By Ed Runyan
Few physical reminders of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal still exist, but a marker in Courthouse Square tells people that the canal, which passed through the Mahoning Valley from Lowellville to Newton Falls from 1840 to about 1860, was once an important economic stimulus.
The waterway was called the Cross-Cut Canal because it provided a way for goods and people to travel east and west from Beaver Falls, Pa., to Akron as they traveled north-south on the Beaver and Ohio and Erie canals.
The canal, which mostly traveled beside the Mahoning River, improved trade between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Construction began on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal in 1835. When it was completed in 1839, some of Warren’s most prominent residents, who were also some of the canal’s investors, celebrated at a Warren hotel that is now the Best Western on North Park Avenue. They included Simon Perkins, Leicester King and David Tod.
The canal was important to the Mahoning Valley because it opened up trade and helped communities such as Lowellville, Youngstown, Girard, Warren and Newton Falls grow, said Wendell Lauth, a Trumbull County historian from Bristolville.
“It really opened up the area in terms of supplying other areas besides the local area,” Lauth said, adding that coal had been discovered in the region, and it could now be shipped out for sale.
The construction phase also brought the first immigrants to the area. “They used Irish immigrants to dig the canal,” Lauth said. “It was the first immigration in the area.”
Trumbull County had a number of wooden clock manufacturers. The canal allowed them to ship out their products, Lauth said.
The canal boats crossed the Mahoning River in Warren at Van Gorder’s Mill, just south of South Street near the present-day Red’s Auto Glass.
The canal had 54 locks and nine dams across its 82 miles, including several near Van Gorder’s Mill, and one at Center of the World in Braceville Township, near the intersection of state Routes 5 and 82 west of Warren.
Store keeper Randall Wilmot named his business near the lock Center of the World and also named a business in New York Beginning of the World and one in Cortland now known as Four Star Diner End of the World, Lauth said.
There are remnants of the canal channel and towpath in Newton Falls and Newton Township, according to a history of the canal on the Newton Falls Public Library website.
“Traces are still evident in some backyards and farm fields particularly as one moves west closer to the Portage County line,” the Newton Falls library web site says.
“Frequently, the [present-day CSX] railroad bed overlaps the canal or home owners, and businesses added fill dirt to cover the route,” the site says.
The canal’s life span was a short one, with the advent of the railroads making the slow pace of canal travel obsolete by about 1860, when the canal’s traffic had dwindled to a few boats, the Newton Falls website says.