By Linda Dillman
The village of Lockbourne may be a small community today, but in the heyday of Ohio’s canal system in the early 1800s, it was a mouse that roared when it was a center of commerce and the closest point to Columbus from the Ohio and Erie Canal waterway.
A 12-mile-long feeder canal was constructed from Lockbourne to the capitol city to provide access to Columbus in transporting people, livestock and produce.
The first canal boat traveled along the feeder from Lockbourne to Columbus in 1831, when 14,741 residents lived in Franklin County. In the 1890 census, the population was 124,087.
Passing west into Hamilton Township from Groveport, the Ohio and Erie Canal followed a path now paralleled by the railroad along Canal Road in Lockbourne, where locks still stand from eight that serviced the area starting in the 1830s.
Two other locks are also visible, one along Lockbourne Road—Lock 29—just before you enter the village and another in Lockbourne’s Locke Meadow Park, where Lock 30 stands as a testament to a popular, yet short-lived transportation system.
The park also includes the Big Walnut Creek guard lock, which, according to an Ohio Historical Marker, prevented flood water from the creek from entering the main canal. A lock tender’s house was located adjacent to Lock 30.
During the fall and winter, when trees and shrubbery shed their leaves and foliage, sandstone lock blocks are visible on the east side of Big Walnut along Rowe Road.
“The stone for the locks of Lockbourne were hauled from the sandstone quarries near Lithopolis by oxen, usually about two stones at a time,” wrote David Meyer in his book, “Life Along the Ohio Canal: Locking Reservoir to Lockbourne and the Columbus Feeder.” “Since the roads at that time were just tracks through the vast forests, once they became too muddy or rutted to haul on, a new one was blazed through the forest.”
The Moneypenny distillery, gristmill, warehouses, hotel, churches, saloons (which outnumbered churches at one point in the village’s history), feed lots, slaughter house and shops once lined the streets of Lockbourne, which was also believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. A former tavern, now a private residence, still contains the remnants of a hiding place for slaves on their way to freedom who traveled along the canal to the north. A small opening, just big enough to crawl through, was cut into the basement wall to access a tunnel from the canal.
Another home along Lockbourne Road was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. One of the windows had a key carved into the frame. If the curtains in the window were pulled open, it was safe for escaping slaves to enter the home.
“The eight locks of Lockbourne lowered the boats from the Groveport elevation down into the valley so that the canal could pick up additional water for the move on southward toward Circleville, Chillicothe and Portsmouth,” Meyer wrote in his book.
On a map circa 1871, the Columbus feeder canal was accessed by a Canal Street bridge and by boats crossing the Big Walnut Creek, which was known at the time as the Gahanna River. The feeder then headed to Columbus.
“Rowe Road of today follows the majority of the feeder’s path to Route 23 where it crossed it and then swung in a more northerly direction as it went through the center of Shadeville,” Meyer wrote in his book. “The town of Shadeville was an active place in canal days.”
The last canal boat left Columbus in 1904 and floods in 1906 severely damaged the waterways, which heralded the decline of not only Lockbourne, but neighboring Shadeville as well. While the two biggest businesses in town today are the post office and feed store, Lockbourne is undergoing a renaissance with the creation of Rediscover Lockbourne, which is raising funds to renovate a former Hamilton Township school building and sponsor community events. In addition, the Lockbourne Heritage Society researches, preserves and promotes the history of the village and raises funds for projects including a Veterans Park, Memorial Day Parade, annual Easter Egg Hunt and holiday bags for the elderly and shut-ins.
To learn more about Lockbourne, visit lockbourneohio.us or call 614-491-3161.