By Rick Palsgrove
The Ohio & Erie Canal Southern Descent Historic District, which includes Lock 22 in Groveport, has been officially added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“My reaction? I was excited beyond all words!” said Cathy Nelson, an independent historical preservation coordinator, when she heard about the district receiving this recognition.
Groveport city officials were pleased to hear the news, too.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by the canal partners, and Groveport is excited to be a part of this recognition,” said Groveport City Administrator Marsha Hall. “Mayor Lance Westcamp, in particular, was enthusiastic that the city take a role in assuring this was accomplished. As he stated in his letter of support, ‘The city of Groveport has a rich history as a port on the canal and maintains that connection to our past through the preservation of local canal-era artifacts and monuments, not the least of which is Ohio and Erie Canal Lock 22.’”
Westcamp said history is important in Groveport.
“Any time we can do things to preserve our heritage I’m all for it. Plus, we’ll never forget that the cleaning up and restoration efforts for Lock 22 gained momentum several years ago as an Eagle Scout project by Nathan White,” said Westcamp. “The National Register designation for Lock 22 as part of Ohio & Erie Canal Southern Descent Historic District is also an opportunity to showcase our community as a welcoming and interesting place for people to visit.”
When asked how and why the city will use this designation of Lock 22 and the Ohio & Erie Canal Southern Descent Historic District as a marketing tool to attract visitors and business to Groveport, Hall said, “Groveport will work with the other coalition members to develop marketing information to provide to the public interested in visiting the sites on self-tours throughout the canal district. We hope that this will bring visitors to Groveport.”
The Ohio & Erie Canal Southern Descent Historic District includes 14 historic canal sites along a 100 mile stretch of the old Ohio and Erie Canal in central and southern Ohio. The sites include 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 National Register of Historic Places nomination. Jeff Darbee, an historic preservation consultant with Benjamin D. Rickey & Co. of Columbus, 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.
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.
According to Darbee, the listing allows communities to show the sites were professionally vetted as historic and important and some grant-making foundations and other funding sources require that properties seeking funds must be National Register listed.
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’s purpose was to raise and lower canal boats to meet the changing terrain. The lock is owned and maintained by the city of Groveport and is accessible from Groveport Park and Blacklick Park.
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.