|Photos courtesy of the Canal Winchester Area Historical Society
|The High Street bridge over the Ohio and Erie Canal in downtown Canal Winchester, circa 1908.
|Canal Winchester’s North High Street circa 1908.
With a long-ago mode of transportation incorporated into its name, Canal Winchester has been a dynamic host to the march of progress through a village whose main thoroughfare was once a waterway to the future.
The village’s downtown is a far cry from its dirt road and canal intersecting past. However, it still retains the character that once drew hundreds of residents and visitors to a bustling interurban station, lively High Street hotels, and restaurants satiating the hunger of farmers coming into town on the weekend or families out for an afternoon stroll.
Ladies in long frocks and fanciful hats tightly grasped the hands of their children as they prepared to board the train at the Queen of the Line depot for points east and west. One hundred years ago, downtown Canal Winchester, as it is today, was a center of commerce. At the same time, it served as a transportation hub for people unable to afford the luxury of the newest novelty of the day-the automobile.
Village leaders held meetings and guided the local government in a renovated house at 35 S. High St., which served as town hall, the village jail, and a public library. Oliver P. Gayman was elected mayor in 1898 and served until 1906. It was not until the 1940s that another town hall was constructed, rising from bits and pieces of the old structure salvaged by firefighters who demolished the building.
Residents dashing in and out of the People’s Bank at the corner of High and Waterloo Streets, built in 1924, had no idea the building would be the next to house village government when the Huntington Bank sold the distinctive corner structure to Canal Winchester in 1965.
Across the street, the Lehman Business Block was built in 1884 and is one of the least altered structures in the business district. The upstairs door to the Jeffers Barber Museum, now run by the Canal Winchester Area Historical Society and located on the second floor of the building at 2 1⁄2 S. High St., still retains vestiges of its former life as a Knights of Pythias hall; complete with a peephole in the door.
While banks continue to thrive on High Street, the face of the village’s financial institutions has changed dramatically in the last 100 years. The Canal Winchester Bank, the first one to open in the village in 1887, was constructed at 8 S. High St. and shared space with a series of markets-not unlike many of the grocery stores of today-from around 1900 to 1939. Its brick facade was eventually covered over, yet the building continues its heritage of serving the banking needs of the village.
Construction on the Ohio and Erie Canal began in the 1820s, with the first canal boat floating through the village in 1831 following a path roughly parallel to and south of Waterloo Street. Businesses sprung up along the watery transportation route and, as though the canal system was short-lived, other forms of travel took its place in the life of the village.
Travelers needed a place to rest their heads on long journeys across the state and early village entrepreneurs were eager to provide accommodations. A trio of High Street hotels-Leonard House, Merchant’s Hotel, and the Commercial Hotel, once occupying the site of the Huntington Bank-catered to the needs of the traveling public.
According to "Canal Winchester: The Second Ninety Years" by Frances Steube and Lillian Carroll, the South High Commercial Hotel was built in 1852. It serviced canal boat and Hawk Stage Coach Line traffic and was sold to Charles Painter in 1903.
"Charles Painter advertised in 1904 that his hotel paid particular attention to traveling salesmen," wrote Steube and Carroll. "One of his more exotic guests was Princess Talma, an Egyptian palmist, who spent some time at the hotel reading local palms."
Up the street, at 67 N. High St., the Merchant’s Hotel was built in 1875 and went through several owners, including Noah Cherry, who purchased the business in 1896.
"Wholesome meals were served by Mrs. Hannah Cherry for two dollars a day. She also custom roasted turkeys, ducks, geese, or chickens for holiday dinners in the homes of the village. A confectionery, ice cream parlor, pool room and bar also operated in conjunction with the hotel," according to Steube and Carroll.
West Waterloo and South High streets were once part of the Columbus and Winchester Pike, which ran through the heart of Canal Winchester. At one time, this main route from central to southeastern Ohio was ranked third statewide in traffic volume.
The interurban station, featuring travel via an electric trolley, ran along the old canal and is now part of the I-Beam building, the former home of the South Central Power Company. The station featured three rooms for freight, ticketing, and a passenger waiting area. It began operation in 1905 and served the village until 1930. The Scioto Valley Traction Line sold unused electricity to Canal Winchester, thus helping to electrify the village. Village representatives and volunteers are in the process of renovating the station to its previous appearance, following duty as an office and storage area for the power company.
An opera house filled the cultural niche in Canal Winchester at 19 N. High St in the Opera House Block, built in 1871. Musicals, dramas, and graduations were held on the second floor while businessmen ran a grocery on the first floor. The building burned to the ground in 1922, rebuilt around 1940, and leased to the post office.
Just a stone’s throw south at 7 N. High, another fraternal organization, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, met on the second floor where canvases now explode in a rainbow of color and creativity in a artist’s studio. A dry goods store operated on the first floor from 1898 through 1939 before becoming a grocery. While bagged coffee and tea is no longer sold on shelves, patrons can still get their caffeine jolt or relax with a cup of Chai in the building’s latest incarnation, Harvest Moon.
On the southeast corner of High Street, where men and women now have their hair styled and nails manicured, a department store, operated by David and Christian Gayman, also served the personal needs of residents by offering clothing, dry goods, notions, and home décor. At the turn of the 19th century, the business was operated by a sister-brother partnership, which lasted until 1917. Before becoming Canal View Pharmacy and later Studio Fusion, Harry Harconier operated a confectionary in the corner brick building.
As travelers, farmers, and businessmen turned their attention to swifter modes of transportation via the railroad, interest in the canal dried up. The last canal boat glided through the village in 1901 and the water level started to fluctuate. Property owners began filling in portions of the old waterway and the canal was abandoned by the state in 1913. Incorporating the canal bed into its foundation, a commercial building was erected by Marion Corwin on the east side of High Street and used as a confectionary and pool hall until it was sold to Paul and Helen Shade in 1939.
Shade’s restaurant, like much of the village, sits on the shoulders of history, when dreams of expansion and growth flowed on the water and through the minds of pioneers such as Reuben Dove, the farmer who carved the foundation for the village out of a 19th century wheat field.
(Sources: The Canal Winchester Area Historical Society and "Canal Winchester: The Second Ninety Years" by Lillian Carroll and Frances Steube.)