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Return to Milestones Vol. 2, No. 2


Beaver County's Lock
on the
Sandy-Beaver Canal

By Denver L. Walton

Milestones Vol 2. No 2- Spring 1976


Both the best and the worst hiking in the upper Ohio country can be found in the valley of the Little Beaver Creek, shared by Beaver County with neighboring Columbiana County, Ohio. The trails are unmatched for scenic beauty, a variety of plants and wildlife, and historical discoveries.

The hiking is the most rugged, though, if you wander off a trail any distance, especially in search of the next canal lock downstream.

With the recent renewal of interest in the Beaver Division Canal, it seems appropriate to take a look at one of the other canals of Beaver County. While the Sandy and Beaver is usually considered an Ohio canal (when it's considered at ail!), its eastern terminus, plus three locks and a dam, were located in Pennsylvania.

The canal was built by private, mostly local, financing and was intended to provide a direct route from the Ohio River to the Ohio and Erie Canal on the Tuscarawas River at Bolivar. The route would also pass through the village of New Lisbon, where some of the canal's most eager backers lived. The idea was sound, but financial and technical problems delayed completion for years, until a competitive route (the Pennsylvania and Ohio, or Crosscut Canal, from Mahoningtown on the Beaver Division to Akron) was completed. When the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad came through a few years later, the Sandy and Beaver, never a success, was done.

Some authorities claim that the canal operated over its entire length for only one summer. Legends about the Sandy and Beaver are many, but one fact is true - a massive effort was made one hundred and fifty years ago to build this waterway, and evidence of this effort abounds today.

It is most fortunate that the Beaver Creek gorge has been bypassed by progress, for we now have a delightful historic and scenic area to explore. The old locks are scattered through the valley, some remarkable intact, many in ruins, each one a treasure to hikers and amateur archeologists.

Below Fredericktown, where the North Fork of Beaver Creek joins the combined Middle and West Forks, the gorge deepens and hiking becomes more difficult and the locksites less accessible. From this point southward, the waters of, the Little Beaver cross the state line several times. As a result, three of the fiftyseven locks on the western division were in Pennsylvania, and it is with these that we are concerned at present. Lock 54 is located in the most

inaccessible part of the gorge and thus had not tempted me in twenty years of canal-chasing. This spring, however, I was determined to find it. After studying topographic maps of the area, my son Terry and I decided to strike out overland instead of following the creek from the nearest bridge either upstream or downstream from the lock. We felt that the walking would be better through open fields over the ridge, than in the gorge. In addition, it was easier by this route. We secured permission from the property owner, Frank Fisher, to park near his barn and walk over hisfields. Mr. Fisher suggested we detour down a nearby hollow to Beaver Creek rather than to try to climb down over "Fisher's Point". This was good advice, for the gorge wall above the lock proved to be a vertical

The canal was divided by topography into three parts. The western division, 32 miles long, followed the Big Sandy Creek westward from Hanoverton, Ohio to Bolivar, on the Tuscarawas River. The eastern division was located in the valley of the Little Beaver Creek and followed the middle fork of that stream from a point above Lisbon, Ohio, some twenty seven miles to its mouth at Glasgow, Pa. The middle division was the summit level between the headwaters of the two streams. Two tunnels, several deep cuts, and other fancy engineering work enabled the canal to stay at the same elevation for some fourteen miles, eliminating the need for locks on the summit.

Also on the summit were the two major reservoirs, Cold Run and Guilford, which supplied water for the canal operation both east and west. Guilford Lake, later restored, remains as an excellent recreation area.

It is the eastern division we are concerned with, since the Little Beaver crosses the state line from Ohio into Beaver County. Fifty-seven locks were required to bring the canal from the summit level down to the Ohio River. The first fifteen locks were located within one mile, in Furnace Hollow, above Lisbon, forming a "flight" of locks which permitted canal traffic to descend rapidly from the summit to Beaver Creek. The canal then passed through Lisbon, the only town of any size on the eastern division. Below Lisbon, the Beaver Valley has largely reverted to nature, leaving a string of vanished communities. Once thriving villages, many Beaver Creek canal towns are found only on the oldest maps: Middle Beaver, Williamsport, Sprucevale, Martinsburg and Jamestown.

Reaching the valley floor, we proceeded downstream on an old trail that teased us more than it helped. High water prevented us from walking along the shore. Eventually, and not unexpectedly, we came upon Lock 53, a massive stone structure shining in the waning sunlight, mute witness to a century and a half of setting suns.

Below 53, the canal split off from the creek, following a separate channel which, in flood, frames a large island. Island Run, site of Ohioville's early oil producing area, derives its name from this island in Beaver Creek. The state line crosses the island's midsection, thus the creek and canal pass into Pennsylvania at this point.

As darkness was rapidly descending and we had no desire to be caught in the rugged canyon by nightfall, we passed the opportunity to check the island for ruins of the Ohio Paper mill, reported by Max Gard in 1952 to be still visible.

The creek rounded its big bend and wound closer and closer to the canal bed, and suddenly, the walls of Lock 54 appeared in the shadows ahead. We studied the lock structure, took half a dozen pictures, rested, then moved on. Just below the locksite, we were Surprised to find two young men, setting up a wilderness camp. They had hiked much longer than we (from Sprucevale) and were preparing to spend the night at the creekside.

We moved on downstream, hoping to find an easier path back to the highway. Our efforts were rewarded, as we found an old railroad grade and followed it for a mile or so to a point of easy egress from the gorge. (We later learned from Dick Heidel, a Sandy and Beaver buff from East Liverpool, that the railroad was built to haul coal from Island Run mines to the plant which supplied power for the local traction lines).

Just below Lock 54, the creek, with the canal in slackwater, curves back into Ohio. On an earlier weekend, my wife Genie and I had hiked in along the old public road to see Lock 55, a complex structure several hundred yards long, with an entry gate at the upper end and the actual lock below, adjacent to the stone pier of the first covered bridge in Ohio and the first crossing of the lower part of Beaver Creek.

Farther downstream, the creek crosses the state line for the last time, placing the two remaining locks of the canal in Beaver County. Another covered bridge had crossed the creek precisely at the state line, and local residents still refer to this as "The Beaver County Bridge". Both piers remain. The west pier of the third in a trio of old bridges can be seen from the present Route 68 highway bridge. There's usually someone fishing from it. Lock 56 was located just above the east pier, right where the coal tipple is located at the end of the railroad from Negley.

Lock 57 was located at the west end of Liberty Street in Glasgow. A depression marks the location of the canal bed, but no trace of the lock remains. Below the lock, the canal entered the river through stone walls. These are no longer visible, but there's a big pile of cut and dressed stone lying on the river bank, no doubt from the canal walls. The constant companion of most Sandy and Beaver canal buffs is a book by R. Max Gard of Lisbon and William H. Vodrey of Fredericktown entitled "The Sandy and Beaver Canal." It is available now in paperback at Max Gard's Sandy-Beaver Antique Shop, on Route 30 west of Lisbon.