|By: Clark B. Firestone|
Appeared in The Cincinnati Times-Star, November 3, 1925
There were four of us. It wasn't last year or the year before, but something the Times-Star printed the other day puts me in mind of it. One of its writers, going quite across Europe in a boat, told of towpaths thronged with wandering minstrels, migratory harvest hands, and schnorers with rucksacks. I, too, have traveled the towpath, from end to end of a canal that is only a groove of memory in another part of Ohio. It passes through my native village of Lisbon and disappears into the unknown. Why not find where it came from and whither it went? The question suddenly put itself not so long ago, and I took three friends and started. One was a student of Americana, who wanted to look over collections of Indian relics in village stores along the way, and the other two were little more than lads, to whom it was enough to be going somewhere.
The journey was more important than you might think. In its backgrounds, indeed, it was a nautical, a military, an archeological and a religious expedition. You may never have heard of the Sandy and Beaver canal; the Cincinnati library has but one paragraph about it. Yet it was rather longer than the Panama canal, and although its through traffic was less - only one boat ever went over it, according to report, from end to end - more significant history has been written along its banks, perhaps, than at Panama; and as at Panama there were fortifications at both ends or at any rate rather near them. Obscurest of canal zones, it had yet known the mound builders and many Indian tribes, felt in three wars the tread of armies, saw the rise of a number of singular religions, produced a host of really distinguished men - and carried a fair tonnage of wheat, wool and potatoes.
To get down to its humbler aspect as a common carrier, the Sandy and Beaver was one of four canals dug by private enterprise in Ohio to give communities off the line of the State-owned waterways benefit of outer markets before the railroad came. It was begun in 1834, completed in 1849, and practically abandoned in 1854, when railroads penetrated its territory. The middle section was little used, but in the eastern section packet boats made daily trips from Lisbon to the Ohio, and in the western, from Hanoverton on, an active traffic moved by a route that reached Cleveland. The canal left the Ohio at Smith's Ferry, followed up Beaver creek, its middle and its western forks across Columbiana county in Ohio, and went down Sandy creek through Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, entering the Ohio and Erie canal at Bolivar; thence one might get to the Gulf or the seaboard.
By it, for a little while, my native village in the western foothills of the Alleghenies was a sort of port on the Seven Seas.
When the four of us set out from the pottery stacks of East Liverpool through the dawn fogs which October sifts into the river valley, we were quitting one kind of mist for another-the mist of horizons unknown. We were to traverse a well settled region over a route of only about seventy miles. But we were going by ways no longer followed, through counties that mainly had been out of touch with each other since stage coach days, and that did not regain contact until good roads came after our peregrination. I do not believe anybody had preceded us for more than two generations. Let me put it more strongly, From end to end our route was perhaps never traveled by anyone save-
Colonel Henry Bouquet with 1,500 men in 1764.
General Lachlan McIntosh with 1,000 men in 1778.
One canal boat in 1848.
The writer and three friends.
We touched history at the start, passing the locality where Jesse Grant lived for a while before coming down river to Point Pleasant.
A three-mile walk brought us to Beaver creek, just above Smith's Ferry, where it enters the Ohio-and to another footnote of history. Washington passed the mouth of the creek, as he relates in his Journal of a Tour to the Ohio River. "About three miles below this," he continues, "we encamped, after hiding a barrel of biscuit in an island (in sight) to lighten our canoe." This was 155 years ago last week. So-unless he camped on the Virginia side-my county was one of the famous spots where Washington "slept." He slept late, and not warm, for his journal recites: "As it began to snow about midnight and continued pretty steadily at it, it was about half after seven before we left the encampment."
One of the two fortifications noted above was really a few miles up the Ohio at the mouth of Beaver river where General Lachlan McIntosh built, in 1778, a stockade with four bastions and a brass six-pounder as a covering point in a projected campaign against British headquarters at Detroit. There, in 1785, a treaty was concluded that concerned Cincinnati, for the Wyandots, Chippewas, Delawares and Ottawas ceded to this country-George Rogers Clark was a commissioner-their land on the Muskingum, Scioto and Miami. There in later times lived Matthew Stanley Quay, and a few miles off our route was the old academy where James G. Blaine went to school to the Cincinnatian, McGuffey. The peculiar religion of Beaver county was at Economy, where the Rappists practiced communism, celibacy and Sunday toil.
Ascending Beaver creek on the Pennsylvania side we entered Ohio with it a few miles up stream and halted at a ruin where the first paper mill in Ohio was erected in 1805-'6; within recent years cattle have been stabled in its stone cellars. Few evidences of a navigable waterway remained along the stretch of creek, but we did find in a wild valley the vestige creek of a dam and lock. Near here stood the hunting cabin of the Seneca chief, Half King, who sent a message of welcome to Washington when the young Virginian was on his way to Great Meadows in 1754 to fire a shot heard round the world.
Farther on, where the north fork came in, we saw some mules, but the attempt to tract their genealogy to the canal mules of 1850 was abandoned when we reflected that mules have no posterity. Yet the debate was fruitful, for it led to the discovery of a surviving mariner of the canal-a venerable Scotch-Irishman who came up and told of navigating its lower stretches. That night we found a good collection of Indian arrowheads and polished stone hatchets in a country store; and after singing a few glees, we went to bed at a cross-roads inn.
All next day and the day following we traveled a towpath rather than rugged creek banks, although often the creek lay near. Sometimes the canal was a dry depression in fields where cows pastured, sometimes a public road, sometimes a swampy stretch where the wind evoked "the dreary melody of bedded reeds," sometimes a long water-to use an English term-with skiffs moored to shore and wild fowl scudding overhead. Remains of locks were numerous. We ran across 11 in a single mile, and about 50 in all. Some of them had silted up clear to the top courses, between which, as between curbstones, a highway ran. Others had been looted for building stone, and we traced them in barns, dwellings and spring houses along the way. My mother's front wall in Lisbon was made of such stones and is a good wall still. A few locks were almost intact. Elderberry bushes flanked their entrances, blackberry vines mantled them and frogs plunked into their pools at our approach. In one of these, which had a floor of grass, we ate lunch, wondering the while whether a rathskeller could not be installed between its gray walls.
What needs to be said of the old county of Columbiana, through which we were passing, I said a while ago when the Times-Star was printing a series of county verses. I ask leave to reprint. The backgrounds call for hexameters:
Rather I choose to sing of hills all abloom with arbutus;
Creeks that are willow-fringed and wild with the cry of the heron;
Rods where the winter snows pile high as a horse's shoulders;
Hamlets of afternoon peace, and the somnolent clink of their smithies;
Towns that have hitching rails, the curfew and Saturday markets;
Folk of the towns and farms, whose lives are epics unwritten.
The second night we slept at my home town of Lisbon, and the next morning I looked it over with the others just as if I had never seen it before-with a sort of travel-whetted curiosity. The mile stretch through it from east to west is a Mile of History, as our itinerary will indicate. We passed the log cabin, now weatherboarded, where Nancy Allison, mother of President McKinley, spent her childhood; the butchershop where Edwin M. Stanton practised law; the saddlery where Mark Hanna was born; the old brick home of one of the two "tribes" of Fighting McCooks; the office of the Ohio Patriot, founded in 1805; the office of the Buckeye State, edited in turn by an uncle of Woodrow Wilson and a cousin of William McKinley; the birthplace of John H. Clarke, Federal Supreme court justice; the mansion of Robert W. Tayler, another gifted Federal judge; the boyhood home of the brilliant but misguided Clement L. Vallandigham, foremost of the so-called Copperheads, and the stone house outside of town, where McKinley's parents began housekeeping, and where trees and turf stand amid a ruinous pile of bricks that was once the McKinley blast furnace-a pioneer Ohio undertaking.
Edwin M. Stanton's old law firm is still in vigorous practice in Lisbon, and we called there. John Morgan, Confederate raider, was stopped a few miles southeast of town and a monument marks the spot; he surrendered his sword to a Lisbon militia officer, on whose son we also called. John Brown, abolitionist raider, drew two members of his Harper's Ferry band, the Coppock boys, from A Quaker settlement a few miles north. Their numbers, dashing courage and public honors made the Fighting McCooks Lisbon's most distinguished family-a distinction shared with Carrollton in the next county. One brother sent ten sons into the Civil war; the other, six. Four sons were killed and the rest came out as officers, five as generals. With their long limbs and broad shoulders; their square jaws, high cheekbones and challenging, quizzical eyes; with their bearing at once boyish and stately, the McCooks seemed figures out of Scotch balladry shifted by fate to our foothills.
It is a quaint fact that until 1818 Cleveland's legal advertising-it had no newspaper then-was printed in Lisbon. Politically, it is no great exaggeration to say that the city was long an overgrown colony of the village. Of course, for a while Lisbon had an indigenous religion on its outskirts-communistic, but, unlike Economy, not celibate, and viewed askance by the town. Here, in effect, was a tenet: If temptation assails you, do not resist it; yield to it, particularly if it wears skirts. We surveyed the place from across a fence.
On our third day's march, from Lisbon to Hanoverton, we halted twice for refreshments. Once was at the back porch of a farm house, for the towpath had a disconcerting way of passing through people's back yards; and there we had all the buttermilk we could drink. The other place was at the back door of a cider mill. At the hamlet of Gilford, we were admitted into the sitting room of a private house which used to be the tap room of a tavern on a thronged State road. We found a farm with buildings on the basin floor of what had been a great canal reservoir; and here a State fish preserve has been created. Farther on we saw the bush-mantled entrances of two tunnels, long since caved in, through which the canal-in this respect unique among American waterways-took its way; and nearby was the sweetly named village of Dungannon which grew up when Irishmen were digging the big ditch.
At Hanoverton, an ancient village settled by Virginians, where we spent the third night, we explored two immense and venerable mills with back doors on the canal. There also we found two equally venerable boatmen, one nearly ninety. He told of seeing a circus with seven boats come to town by canal in 1853. When it reached the low-roofed tunnel, the camel got off and walked overhead. Also, the nonagenarian recalled one of the circus jests-a double-barreled thing, still good. A clown said that while he and his father were eating dinner during butchering some Democrat stole a quarter of beef (Whig laughter).
"How do you know it was a Democrat?" asked the ringmaster.
"Because, if it had been a Whig he would have stolen the whole beef!" (loud Democratic laughter).
At Magnolia in Carroll county we ran across still another mariner. Those interviews along the way were perhaps of historical value, because nobody else ever collected the recollections of the ancient watermen; and we made the trip in the nick of time. They have all died since. How to waken their frosty memories was a question we pondered in advance, to a felicitous end. Why not ask them about the canal boat cooks? It was wonderful how the veterans woke up at the first mention of these excellent but misunderstood women!
Carroll county, which we traversed on the fourth day, has no indigenous religion. But it has its McCooks, it has a creek called the Dining Fork of the Kannoten, and its village of Magnolia owes its fragrant name to a boatman who had penetrated the far South, perhaps by way of our canal. It is on the edge of Stark, with the border so drawn that occupant of the same bed sleep in different counties. For ourselves, we slept in a boarding-house at Malvern, after following the canal around the northern edge of Carroll. We came down Sandy creek to Magnolia the fifth morning, and found a street fair on, and ourselves, with our long walking staves, haversacks and battered shoes, an unwitting but not unvalued exhibit.. The mayor had us meet the oldest inhabitants. One brought an ancient account book's testimony that flour and bacon which went down the canal sold for next to nothing, while sugar which came up cost a pretty figure.
Entering Tuscarawas county at noon of the fifth day for the last-leg of our journey we discovered along the canal what possibly were evidences of a fresh water pearl fishery-large mussel shells on the towpath. We were thrilled later to find the canal full of water and a lock with gates in position. In very recent years, generations after it had fallen into disuse in other sections, there had been haulage upon it, of which no rumor had reached our county. So the last miles of our trip were a kind of triumph. In two other counties, where once I had run for office and might again, I had held the younger members in restraint. But here, in an alien county, the lid was lifted and the lads went singing and shouting beside the towpath, through the fields and through the gloaming, until we crossed the Tuscarawas river and reached Bolivar, where the Sandy and Beaver enters the Ohio and Erie canal. There a suspicious landlord exacted payment in advance-a detail from which I alone extracted satisfaction!
The sixth morning we devoted to an examination of a revolutionary fort and-it was Sunday-to the study of two more religions. Fort Laurens on the edge of Bolivar is now just a cornfield. A thousand soldiers under general McIntosh built a stockade there in 1778, as an outpost against Indian attacks on the settlements directed from Detroit, and 150 men were left to garrison it. It was thrice attacked by Wyandots and Mingoes under the renegade, Simon Girty, and was evacuated in1779. Scores of its defenders lost their lives and the remainder were starving when relieved. I picked up the fragment of an arrowhead in the cornfield, but suspect it came from a nearby mound.
The two novel religions? We saw Mennonites in town, perhaps as visitors, for their main stronghold is in the adjoining county of Holmes. Those simple folk-their forefathers came from Switzerland-do not vote, use buggies with wooden dashboards, practise Bible divination, give the kiss of peace, raise huge families and wear homespun.
At Zoar, four miles away, we found the singular sectaries whose Wurttemberger ancestors began a settlement there in 1817 with the declaration. "All ceremonies are banished from among us, and we declare them useless and injurious, and this is the chief cause of our Separation." They uncovered to none but God, married by mutual consent and legal record, refuse to be soldiers because "a Christian can not murder his enemy, much less his friend;" holding "complete virginity more commendable than marriage," the relations of the sexes had a quality of frugality. Until 1898 there was a community of goods. Three other items interest me: They dug part of the sandy and Beaver canal; they voted solidly against Bryan; they always voted solidly wet.
Zoar is a seemly and tranquil village with roofs of red tile made by its own people, a big, rambling summer hotel, and backyards vivid with old-fashioned flowers. It used to make wonderful beer and wine. The communal mills, pottery and brewery that we saw were built like battleships. Every Zoarite cow has a bell and a Christian name. It was good that a journey through placid countrysides should end at this haunt of ancient peace.