Beaver and Erie Canal

From the History of Mercer County, 1888


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.

Sharon, 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 the county.

Shenango, which 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.

The canal 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 


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