend wooden timbers to the proper shape.

New boat construction at the boat yard in Ft. Loramie must have been quite a sight. Planks 76 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 inches thick were sawed by hand from huge logs brought to the yard. The average worker could saw one and a half of these planks a day.

Hotels and taverns dotted the landscape along the canal. An advertisement in the May 7, 1852, edition of the "Shelby County Democrat" was placed by a Berlin businessman. It read: "Summit Level Hotel, W. A. Edwards, proprietor, Berlin, Shelby County, Ohio." Travelers on the Sidney Feeder could stay at the Sidney Hotel, operated by H. B. Thorn.

The opening of the canal in this county gave birth to a significant timber industry. Frank Borchers recounted his memories of this business in the December 6, 1940, edition of "The Sidney Daily News". Area farmers would spend the winter months cutting down trees in the virgin forests near the canal and stacking the wood along the banks of the canal. Boats would arrive in the spring, purchase the logs, and deliver them to businesses in cities to the south. On occasion, large log 'rafts' as long as half a mile were assembled from timbers rolled into the canal. These logs were roped or nailed together, and delivered to Hoge Lumber Company in New Knoxville.

One of Sidney's most famous commercial buildings, the home of the Loughlin School Desk Factory (now occupied by the Sidney Manufacturing Company), traces its origin to the canal. The March 29, 1886, edition of "The Sidney Daily News" reported that Samuel McCune and Son purchased 200,000 bricks in Ft. Loramie and shipped them by the canal to Sidney for the construction of Loughlin's new building.

Local farmers, accustomed to hauling their grain miles to market before the opening of the canal, benefited from the lower cost to get their products to the nearby canal. A study of prices along the western side of the state from 1826 to 1858 revealed that prices for corn produced locally rose from 25 to 70 cents a bushel, and that staples such as sugar and coffee could be purchased for 20 percent less after they became available as a result of the canal.

Freight boats on the canal delivered hardware and household merchandise that allowed local settlers to enjoy a much better lifestyle than they had experienced just a decade before. With travel from Cincinnati to Sidney just a matter of a few days' journey, the outlying areas of the county developed rapidly. The rest of Ohio benefited as well. Ohio was third in population behind New York and Pennsylvania by 1850.

The canal reached its height of importance in Ohio from 1830 to 1860, at about the time of the arrival of railroads in Sidney. In the three decades of its dominance, the Miami & Erie Canal aided in the rapid development of western Ohio. It even made money. A May 7, 1907, article in "The Sidney Daily News" reported on the financial results of canal operations. An average net profit of over $59,000 per year went into the state treasury between 1846 and 1860.

'Canal' segment written in December, 1998 by Rich Wallace 

 

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