Summit County trumped the neighboring communities by being the first of four counties in the Ohio and Erie Canalway National Heritage Area to complete its section of the Ohio and Erie Canal towpath trail from border to border – a total of 41.1 miles from Sagamore Hills Township south through Akron and Barberton to Clinton. To date, 83 of the trail's 101 miles are complete.
The city of Akron, Summit County, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Ohio and Erie Canalway, Cascade Locks Park Association, Summit County Historical Society, Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and Metro Parks, Serving Summit County have joined in a year-long trail celebration. The highlight was the celebration concert and festivities at Akron's Lock 3 Park on July 7 recognizing Summit Towpath 2012 partners and officials and the hosting of a ceremonial toast, just as they did in the 1800s. Entertainment was provided by Hey Mavis of Akron and the Guthrie Family Reunion, celebrating Woody's 100th birthday.
Earlier in the day, activities abounded all over the area. Included were a kid's 1-mile Fun Run, the Lockheed Martin Towpath Freedom 5K and various educational trailhead events. One of the most delightful of those was the opportunity to meet and visit with Emma Mustill, the owner of the Mustill store at 248 Ferndale St., by lock 15, and to listen to her captivating stories about life along the canal and some of its history. The duo of Jan Hammond on Appalachian Mountain dulcimer and Tom Conner on six-string guitar performed original and traditional live music on the front porch. Ferris Brown, executive director of Cascade Locks Park Association, said between 45 and 50 people stopped by to visit between 1 and 3 p.m.
Mustill said that she and husband, Fred, were from England and bought the store due to its proximity to the lock. "It would take from 15 to 20 minutes to go through the lock, which gave passengers time to disembark and do some shopping. The canal boat captains lived on the boats with their families and would come in the store to stock up on their provisions," she said. "They hauled passengers and freight. Some traveled the full length of the canal, some were only local haulers. It took so long to go through the locks, people could get off to visit and shop in town. Some passengers would rent a horse and buggy and ride to meet the canal boat later down the line.
"Farmers now had access to more than the local markets to sell their food goods. Early residents could order things to be shipped to them. Major stops became hubs of commerce. The canal system took Ohio from a frontier territory to the third most populous state in the nation and one of the wealthiest," she said. Mustill further explained, "The summer of 1825 was the groundbreaking for the Ohio and Erie Canal at the Portage summit. It marked the beginning of the largest pick and shovel construction project the world had ever seen. There were 44 locks along 38 miles of the canal that joined Akron to Lake Erie. The canal was dug by hand to a depth of four feet and a width of 40 feet by German and Irish immigrants who worked for $0.30 a day and a jigger of whiskey at day's end," Mustill added.
The Akron-Cleveland route opened in 1827. The Ohio and Erie Canal was completed in 1832 at 308 miles with 140 lift locks and a rise of 1,206 feet. There were five feeder canals that added 24.8 miles and six additional locks to the system. From 1827 to 1913, mules pulled boats loaded with goods and passengers along the canal through the counties of Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Tuscarawas, for a length of 110 miles.
Railroads appeared in 1870 and began to decrease the need for industrial transportation along the canal. "We don't like the railroads. They are the competition," Mustill hissed. The great flood of March 23-27, 1913 lasted four days, and a foot of rain left most of the Canalway destroyed or abandoned.
Defying record-setting 101 degree heat, Lock 3 Park was nearly filled to capacity. Opening the show was Hey Mavis of Akron, featuring original music performed on fiddle, banjo and guitar and accompanied by drums. The ceremonies commenced about 8 p.m., and Summit County Executive Russ Pry mentioned that there are two people who were not there that we should all remember to thank. "This towpath would not have been done if it had not been for the foresight of Congressman John Seiberling and Congressman Ralph Regula. They are the ones who really made it happen. We filled in, we got the job done for the vision they created. I hope you use the towpath and I hope you enjoy it all the time," Pry said. (Note: Seiberling sponsored legislation establishing the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 1974. In 1996, Regula sponsored a bill passed by Congress designating the Ohio and Erie Canalway as a National Heritage Area.)
Next, Dan Rice, president of the Ohio and Erie Canalway Collation, said, "Tonight marks a major milestone in the development of the Ohio and Erie Canalway and the towpath trail. Eighty-one of the 101 miles of the trail are completed, and with your continued support we will complete the remaining 20 miles so we have one section from Cleveland to New Philadelphia." Rice then recognized six individuals for their efforts in support of the trail: Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Summit County Executive Russ Pry, Akron's Francis Seiberling Buchholzer, retired businessman Ed Metzger, Allan Krulak of Forest City Enterprises and Terry Bishop of the Dominion Foundation. They will be the first inductees in to the Dominion Locktenders Circle hall of fame. "Truly, this is for future generations," Rice added. "What's amazing is that a 180-year-old transportation resource is being revitalized and recycled for community and economic development, and it is being utilized by millions of folks like yourselves."
Thirsty Dog Brewery of Akron provided a freshly brewed batch of root beer for the commemorative toast. After asking if everyone had their root beer, Akron Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth said, "We thought it appropriate that we would do a toast, because this was the tradition when the canal was opened in 1827. Of course, one of the people there was the canal engineer himself, Richard Howe. So, ladies and gentleman, to present our toast this evening, please welcome, from the year 1872, Mr. Richard Howe."
"Welcome citizens of Akron and surrounding bergs, it's a pleasure to be with you again tonight for this wonderful celebration," said Howe. "Congratulations on being the first county to get all 41 miles of your towpath trail completed. That's wonderful. When the Ohio and Erie Canal first started, it was wandering through some wild and unseen frontier, and it helped to turn Ohio into the third most populous state at the time, and now the Ohio and Erie Canalway towpath is going to transform and change everything once again. So it will be very exciting for all of us. Although, I noticed today, instead of the mules and horses that we had, you have these very high wheeled bicycles and hikers." Howe added, "I hope everybody has their root beer." After a hearty "cheers" the cups were raised and the crowd gave a round of applause.
When asked for his thoughts on the trail's completion, Plusquellic said, "We were one of the leaders in taking this on as a major project. First of all, it gives our own residents an opportunity to get out and enjoy a hiking trail with the history of the canal. It's brought thousands of people out using the trail, even through downtown Akron when people didn't imagine we could ever attract people back to downtown Akron. I see people bicycling...it's amazing to see how many people go by every day, riding their bikes, walking, just enjoying the canal towpath. It's been a long journey, in a way. We started this probably 20 years ago, and to see it finally completed all the way, not just in Akron, but all the way through Summit County, is a great accomplishment. I'm very happy about it. I think it's good for the residents."
Leianne Heppner, executive director of Summit County Historical Society, was also in attendance and said, "I was just describing to someone, how appropriate that this is occurring, because the starting of the towpath in 1825 started here in Akron. So it definitely makes sense that the completion of the towpath happens in Akron and Summit County. We are just so pleased that we have so many great partners that can come together to see something that could be very beneficial for the community."
The Guthrie Family Reunion, with folk singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie, son Abe and three daughters, Cathy, Annie and Sarah Lee, plus Sarah Lee's husband, Johnny Irion, marked Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday. Guthrie would have turned 100 years old on July 14. He died from Huntington's disease in 1967 at age 55. Guthrie wrote more than 3,000 songs in his lifetime and is remembered as a powerful tool of social change, and his empathizing with the poor, downtrodden and the powerless was an influence on generations of musicians such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
For information on events taking place along the towpath trail throughout 2012 in Summit County visit www.ohioanderiecanalway.com.