BEAVER AND ERIE
In the session of 1822-23 the Legislature authorized a survey to
ascertain the practicability of connecting Lake Erie with the Ohio River
by a canal. In 1824 the United States Government ordered an examination
to be made with the same object in view, and the engineers reported in
favor of the scheme. After considerable contention the route via the
Beaver and Shenango Rivers was adopted. In 1827 the Legislature passed
the act for the construction of the canal, and also for the “French
Creek Feeder,” which previously had been surveyed. Ground was broken
on the latter at Meadville, August 24, 1827, and it was completed to
Conneaut Lake in December, 1834, but nothing bad yet been accomplished
toward building the main line, though the subject continued to be
agitated by the people along the proposed route.
At a meeting held in the court-house in Mercer on the 28th of
December, 1830, of which Hugh Bingham was
chairman and William W. Pearson, secretary,
a resolution was passed requesting the citizens of Erie, Crawford,
Mercer and Beaver Counties to hold a convention at Mercer on the 18th of
the ensuing January, to consult relative to petitioning the Legislature
to extend the Pennsylvania Canal from Pittsburgh, to Lake Erie. Jacob
Herrington, William S. Rankin, James Braden, John Banks and Joel B.
Curtis were appointed a committee to superintend the matter. Of
its proceedings we have no record.
But on the 21st of May, 1832, a meeting of delegates from Beaver,
Butler, Erie, Mercer and Venango Counties, called to take measures upon
the indifference of the last General Assembly toward the proposed
extension, was held in the Mercer court-house. Hon.
John Bredin was chairman, Benjamin Adams,
of Beaver, and Col. Thomas Foster, of Erie,
were vice-presidents, and Edwin J. Kelso, of
Erie, and William S. Rankin, of Mercer,
were secretaries. Resolutions were passed condemning the indifference of
the previous Legislature, and urging upon the next the speedy completion
“of that portion of the line which will connect the city of Pittsburgh
with the harbor of Erie, it being necessary to enable the east to share
in the advantages of the west, and to complete the original design of
connecting the waters of the Delaware with the Western lakes, and. to
secure to our great Eastern emporium the trade of the Northwestern
The project was agitated by others than those mentioned in 1833,
‘34 and ‘35. The Reeds, of Erie; the
citizens of Meadville; William Fruit, of
Clarksville; William Budd, T. J. Porter and M. C.
Trout, of Sharon, and other spirits along the Shenango Valley
were deeply interested in the project. The State ultimately made a
preliminary re-survey. This was followed, under the administration of Gov.
Ritner, by a limited appropriation, which resulted in pushing the
work toward completion. In 1842 the Legislature adopted the watchword of
“retrenchment;” the enterprise was throttled by annulling all the
contracts and stopping the work. This short-sighted policy resulted in
sufficient costs of litigation to have completed the enterprise and made
it efficient. Gov. Porter, in his annual
message in 1843, said that ninety-seven and three-fourths miles of the
main line had been finished, extending from Rochester on the Ohio to the
mouth of the French Creek Feeder in Crawford County, and that $4,000,000
had been expended on the improvement between 1827 and 1842.
The work was now turned over, without cost, to the “Erie Canal
Company,” chartered by the Legislature at the session of 1842-43, on
condition that that corporation would finish and operate the canal.
James M. Power, of Mercer County, was a member of this company
and one of its board of managers. In September, 1843, contracts were let
for the unfinished portion of the work, and December 5, 1844, the two
first boats, the “Queen of the West,” a passenger packet, and the
“R. S. Reed,” loaded with Mercer County coal, passed through to
Erie. Business was brisk, and a new life sprang into the Shenango
Valley. It spoiled many old mill-dams along the Big Shenango, but gave a
recompense in increased facilities for transportation.
Sharon, Clarksville, Big Bend and Greenville were all given a
commercial importance by this new means of travel and transportation.
Big Bend was specially important and active, because it was the point
from which supplies were hauled to the eastern, central and southeastern
parts of the county.
Shenango, which was laid out in June, 1808, promised to become one of
the important places of the county. This paper town is now known only as
the place that might have been great if the boom at Big Bend had
The canal flourished until the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad was
completed along the same route, when a downward movement began, which
finally resulted in its purchase by that company in 1870. The railroad
company continued to operate it until 1871, when the fall of the Elk
Creek aqueduct in Erie County gave them an excuse for abandoning the
enterprise, which no doubt was the intention at the time of purchase.
Its bed has since been a source of annoyance to the people of the towns
through which it passed, as a breeder of disease, though most of it is
now filled up. The whoop of the boy on the tow-path is no longer heard,
but instead the shrill whistle of the iron horse.
History of Mercer County, 1888, pages