Wabash and Erie Canal

Wabash and Erie Canal

The Wabash and Erie Canal was a shipping canal that linked the Great Lakes to the Ohio River via a man-made waterway. The canal provided traders with access from the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The canal known as the Wabash & Erie in the 1850s and thereafter, was actually a combination of four canals: the Miami and Erie Canal from the Maumee River near Toledo, Ohio to Junction, Ohio, the original Wabash and Erie Canal from Junction, Ohio to Terre Haute, Indiana, the Cross Cut Canal from Terre Haute, Indiana to Worthington, Indiana (Point Commerce), and the Central Canal from Worthington to Evansville, Indiana.


by 1837. [Pointsatte, 80.] The Panic of 1837 devastated Indiana's program of internal improvements, but did not stop construction entirely. [Pointsatte, 81.] The canal reached Lafayette by 1843, Terre Haute by 1848 and Evansville by 1853. [Andrew R. L. Cayton, Frontier Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), 285.] During the summer of 1991, the Gronauer Lock was uncovered at New Haven, Indiana, during the construction of I-469. This is the only intact wooden timber lock discovered. Part of the Gronauer Lock is now on display at the Indiana Museum of History.

The high-line sections of the canal proved to be high maintenance and the cost of their repair is what eventually led to the collapse of the canal company. The worst offender was the common muskrat which were plentiful in the area. They would build burrows in the sides of the canal walls and once they tunneled through on the opposite side the water quickly washed out the entire wall of the levee which rendered the canal useless until it could be repaired. [cite book|title=Indiana and Indianans|author=Dunn, Jacob Piatt|year=1919|publisher=American Historical Society|page=399]


The Wabash & Erie Canal travels 497 miles from Toledo, Ohio on Lake Erie to Evansville, Indiana on the Ohio River. Its route takes it along the left bank or northside of the Maumee River from Toledo to the headwaters at Fort Wayne, Indiana. From here, it follows the historic Indian portage to the Wabash River. Following the Wabash River, again on its north side, which it now the right bank. The canal heads downstream to Delphi. At this location, it crosses to the left bank (eastside). Continuing down the Wabash to Terre Haute, the canal turns southeast from the Wabash, using several other riverways, until reaching the Ohio River in Evansville.

Maumee River Section

The Miami and Erie Canal runs from Toledo to Cincinnati. The route as far as the Napoleon Bend was used by the Wabash & Erie Canal to reach Lake Erie. The joint route includes the following towns and cities.

Toledo, Bend View Metro park (towpath), Side Cut Metro park (towpath & 3 of 6 locks). Providence (operating canal section).

Maumee, Waterville, Providence/Grand Rapids (locks and other canal features), Independence.

DefianceAt Defiance, the Miami and Erie Canal crossed the Maumee River and turned south up the Auglaize River. This route carried the canal southward to the divide with the Great Miami and eventually the Ohio River at Cincinnati. Meanwhile, the Wabash & Erie Canal continued west along the Maumee River to the portage at Fort Wayne, Indiana.

New Haven-Indiana.-( intersection of U.S. 24 and Harper Road, on the right when traveling east on U.S. 24)Gronauer Lock No 2 "Wabash and Erie Canal lock was discovered here June 1991 during excavation for highway construction. It was built 1838–1840 by Henry Lotz and named for lock keeper Joseph Gronauer. The rare, well-preserved timber-frame design lock measured 115 by 40 feet; lock chamber was 90 by 15 feet; two-thirds of the total structure was excavated and removed."

"Numerous artifacts and 750 pieces of timber were recovered. After extensive preservation treatment, approximately 5 percent of total lock structure is included in a Indiana State Museum Exhibit. Wabash and Erie Canal, America’s longest at approximately 460 miles, linked Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio with Ohio River at Evansville 1853." [Indiana State Historic Marker]

Fort Wayne is located at the portage between the Maumee River and the Wabash River. Here, the canal crossed 5 miles to the Little Wabash River and headed downstream through Indiana.

Wabash River Section


Huntington - intersection of North Jefferson Street and East Washington on North Jefferson Street
Canal Landing on Washington Street - "The Huntington Landing started 120 feet west on Washington St and continued to the lock at Cherry St. The Wabash & Erie canal was 4 feet deep and 100 feet wide as this point. Other locks were at First St. and Byron St. The Canal was completed from Fort Wayne to Huntington on July 4, 1854, and from Toledo to Evansville, 459 miles, in 1854. The Canal preceded the railroad to Huntinton by 20 years, spurring early settlement. The Canal was abandoned in 1873." [Indiana State Historic Marker]

Rook House - at the intersection of East Park Drive (U.S. 224) and Warren on East Park Drive. located on the south wall of the building.
"The first permanent hotel of Huntington was built of stone on this site by General John Tipton in 1835. Standing on the bank of the Wabash and Erie Canal, it was a commercial, political and social center. From 1862 to 1872 it housed one of the first public schools and was destroyed in 1873." [Daughters of the American Revolution Historic Marker]

Forks of the Wabash Park (Museum),Rich valley, Peru, Logansport,

Delphi, Canal Interpretive Center (watered section, canal boat, bridge and mill site). Here in Delphi, the canal crossed the Wabash from the right bank (northside) to the left bank (southside). A dam was built across the Wabash River at Pitts to create a slack water area to allow the boats to cross the river without and aqueduct.

Lafayette, Attica, Fountain, Covington, Montezuma, Terra Haute

Cross Cut Canal Section

Eel River SectionBetween Terre Haute and Worthington, the canal route left the Wabash River and was legally considered to be the Cross Cut Canal. This created a link to the Central Canal and a route to Evansville. Since no other section of the Cross Cut Canal was contemplated nor built, it is considered historically to be part of the Wabash and Erie Canal.

Riley, Worthington

West Fork of the White River

or the Indiana Central CanalFrom Newberry south, the W&E Canal followed the route of the Central Canal. The Central Canal was planned from Logansport, thru Indianapolis and south to Evansville. Only the section from Newberry south and a few miles in Indianapolis were built.Newberry, Edwardsport, Petersburg, Francisco (Pigeon Creek section begins), Evansville, Indiana


Travel along the canal was accomplished by canal packets. There were freight and passenger packets. The passenger packet consisted of a series of rooms along the length. Towards the front was the main saloon. Here meals were taken. This room was converted into a men's dorm for sleepiong. The ladies saloon was towards the back of the boat. It was the women's sleeping dorm at night.

Packets were pulled by three horses, oxen, or a mixture of oxen and horses. The most common problems identified in journals of that time were, heat, mosquitoes, and the close proximity to the other passengers. [Indiana, A History; William E. Willson, Indiana University Press; Bloomington; 1966; pg 178]


It began operation in the summer of 1843. It only operated for about a decade before it became apparent that the canal was uneconomic. Even when canal boats were operated at extremely slow speeds, the banks rapidly eroded, and the canal had to be constantly dredged to be operable. Terre Haute, Indiana, housed the headquarters of the canal from 1847 through 1876, when the canal lands were sold at an auction conducted by resident trustee Thomas Dowling at the Vigo County Court House.

The last canalboat on the Wabash Canal made its last docking in 1874 in Huntington, Indiana, but other sections shut down years earlier. In 1877, Paulding County, Ohio residents put the final nail in the canal system's coffin: unhappy with mosquitos breeding in the stagnant waters of Six Mile Reservoir, they cut the dike and drained it in the Reservoir war. There were several other "reservoir wars" during the canal's colorful history over the same issue, including the Clay County Canal War in Indiana.

The right-of-way through Fort Wayne was purchased by the New York, Chicago, and Lake Erie Railway (the Nickel Plate Line) which ran from Buffalo - Chicago. This allowed the railway to run straight through the heart of a major midwestern city without razing a single home. The canal right-of-way was also directly adjacent to downtown, which made the new railway quite convenient for passengers and many businesses.

ee also

*Indiana Mammoth Improvement Act


Additional Sources

#Wabash & Erie canal, Lock No. 2 (Gronauer Lock), HAER No. IN-74; Historic American Engineering Record, Department of the Interior; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 1994

External links

* [http://www.in.gov/history/3057.htm Canal Construction in Indiana] - "The Indiana Historian," September 1997
* [http://www.wabashanderiecanal.org/ Wabash and Erie Canal in Carroll County]
* [http://jordan.fortwayne.com/ns/heartland/history/rhist7.php The Early History of Fort Wayne]
* [http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=3679 Historical Marker Database]
* [http://www.wabasherie.homestead.com/files/journey.html Wabash and Erie Canal Journey]
* [http://www.maumeevalleyheritagecorridor.org/ Maumee Valley Heritage Corridor]
* [http://indiana.typepad.com/fwob/2007/01/valedictory_cha.html/ Gronauer Lock discovery]

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