Waterville Historical Society

your connection to the past

The Waterville Historical Society collects, preserves, provides access to, interprets and fosters an appreciation of history that has an impact on the Waterville, Ohio and surrounding area.

Canal Buildiers------Cornelius Van Fleet

                   Wabash and Erie Canal

Most of our canal builders came to Waterville because they had secured a contract for a portion of the canal. Cornelius Van Fleet however came to Waterville at age thirteen with his pioneering father in 1831. The Mathias Van Fleet family moved to Greene County, Ohio from Lycoming County, Pennsylvania in 1819 and later moved on to Waterville Township upon word of good farm land which could be purchased at very low price. Cornelius born on February 5, 1817 was the eldest of fourteen children born to Mathias and Mary Ricard Van Fleet. Mathias although a life-long farmer was very active in civic affairs and even served as a colonel in the Ohio Militia during the Ohio-Michigan “War”. Cornelius was well educated in spite of his frontier family circumstance and early on took up the occupation of civil engineering. Our sources are silent on his engineering education, but the normal practice at that time was to apprentice with a practicing professional. He must have been a bright and capable student because in 1837 at the age of 20 he contracted with the State of Ohio to be the engineer for the northern section of the Wabash and Erie Canal. Our sources tell us that Cornelius Van Fleet laid out the canal from Providence to Manhattan and was the engineer during the construction of this stretch of canal which opened in 1843. What an awesome responsibility for such a young man. That means that he determined and surveyed the course of this waterway and where locks and other structures would be placed. He also had to solve construction problems as the building progressed. When the canal was finished Cornelius was named superintendent of the Waterville section, a position which he held for eight years.

Cornelius Van Fleet married Hannah Runyan, also from Pennsylvania and they had eight children. He was engaged in the mercantile business at Waterville and later Maumee during and after his tenure with the canal. He later retired to his farm.

P.O. Box 263,  Waterville, OH  43566            whs43566@outlook.com

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