Click Here to Return to Index

Click Here to Return To Milestones

Ground Breaking For The Canal
July 26, 1831
Milestones Vol 13 No 1--Spring 1988

The celebration was conducted in a manner truly gratifying to every one present. The interesting ceremony of breaking ground on the canal was performed by several Revolutionary soldiers, amidst the roar of artillery and the shouts of more than a thousand spectators. In pursuance of previous arrangements, a large number of the Citizens of Beaver County assembled on the 26th of July, 1831 in a grove opposite Fallston, to break ground on the Beaver Section of the Pennsylvania Canal. Maj. Robert Darragh officiated as President of the day, assisted by Stephen Philips, Esq., Dr. L. Lask, Benjamin Adams, Esq. and Mr. D. Large, as Vice President. Joseph P. Johnston and Dr. M. Adams, Secretaries. M.F. Chapalin, Marshal, and Major B.G. Goll, Assistant Marshal.

Marshalls, Music, Presidents and Orators of the day along with Revolutionary Soldiers, Canal Engineers with their implements, members of the Legislature, yoke of Oxen and ploughs, committees with picks and shovels and citizens two by two marched from the Grove to the upper end of East Brighton, and returned along the line of Canal to Lock No. 12. When the procession opened to the right and left, the Engineers laid out the ground for said Locks, it was broken by the Revolutionary soldiers with shovels and picks followed by the firing of cannon and the shouts of the citizens. From there the procession returned to the Grove, and set down to a splendid dinner prepared for the occasion.

After dinner, John Dickey, Esq., the Orator of the day delivered his address. The canal, while it lasted, was a great blessing. Freight was shipped to Cleveland from Pittsburgh by way of Bridgewater, and up through the Beaver and Mahoning rivers. This water route required 144 locks. Iron and glass were the principal products carried from Pittsburgh to Erie and Cleveland. From Ravenna the highest point on the canal, the greater portion of the freight consisted of cheese from the western reserve of Ohio. The rate was $1.50 per ton.

The canal boats had a capacity of about 60 tons. It required three of the lake steamers of that date to take care of the freight loaded on one of these canal boats. The canal craft, drawn by two horses, one at a time pulling six hours, while the other was resting and being fed on the boat. The crew consisted of the captain, a bowsman, two steersmen and two drivers. Lockage had to be paid to both the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and this was a profitable business at $1.50 per ton.

At Mahoningtown was located the junction of the two canals. One branch went to Cleveland and the other to Erie. It required six days to make the trip from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. Stops were made to take on and put off freight at the following towns: Beaver, Bridgewater, New Brighton, Beaver Falls, Mahoningtown, Edenburg, Lowell, Youngstown, Niles, Warren, Newton Falls, Ravenna and Akron, where the Ohio canal was utilized to Cleveland. It was on this canal that President James A. Garfield, when a boy, drove a boat mule. The stops between Mahoningtown and Erie were: New Castle, Pulaski, Greenville, Jamestown, Albion, Girard and Fairview. The "Bunker Hill" was one of the largest canal boats.

There was also packet lines for carrying passengers. The packet "Ontario" was built and owned by the Reeves brothers, It was drawn by two horses, and accommodated about 50 passengers. These would taken on at New Castle in the evening and landed at Bridgewater the next morning. The farewas 50 cents which included a bed.

James Hemphill bought a big portion of land in Bridgewater in 1831, about the time the Beaver and Erie canal was an assured fact. It proved to be a rewarding venture for him. Warehouses were erected and it was no uncommon sight to see the mouth of the Beaver river filled with canal boats, laden with freight from Lake Erie points, with the noses of Ohio river steamers touching them, and having freight transferred, destined to Pittsburgh and Southern points. Bridgewater at one time occupied a place in National history. It was here that Aaron Burr in 1805 built some of his boats for his Southern expedition.

The following is a list of contractors commissioned to doing the work on the Canal:

1. Smith, Firbush & Watson; 2. George Farrow; 3. McBride & McLaughlin; 4. Johnson, Ranson & Co.; 5. William Patterson; 6. Kerr, Shepley & Riddles; 7. Hart & Adams; 8. Siedell & Wagner; 9. William Patten; 10. McBride, Black & Co.; 11. Hull, McCord and Baldwin; 12. Cross, Walsh & Co.; 13. James Patterson; 14. William Huff; 15. Davis, Addison & Eaton; 16. A. & J. Duncan; 17. Zebina Newton; 18. Jacob Allen; 19. Buchanan & Barris; 20. Loring Lusk.

In the Beaver Argus June 10, 1831 issue the UNION CANAL LOTTERY of Pennsylvania was advertised. There was 9,624 prizes with a share of $198,432.00 to be won. Tickets and Shares for sale by J.P. Johnston, Beaver, Pa. The plans and specifications of the various kinds of work to be done on the Canal or Slack Water Navigation were on display at the Canal Office, Beaver, any time after the 1Oth day of July 1831, and was signed by John Dickey, superintendent of Beaver Division of the Pennsylvania Canal.

Most of America's canals weren't even finished when the Baltimore and Ohio's steam engine proved its worth. The word quickly spread and a network of tracks was soon to follow. Iron rails reached Pittsburgh in 1851 and the same year was seen in Beaver County on its way to Ohio.

The Beaver and Erie canal died a quick death and the Girard Locks in Rochester, built to accommodate small steamboats, served the lower Beaver Valley until 1901 when the last load passed through.

"Three times in this century, the Beaver and Mahoning valleys have been surveyed to determine the feasibility of building a canal from the Ohio river to Lake Erie. The latest effort in the 1960's was defeated. In another generation, the survey is likely to be run again."

Researched from material in the Research Center for Local History, Carnegie Free Library, Beaver Falls, Pa. Vivian C. McLaughlin, director