My Latest Obsession

When I began my map quilt of the Ohio and Erie Canal I had no idea how deep I would get into the subject. Last Sunday I dragged my husband to a lock operation demo at the NPS Canal Exploration Center, and then surveyed the exhibits inside the center. First, here’s a photo of an actual quilt being worked on by one of the volunteers. (She was taking a break at the time.) You can tie just about any subject to quilting, somehow.

Opening and closing a canal lock isn’t exactly high tech. You get a few people to push or pull the horizontal beams attached to the gates. Those suckers weigh a few tons. When the lower gate is closed the lock fills up with water and raises the boat to a higher level for the next stretch of canal. If the boat is going the other way, the process is reversed.

I learned that each lock is 15 feet wide and 90 feet long. Canal boats were 14 feet wide and 80 feet long, which made for tight clearance. After the mules or horses were unhitched, the crew poled the boats into the locks and used the poles to keep the boats away from the lock sides.

Before 1850 some canal boats took paying passengers from Cleveland to Portsmouth, Ohio. A trip took about 80 hours, and to call the quarters cramped is an understatement. After 1850 railroads were the preferable transportation choice.

Many canal boats were family operations and the boats also served as the family’s home.

During the disastrous flood of 1913 the locks in Akron were dynamited to release the water backed up by the locks. There were 15 locks in a one mile stretch in Akron.

I think it’s time for me to step away from the lock, and concentrate more on the art part of my quilt. I did hear, though, that Canal Fulton operates horse pulled canal boat rides in season. . . .



Filed under Commentary

15 responses to “My Latest Obsession

  1. The history of things like this is so interesting. I can get wrapped up in it, too. Jim and I sure enjoyed our canal trip through Scotland 2 years ago. The locks separating the lochs… It was all fascinating, and the technology hasn’t changed an awful lot.

    • That’s right, you took that great trip. How tight were the accommodations, or did you go ashore each night for sleeping?

      • We stayed on the barge each night. The boat could accommodate 12 passengers and up to 5 crew. It was very tight. The floor space of the cabin was about the size of a queen bed, and that includes the sleeping bunks. Fortunately there was an efficient en suite bathroom, and plenty of common space.

  2. Norma Schlager

    Intersting info about the canals. However I was surprised to see that beautiful quilt laying on the ground.

  3. I’ve been to locks in western New York and thought they were fascinating. But they were modern and didn’t have the added effect of reenactors and all!

    • As I understand it, the Erie Canal has been reinvigorated as a tourist path, with cruises and all sorts of accommodations. I think you get the period costumed volunteers when you enter the orbit of the national parks.

  4. Hope you take a ride. Interesting post, thank you.

  5. That is a neat bit of lock history and I enjoyed the comments from some of your readers too. I’d like to experience that “ride” but as you say; animal pulled not tractor. Did you know there would be a quilter there (too bad you missed her) or was that just a surprise?

    • I promise to cease and desist canal talk from here on. The volunteers at the canal center, who included the quilter, were a surprise to me. They dress in period costumes and hang out on the front porch of the center, which used to be a store/tavern/inn.

  6. Judith K Campbell

    I forgot to mention that Canal Fulton has a premier ice cream shop, tea shop, and art glass studio, so well worth the trip.

  7. Judith K Campbell

    I took the canal boat ride in Fulton a couple of years ago. It is very leisurely and close quarters indeed. There came a turn around point– the canawlers used to ‘park’ there overnight and they also turned for a return trip, since it was a wide place in the canal.. The turning took some time, involving hitching and re-hitching the mules.
    Side note– some of my ancestors were canawlers there. The area where they lived [on the boat] in Canal Fulton was called Brimstone Corners. Let your imagination work on that! And one of my folks became Mayor!

    • Thanks for the report on the ride. Unfortunately, right now one of the horses is ill, so they’re using a tractor to pull the boat. Just not the same experience, in my opinion.

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