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The Hocking Valley Canal

The Hocking Valley Canal supported economic activity in small towns of the valley between Athens and Lancaster, Ohio.


The remnants of a Hocking Valley Canal lock and a canal culvert near the historic town of Haydenville, in Hocking County. The lock raised and lowered canal boats to compensate for elevation changes in the terrain. The culvert was a way for the canal boat to cross over a flowing stream.

After bison trails and Native American footpaths had been converted to early wagon roads, stagecoach roads, pikes, post roads and state roads subsequent town development and agricultural production in Ohio outpaced the available markets. To get agricultural commodities to market required improved transportation options.

On July 4, 1825 the Ohio-Erie Canal was begun. By the 1840s Ohio was crossed with canals. Southeast Ohio had the benefit of service from three canals; The Ohio-Erie Canal, Hocking Valley Canal and Muskingum River Improvement Canal.

The Hocking Valley Canal which connected Athens, Nelsonville, Logan and other small towns with the Ohio Erie Canal just above Lancaster.

The Muskingum Improvement Canal was a series of locks and dams on the Muskingum River. It connected towns from Zanesville to Marietta with the Ohio-Erie Canal to the Ohio River and to the Ohio-Erie Canal at Dresden in Muskingum County.

The Ohio-Erie Canal connected towns from Buckeye Lake to Portsmouth with markets accessible along the Ohio River and Lake Erie.

Ohio’s canal system made it possible to ship goods from Southeast Ohio to markets on the Great Lakes, river towns from Pittsburgh to Saint Louis and New Orleans. It also made it possible to ship manufactured goods from New York and Europe into Southeast Ohio by canal.

If one knows where to look, remnants of the canal system remain in the landscape. One can trace the old tow paths and the ‘big ditch’ and from time to time locate the remains of old locks, culverts, aqueduct piers, towpaths, slackwater ponds, and communities with place names that recall the era. In eastern and Southeast Ohio one can find places like Canal Winchester, Groveport, Havensport, Lockville, and Lockbourne.

Today parts of the Hockhocking Adena bikepath follow the old towpath and pass some of these other artifacts hidden in the vegetation nearby.

All of the locks on the Muskingum Improvement Canal have been repaired and are operable for boat traffic from Zanesville to the Ohio River at Marietta.

Parts of the corridor of the Ohio-Erie Canal along the Scioto River were just added to the National Register of Historic Places.

If you are a 21st Century explorer, and you are looking for the 19th Century, get out now and find it. More and more parts of it disappear every day.

Related Images:

The Hocking Valley Canal carried canal boats over this local stream near Haydenville. A culvert serves the same purpose as an aqueduct, which was usually used for larger streams that would be difficult to span with an arch of stone. The Hocking Valley Canal reached 56 miles down the Hocking Valley from Carroll, Ohio where it linked into the Ohio-Erie Canal. The Hocking Valley Canal had 26 locks, 6 culverts and one aqueduct which carried the canal over Monday Creek near Doanville, between Nelsonville and Athens.

Ron Black (in brown jacket), educator extraordinaire, from Hocking College with a class on a field trip visiting the Haydenville Lock on the Hocking Valley Canal. Tires, tv sets and loads of other trash that had inadvertently found its way into the old lock were eventually cleaned up by the Athens – Hocking Recycling and Littler Prevention program and volunteers one chilly Saturday morning in March in the early 1990s. By autumn of that year local residents and volunteers had turned the lock and nearby culvert into a roadside park with a stone marker.