Horse drawn canal boats in Ohio were once a main form of transportation in the 1800’s. From 1825 – 1832, the Ohio and Erie Canal was hand dug by laborers using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, digging a channel at least four feet deep. At 308 miles, the Canal bisected the State, starting from Lake Erie and continuing down to the Ohio River, the border of West Virginia. The larger freight boats were towed by mules and passenger boats called “packets” were towed by horses. Most of the Canal is no longer usable, but near the town of Coshocton, visitors can take a ride on a restored section of the Canal the old fashioned way.
Meet Max and King, a pair of draft horses that regularly pull the Monticello III, a replica passenger packet that was built in 1990. A chance to ride on a canal boat pulled by horses seemed like a not to be missed activity while we were in Ohio, especially since I had learned quite a bit about the Ohio and Erie Canal while visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Plus, I am always up for anything to do with boating and water.
During the late spring when storms were often in the forecast, I wondered if the boat would actually go the day I chose to plan a trip here. I was told that they don’t take the horses out if rain and thunderstorms are likely and the skies were cloudy with rain possible that afternoon. Mark stayed behind at our campsite in Amish country and texted me after I arrived that the worst thunderstorm he had seen in our travels had just descended on the RV park. After telling this to another couple that was waiting for the ride, one of the employees came up and asked me about the storm I was reporting, concerned if one was heading our way. Luckily, nothing materialized and we boarded the boat for our 40 minute trip down the Canal.
I found the boat to be roomy inside with wooden benches all along the sides and middle. Since there weren’t a lot of people onboard, we had plenty of room to spread out and move around. I was surprised at how smooth the ride was, there were no bumpy or rocking movements. During our journey the Captain told us stories of the Canal’s history and life in the early 1800’s. From the stern of the boat, the owner’s granddaughter steered using a long wooden stick connected to the rudder called the tiller.
Keeping Max and King moving from behind on the towpath was a “hoggee,” a Scottish term for mule driver. Although on this day a man was actually driving these horses, during the 1800’s the drivers were often boys. One of our former presidents, James Garfield worked as a hoggee in Ohio when he was 16 years old.
The scenery was beautiful, lush and green along the Canal. Since it is not very wide in places, at times the boat was brushing up against foliage along the canal bank. I took the photo below when the hoggee was turning the horses around midway to go back to our starting point.
I was standing in the back near the steerer and looking over the top of the boat when I took the photo below. You can see where the rope connects from the boat to the horses’ harness. I would really have liked to have a picture of the horses from the front pulling the boat but that wasn’t possible of course since I was in the boat! (Where was my driver and photographer, hee, hee)!
When the trip was over, I drove over to nearby Roscoe Village, once a thriving town on the Canal and now a living history museum. The Village has a number of buildings that can be toured with staff available in some to provide information and demonstrations. I have been to a number of these kind of places on our travels and this one was okay, but nothing too exciting. I did enjoy seeing the old brick buildings and gardens along the Main Street.
Following a map of the Village provided by the Visitor Center, the first stop was at the blacksmith shop. I have joked in a previous blog about the profusion of blacksmith shops we have seen on our travels and how I have grown a little weary of them. They are everywhere as blacksmithing was one of the most essential services needed in a community. I planned to keep walking to the next stop, but one of the blacksmiths was standing outside so I felt bad not stopping in. It turned out this was probably my favorite blacksmith shop so far. The two guys were friendly and funny and showed not only their craft but also gave me some useful travel information. While on the road, one of the greatest things is chatting up the locals.
Other buildings open the day I visited were a local doctor’s office and home, a school, printing shop, weaving shop, canal boat exhibit and broom shop. I thought the broom shop was the most interesting and the young man working there showed me the three machines and various steps to making one. The binding machine puts the strands together after the broom corn has been soaked to make it more pliable. The next step is the sewing vice which holds the broom in place so it can be sewed. The last step is on the trimming board.
The neatest surprise was a museum not part of the Village that I found at the end of the Main Street, the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum. Since I had time, I wandered in not knowing what I would find. The museum houses the collection of two brothers from Coshocton who traveled the world collecting 15,000 objects from Europe, Asia and American Indian sites. Their Native American basket collection is one of the best I have seen and included baskets from tribes all over the U.S. The brothers were living in Washington State when they willed their collection to the town of Coshocton with all the items carefully packed up and sent by train in 1931. If I wasn’t behind time blog wise, I would write more about this interesting museum, the Asian artifacts were quite intriguing. The museum was having a temporary exhibit of quilts from around the world and I thought I would close with one I thought went along with my canal exploration that day. This quilt of two draft horses was beautifully made.
Thanks for checking in and Happy Independence Day!