Historic canal lock nears placement on National Register

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By Rick Palsgrove
Southeast Editor

Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove
Ohio and Erie Canal lock 22 is located in Groveport Park.

The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board recommended designating 14 historic canal sites along a 100 mile stretch of the old Ohio and Erie Canal for consideration to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I and all of the canal partners are thrilled,” said Cathy Nelson, an independent historical preservation coordinator.

“The goal of the project is to help establish an Ohio and Erie Canal Southern Descent Historic District corridor in central and southern Ohio,” said Jeff Darbee, an historic preservation consultant with Benjamin D. Rickey & Co. of Columbus.

The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board’s action, taken on Dec. 7 at the Ohio History Connection Center in Columbus, includes Groveport’s lock 22, located in the northern part of Groveport Park, as well as the following other locations: Bibler Lock (lock 8 in Baltimore); locks 26, 27, 29, and 30 in Lockbourne; the Big Walnut guard lock to the Columbus feeder canal near Lockbourne; lock 2 of the Columbus feeder; lock 31 near Ashville; the Scioto River aqueduct abutment and piers located about 650 feet downstream from the U.S. Route 22 bridge; the Circleville feeder inlet; the watered canal prism near Circleville and Westfall; lock 48 near Rushtown; and lock 50 Union Mills near West Portsmouth. Most of these nearly 190-year-old features are significantly considered to be in fair to good condition.

“The canal story is fascinating,” said Nelson earlier this year. “Think of how hard it was to construct the canal. It was hard labor done by hand with shovels and picks. It’s an extraordinary piece of Ohio history. That we still have many of the stone locks and other features in place that help tell that story is amazing. It’s a story that deserves to be told.”

Local government officials, historians, private citizens and others from along the route worked to gather information for the nomination. Darbee wrote and completed the nomination form, aided by Nancy Recchie, and with comments from the State Historic Preservation Office at the Ohio History Connection. Matt Leasure, of the firm Designing Local in Columbus, prepared the mapping.

What’s next in the process
The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board’s recommendation means the canal nomination may be submitted to the National Park Service for evaluation for National Register of Historic Places listing.

Darbee said Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board members suggested additional mapping be provided to show the relationship of each canal feature to the community where it is located and that some of the proposed boundaries for the nominated features be verified.

“The next step will be a letter to me from the State Historic Preservation Office summarizing the Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board recommendations and anything else the State Historic Preservation Office feels should be done and I will make the required additions and changes,” said Darbee. “Nominations undergo repeated reviews so we can be sure they are as correct and complete as possible, since they become part of a permanent publicly-accessible database at the National Park Service.”

A decision on whether the Ohio and Erie Canal Southern Descent Historic District corridor has been successfully named to the National Register of Historic Places could be made by March.

Meaning of the National Register
Darbee said the National Register listing is “a kind of seal of approval” showing that a property or district is historically significant and worthy of preservation. It does not require any public or private owner to maintain or restore a property, or open it to the public.

“Owners of National Register properties are free to alter, sell or even demolish them,” said Darbee, “but the hope is that formal recognition will encourage preservation. The only time an undertaking must be reviewed is when some form of federal funding or licensing, such as a highway project or a wetlands permit, has an affect on a listed property. Even then, the entity receiving the funds and license only has to consider ways to avoid harming the property. There’s no requirement that a property has to be preserved.”

According to Darbee, for the communities where the canal features are located, the listing allows them to show the features were professionally vetted as truly historic and important and some grant-making foundations and other funding sources require that properties seeking funds must be National Register listed. He said the written part of the nomination is a public document not subject to copyright, so text from the narrative can be reproduced in whole or in part in publications and promotional materials.

“The National Register listing is important for the various communities because, in several cases, they have already put time, money, and energy into preserving and interpreting their canal features,” said Darbee. “The listing validates and supports those efforts and becomes an additional tool for promoting continued work. For communities with more preservation work to do, the listing supports and reinforces they are on the right track. Looking at this in the bigger picture, the canal, and the others in Ohio, had a huge impact upon the economy of the state, really kicking off the state’s economic development in the pre-Civil War era. We are lucky to have so much of the system remaining visible, and it should be celebrated for its importance.”

Canal history
The Ohio and Erie Canal was completed between 1827-32 and wound 308 miles through the state connecting Lake Erie at Cleveland to the Ohio River in Portsmouth. The canal, a man-made waterway that was an engineering marvel, was built to enhance transportation and shipping in the state.

During the canal’s heyday in the 19th century, 55 locks were situated on the Ohio and Erie Canal from the Licking Summit in Newark to the Ohio River. The locks’ function was to raise and lower canal boats to meet the changing level of terrain.

“People love transportation history and will travel to areas to see canal remnants and sites,” Nelson said in an interview earlier this year. “These visitors enhance local economies by bringing in tourism dollars to communities. A historic corridor people could visit would be fabulous for the towns near where these locks and other canal features are located.”

Lock 22 in Groveport
Lock 22 in Groveport is nearly 190-years-old and is made of sandstone block. Its overall length is 117 feet and its chamber is 90 feet long and 16 feet wide.

The lock is owned and maintained by the city of Groveport.

The canal channel is still visible near lock 22 as well as in Groveport’s Blacklick Park and along Rohr Road south of town. Additionally, a dry dock and canal boatyard operated in the 1800s in what is now Blacklick Park. The canal operated in Groveport from 1831 to the early 1900s and the transportation opportunities it offered for shipping and travel were a significant factor in the economic development and growth of the city.

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