Saturday, May 19, 2012

Miami & Erie Canal at New Bremen, Ohio

 I decided to pay a visit to a relatively easy hike but moderate walk along the historic Miami-Erie Canal starting at New Bremen (pronounced Bree-man), Ohio down to Minster, Ohio.

The photo on the left shows Lock 1 North which is located in the heart of the town. The large building to the left of the lock is a reconstructed lockhouse which looks similar to the original lockhouse. The lock has been cleaned up and reconstructed to provide a view of how it was constructed. The original lock was built out of limestone whereas the new one is poured concrete. The locks themselves are similar in construction to how they were built and how they worked.


The history of the Miami-Erie Canal in western Ohio is a feat of engineering of the time. Construction began in the early 1820s starting on a leg from Cincinnati to Dayton.  This leg of the canal was a boon to industry in the area for providing goods and services that extended to the Ohio River. The small town of Franklin became a center for trade shipping grain, slaughtered hogs and other goods. To ride the canal boat from Dayton to Cincinnati made travel easier than the alternative stagecoach at the time. A fast trip by canal boat could take only 20 hours!

In May, 1828, Congress signed a grant giving 50,000 acres of land from Dayton to Defiance that was used to complete phase two of the canal called the Miami Extension. Finally in 1831, an additional grant was given which would extend it to Toledo. The complete construction took 20 years. There were 19 aqueducts which were built over some creeks and rivers and 103 canal locks, of which this one at New Bremen was one. Bridges that were built were either swivel or were built high enough for a canal boat to go under.


New Bremen has restored their lock and cleaned up the canal making sure within their city limits, the towpath is clear along the canal. The towpath has been covered with a fine grain crushed limestone which makes walking, running, or riding bicycles along the flat level trail easy. 
The day I was there was bright and sunny. The walk from New Bremen to Minster is about four miles. The path crosses one road through-way, but  except for that the complete path is over this crushed limestone, making it an easy walk.

Once you leave the city limits, the towpath stays the same, but the canal is generally neglected and as you can see in the photo on the left,
there are now trees growing between the path and the canal itself. On a day like today the canopy provided some relief from the hot sun. I began at about 9 in the morning so finished fairly quickly depending upon your pace. It was a Saturday and there were a few runners and several bicyclists, but otherwise, the path was pretty much my own. While technology moves on, it is sad to realize that the canal nearly disappears on this walk sometimes due to over-growth reducing to a small stream.
Generally it is stagnant outside of the city as there is virtually no circulation of the water even though there are now a few small streams emptying into it. Here is what it looked like in some areas, overgrown with cattail plants and lush greenery. Most of the landscape is either farmland on one side and occasional houses or small industrial facilities on the other.

While there are lots of birds along the walk, the insect population seemed very low despite the temperature being in the eighties and next to the stagnant areas of the canal.
Occasionally, there were pleasant surprises as this large turtle sitting by the edge of the path. I wasn't sure what he was up to as I would have thought he was dead except his eyes were wide open and he was just sitting there. Either he was warming himself, or laying eggs. While I don't know turtles, this could have been a box turtle because I know they lay eggs in the spring.

Historically along the canals there were different industries. As I mentioned above, several were grain and slaughtered hogs. Another one was ice. Plants were built that housed ice which was covered with sawdust, stacked and loaded onto canal boats to be delivered to southern climates where ice may not have been as plentiful.
Along this walk was a restored building that used to be an ice facility. It was right next to the canal. The photo was taken slightly down the road near where there historically was a swinging bridge which allowed canal boats to pass or traffic over the canal.

As the walk came to an end just outside of Minster, one could continue into the town, but much of the walk would be along a road.
Sadly the canal at this point became mostly a drainage ditch with most of it covered up. This is supposed to become a small industrial park. The picture was taken at the road and behind me, not in the picture is a home built next to the former canal and a portion is part of the home's yard. No sign of the canal exists.

All along the length of the whole canal from Toledo to Cincinnati there are portions that still exist, sometimes in ruins. In other locations such as in Dayton, a road now runs the path of the canal. For some additional photos of the canal along the complete original path, there is this web site where you can even see pictures of New Bremen's lock before it was restored.

The area on which I walked is part of the Loramie Summit, the highest plateau of the whole original Miami-Erie Canal. It was a 21 mile plateau that was controlled by the lock at New Bremen and Lockington, Ohio. The summit section was fed by Indian and Loramie lakes. It raised the boats up to 513 feet from the start at Cincinnati and then down to 395 feet at Toledo.

If you like a bit of history and want to get some exercise, this is generally a pleasant place to visit. I would recommend April or May depending upon the complete season to avoid humidity and potentially mosquitos and gnats.