Beaver and Erie Canal

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The Beaver and Erie Canal, also known as the Erie Extension Canal, was part of the Pennsylvania Canal system and consisted of three sections: the Beaver Division, the Shenango Division, and the Conneaut Division. The canal ran 136 miles (219 km) north–south near the western edge of the state from the Ohio River to Lake Erie through Beaver County, Lawrence County, Mercer County, Crawford County, and Erie County, Pennsylvania.

The southern terminus of the canal was the confluence of the Beaver River with the Ohio River in Beaver County about 20 miles (32 km) downstream from Pittsburgh, and the northern terminus was the city of Erie, in Erie County. The canal needed a total of 137 locks to overcome a change in elevation of 977 feet (298 m).[1]

History[edit | edit source]

Construction of the canal was meant to complete a transport network through northwestern Pennsylvania that would connect Lake Erie with the Ohio River; the Main Line of Public Works, a canal which joined Philadelphia to Pittsburgh; and the Erie Canal, which connected Albany, New York, to Lake Erie.[2]

The Beaver Division, begun in 1831, extended 31 miles (50 km) from Beaver along the Beaver River and the Shenango River to Pulaski. In 1836, work began on the Shenango Division extension of 61 miles (98 km) from Pulaski to Conneaut Lake, and in 1838 contracts were awarded for the Conneaut Division to Erie, 45 miles (72 km) further north. Taking over the Conneaut Division from the state in 1843, the Erie Canal Company finished construction in 1844, when the entire length of the three divisions became open to traffic.

Two east–west canals connected to the Beaver and Erie. New Castle, which the Beaver and Erie served, was the eastern terminus of Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal, which ran 91 miles (146 km) west to the Ohio and Erie Canal in Ohio. Another east–west canal, the French Creek Feeder, brought additional water into Conneaut Lake at the same time it provided a transportation corridor. It ran 25 miles (40 km) from near Meadville, where it connected with the Franklin Line canal of 22 miles (35 km) running along French Creek to Franklin. At its southern terminus near Beaver, the Beaver and Erie was linked by the Ohio River to Pittsburgh and the principal east-west Pennsylvania transportation system of the time, the Main Line of Public Works.

Bringing new business to communities such as Conneautville, which shipped timber and hay to Pittsburgh, the Beaver and Erie Canal was heavily used in its early years but was hard to maintain. Competition from railroads and the collapse of an aqueduct over Elk Creek in Erie County led to the canal's abandonment in 1872.

Remnants[edit | edit source]

Canal sections exist near Shenango River Lake near Hermitage. Well-preserved remains of Lock Number 10 are found in Sharpsville, about a 0.5 miles (0.8 km) south of the Shenango Dam. Maintained for hiking, the Shenango Trail follows the old canal towpath. It runs about 8 miles (13 km) along the east side of the Shenango River from Kidd's Mill Covered Bridge to the confluence of Lackawannock Creek and the river. Canal artifacts and a replica of a canal boat, the Rufus S. Reed, are on display at the Greenville Canal Museum in Greenville, on the Shenango River 72 miles (116 km) northwest of Pittsburgh. Some canal facilities at Bridgewater, at the canal's southern end, remain; they are a part of the Bridgewater Historic District.