|BEAVER AND ERIE CANAL
In the session
of 1822-23 the Legislature authorized a survey to ascertain the
practicability of connecting Lake Erie with the Ohio River by a canal.
In 1824 the United States Government ordered an examination to be made
with the same object in view, and the engineers reported in favor of
the scheme. After considerable contention the route via the Beaver and
Shenango Rivers was adopted. In 1827 the Legislature passed the act for
the construction of the canal, and also for the “French Creek Feeder,”
which previously had been surveyed. Ground was broken on the latter at
Meadville, August 24, 1827, and it was completed to Conneaut Lake in
December, 1834, but nothing bad yet been accomplished toward building
the main line, though the subject continued to be agitated by the
people along the proposed route.
At a meeting
held in the court-house in Mercer on the 28th of December, 1830, of
which Hugh Bingham was
chairman and William W. Pearson,
secretary, a resolution was passed requesting the citizens of Erie,
Crawford, Mercer and Beaver Counties to hold a convention at Mercer on
the 18th of the ensuing January, to consult relative to petitioning the
Legislature to extend the Pennsylvania Canal from Pittsburgh, to Lake
Erie. Jacob Herrington, William S.
Rankin, James Braden, John Banks and Joel B. Curtis were
appointed a committee to superintend the matter. Of its proceedings we
have no record.
But on the 21st
of May, 1832, a meeting of delegates from Beaver, Butler, Erie, Mercer
and Venango Counties, called to take measures upon the indifference of
the last General Assembly toward the proposed extension, was held in
the Mercer court-house. Hon. John
Bredin was chairman, Benjamin
Adams, of Beaver, and Col.
Thomas Foster, of Erie, were vice-presidents, and Edwin J. Kelso, of Erie, and William S. Rankin, of Mercer,
were secretaries. Resolutions were passed condemning the indifference
of the previous Legislature, and urging upon the next the speedy
completion “of that portion of the line which will connect the city of
Pittsburgh with the harbor of Erie, it being necessary to enable the
east to share in the advantages of the west, and to complete the
original design of connecting the waters of the Delaware with the
Western lakes, and. to secure to our great Eastern emporium the trade
of the Northwestern country.”
The project was
agitated by others than those mentioned in 1833, ‘34 and ‘35. The Reeds, of Erie; the
citizens of Meadville; William
Fruit, of Clarksville; William
Budd, T. J. Porter and M. C. Trout, of Sharon, and other
spirits along the Shenango Valley were deeply interested in the
project. The State ultimately made a preliminary re-survey. This was
followed, under the administration of Gov.
Ritner, by a limited appropriation, which resulted in
pushing the work toward completion. In 1842 the Legislature adopted the
watchword of “retrenchment;” the enterprise was throttled by annulling
all the contracts and stopping the work. This short-sighted policy
resulted in sufficient costs of litigation to have completed the
enterprise and made it efficient. Gov.
Porter, in his annual message in 1843, said that
ninety-seven and three-fourths miles of the main line had been
finished, extending from Rochester on the Ohio to the mouth of the
French Creek Feeder in Crawford County, and that $4,000,000 had been
expended on the improvement between 1827 and 1842.
The work was now
turned over, without cost, to the “Erie Canal Company,” chartered by
the Legislature at the session of 1842-43, on condition that that
corporation would finish and operate the canal.
James M. Power, of Mercer County, was a member of this
company and one of its board of managers. In September, 1843, contracts
were let for the unfinished portion of the work, and December 5, 1844,
the two first boats, the “Queen of the West,” a passenger packet, and
the “R. S. Reed,” loaded with Mercer County coal, passed through to
Erie. Business was brisk, and a new life sprang into the Shenango
Valley. It spoiled many old mill-dams along the Big Shenango, but gave
a recompense in increased facilities for transportation.
Clarksville, Big Bend and Greenville were all given a commercial
importance by this new means of travel and transportation. Big Bend was
specially important and active, because it was the point from which
supplies were hauled to the eastern, central and southeastern parts of
was laid out in June, 1808, promised to become one of the important
places of the county. This paper town is now known only as the place
that might have been great if the boom at Big Bend had continued.
flourished until the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad was completed
along the same route, when a downward movement began, which finally
resulted in its purchase by that company in 1870. The railroad company
continued to operate it until 1871, when the fall of the Elk Creek
aqueduct in Erie County gave them an excuse for abandoning the
enterprise, which no doubt was the intention at the time of purchase.
Its bed has since been a source of annoyance to the people of the towns
through which it passed, as a breeder of disease, though most of it is
now filled up. The whoop of the boy on the tow-path is no longer heard,
but instead the shrill whistle of the iron horse.
History of Mercer County,
1888, pages 174-175