The End of an Era

Shaka Guide


Great Blue Heron Viewing Area

Hey folks, so we'll reach our next stop in about eight minutes. It's called the Great Blue Heron Viewing Area. And from February to July, you've got a good chance at spotting these majestic birds for yourself.

You see, the area is a favorite nesting spot for great blue herons, who return year after year to mate and raise their young.

They stand three to four feet tall with long necks and long bills, and with blue, white and black colorations.

If you're here at the right time, you might be fighting for a parking space with bird watchers from all over the state.

I'll let you know where to turn. But for now, while we have the time, I think we should conclude the story of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Like I said earlier, canals revolutionized life in Ohio.

The state went from being a backwater frontier to a commercial and industrial powerhouse. The canal era reached its peak around 1850. By this time, there were nearly a thousand miles of canals in the state.

Canals and Freedom Seekers

This network of waterways was obviously important for trade. But there was another group of people who also found it useful, freedom seekers.

You see, in the decades leading up to the American Civil War, the canals were used by escaped slaves.

They'd either walk the towpath under cover of dark or find a sympathetic boat captain to ferry them north to Cleveland.

Here in Northeast Ohio, there was a strong abolitionist movement. Which helped freedom seekers cross the border into Canada.

There were men like Lewis Clark, a former slave who risked going back to Kentucky to help his brother escape into Ohio.

Some say that Lewis was the real-life inspiration for the character of George Harris from the book Uncle Tom's Cabin.

And there were even African-American canal boat captains like John Malvin, who likely used his boat as part of the Underground Railroad.

But, even at the canal's peak, people could already hear the end coming. And it sounded like this. That's right, the arrival of the steam train marked the beginning of the end.

Railroad Landscape

You see, canals were difficult to construct and expensive to maintain. Dams, retention pools, and locks needed constant maintenance. And what's worse is that the workers who dug the canals died from disease at an alarming rate.

Many boats employed children as young as 10 years old to drive the horses and mules that pulled the boats.

And did I mention that the canals were useless in the winter when the water froze over? And these were just a few of the downsides. But railroads, on the other hand, could run all year round.

And it was much easier to lay railroad tracks than to dig canals. By the 1850s, trains were becoming more popular. And 20 years later, the canals were being abandoned.

Efforts to Revive and the Great Flood of 1915

Around the turn of the 20th century, there were some efforts to revive the Ohio and Erie Canal. But the Great Flood of 1915 was so devastating that all those efforts ceased. The canal was officially dead.

The death of the canals also meant the death of many of the small towns that had sprung up around them.

Bustling taverns were suddenly empty. And rural areas were once again cut off from the wider world.

While Ohio's major cities grew and prospered from the railroad, the rest of the state wasn't so fortunate.

These days, very little of the Ohio and Erie Canal remains. But about an hour and a half south of here, you can still ride on a one-mile section of the canal in the historic town of Roscoe Village.

I recommend it if you're ever in the area. The canals occupied just a brief period in our nation's history.

But in their time, they represented the best of American ingenuity, engineering, and the enterprising spirit.

shaka guide app qr code

Download The Shaka Guide App

Get The
Shaka Guide App