Winter on the Miami and Erie Canal
The Miami and Erie Canal, which carried both cargo and people between Toledo and Cincinnati, making myriad stops along the way at places like Waterville and Providence, was well traveled during the 1840s. Although traffic and business bustled along the busy canal during the warmer months, winter weather brought canal travel to a screeching halt. Canals, having no current, quickly froze over when the temperature dropped and the winter winds blew. This was great for children and young people who enjoyed ice skating and other games on the ice, but the men and their families who lived aboard the canal boats had to stay busy and employed too.
Canal boat families did not shelter aboard their boats in the winter. Canal boats were constructed entirely of wood and after being used twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, boat maintenance and repair were much needed if the boat was to be ready for service when spring returned. This kept many workers busy. In addition, the canal itself needed lots of attention. Portions of the canals were actually drained of water so repairs could be made along the banks where erosion and burrowing animals like muskrats had done damage. This also afforded an opportunity to periodically repair or replace the heavy wooden gates that controlled the flow of water in the locks. Although Ohio appears to be fairly flat when traveling the entire 240 mile length of the canal the land elevation actually changes hundreds of feet along the way. Locks were necessary for raising and lowering the boats.
In the canal itself, silt which had been moved and deposited by all the warm weather traffic also had to be cleared away so that the boats could maintain their nice steady four mile-an-hour pace (the legal speed limit).
In addition to all of these cold weather chores some boat workers also sought employment in the various gristmills, sawmills and other businesses located along the various rivers and canals that connected Lake Erie and the Ohio River.
As many people already know, today’s Anthony Wayne Trail (formerly State Route 24) which runs through the city of Waterville follows the route of the old Miami and Erie Canal.
Source: “Frozen in Time,” a guided tour conducted by Jennifer Christensen at Providence Metropark and sponsored by the Toledo Metroparks, January 19, 2015. The purpose was to explore the impact of winter on life along the Miami and Erie Canal.