Proposed Lake Erie-Ohio River Canal and Grand River Reservoir records

Special Collections and Archives

Proposed Lake Erie-Ohio River Canal and Grand River Reservoir records

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Special Collections and Archives

Proposed Lake Erie-Ohio River Canal and Grand River Reservoir records

You are here

Proposed Lake Erie-Ohio River Canal and Grand River Reservoir records

Finding Aid

Prepared by Judith J. Carroll, November 1, 2002; Updated April 2018; Last Updated: July 2020

Inclusive Dates: 1932-1958
Extent: 1 cubic foot (1 record storage box)
Physical Location: 11th floor

Historical Note: Big interests clashed in Northeastern Ohio with the proposed construction of a shipping canal from the Ohio River in Pennsylania's Beaver and Lawrence counties, north through Ohio's Trumbull and Ashtabula counties, terminating in Lake Erie near Ashtabula, Ohio. The proposed canal would consist of 59 miles of canalized rivers and a land canal of 44.6 miles. This collection of engineering reports, legal briefs, hearings before the U.S. Congress, and photographs provides an outline for arguments both for and against the project.

The construction of the canal was discussed as early as the 1900's. Champions of the canal were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and steel mills in the area, namely the Youngstown Sheet & Tube, and Republic Steel Co. The steel mills desired this canal to transport iron ore from the Great Lakes to the Youngstown steel plants. The mills were, in their opinion, forced to rely on the railroads for transportation. The canal, in their thinking, would free them from paying the high fares for iron ore delivery by the railroads from sources in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The main opposition to the canal project was the Upper Ohio Valley Association, "an unincorporated association with approximately 700 members, consisting, among others of steel companies, railroads, labor organizations, municipal and trade organizations, etc." The real power behind this association, providing the funds and legal expertise were the railroads. The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie railroads especially played a prominent part, leading the effort against the canal.

The Grand River Reservoir was a much-opposed part of the canal project. Maps in the collection illustrate the Canal following the Beaver and Mahoning Rivers northward as far as Farmington Township in Trumbull County. At that point would begin a reservoir stretching north across Trumbull County. The planned reservoir, flowing across Ashtabula County and ending just below Ashtabula township on Lake Erie, would flood tens of thousands of acres of farmland and small towns. The last section of the canal would be constructed from the northern tip of the reservoir through Geneva Township.

Landmark events in the unborn life of this canal include the passage of the River and Harbor Act of 1935, which provided funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the proposed canal further. In the late 1940's the railroads provided cost estimates to alter around 80 bridges and testified before Congress regarding these estimates. The collection includes 1958 updated estimates of cost by the railroads, as the controversy and opposition to the canal continued. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended canal construction as late as 1965; funds were allocated in 1988 and 1994 for continued feasibility studies. In 1994 the Corps concluded that although it believed the Canal was "practical from both navigation and engineering aspects, [it] would not be economically justifiable" to build.

Scope and Content: Researchers will find clear maps and photographs of the proposed canal area, and engineering studies of water flow, created in the mid-1930's. Archival files of the railroad companies' opposition to the canal, including internal correspondence between the railroad companies and attorneys representing their interests. Some materials in the file were produced by proponents of the canal. Variant items include a few documents regarding proposed construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and iron ore mining in Venezuela.

Arrangement: The collection is arranged into the following series.

  1. Testimonies before Congress and U.S. Board of Engineers
  2. File assembled by C.M. Yohe, Vice President of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company
  3. Blueprints and maps
  4. Newspaper clippings
  5. File assembled by E.G. Brisbin, Chief Engineer, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company
  6. Pamphlets in opposition to the canal
  7. Photographs

Acquisitions Information: Provenance of this collection is unknown. It was purchased by Kent State University's Dept. of Special Collections & Archives from Schoyer's Books, ABAA, Berkely, California, on August 6, 2002.

Series 1 -- Testimonies Before Congress and U.S. Board of Engineers

  1. Erie Railroad Co. et al. Statement and Brief --hearing before U.S. Board of Engineers, January 12, 1932
  2. Brent, Theodore. Brief in Argument of Data presented at Hearing Relative to Canal, Washington D.C., 1936
  3. Heard, John J. Brief of Ohio Valley Association, with detailed analysis, 1936
  4. Rock, Shermon T. Statement on Advisability. . . , Assistant Counsel to Ohio Valley Association, 1949

Series 2 -- File of C.M. Yohe, Vice President of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie R.R. Co., 1946-1950

  1. "Engineering and Economic Facts" prepared by engineering committee of nine different railroads.
  2. Copy of Forsberg, R.P. (engineer representing the Upper Ohio Valley Association), testimony before Congress.
  3. Brief Study of the Illinois Waterway from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan-- relation to proposed canal, 1946
  4. Kern, Roy S. Statement before the H.R. Committtee on Rivers and Harbors, 1941
  5. Canal Board of Pennsylvania, position paper on the canal project, ca. 1940
  6. Correspondence regarding St. Lawrence Seaway and iron ore mining in Venezuela
    between Attorney John J. Heard and Gen. R.G. Breene, ca. 1950
  7. The Yohe file proper (estimates, correspondence, testimony and briefs).

Series 3 -- Blueprints and Maps

  1. Randolph-Perkins Co., Chicago consulting engineers for Lake Erie and Ohio River Canal Board, tables, maps, 1932
  2. Large map of proposed canal, by consulting engineers, 1933-1934.
  3. Engineering and Economic Analysis prepared for The Upper Ohio Valley Assoc., maps, exhibits, 1936, 1937
  4. Complete Report on Canal Economic Aspects, 6 tables, 3 folding maps, plus text, Ohio Valley Assoc., undated

Series 4 -- Newspaper Clippings

  1. Youngstown Vindicator, 1947-48 photostats of articles relevant to proposed canal

Series 5 -- File of E.G. Brisbin, Chief Engineer, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie R.R. Co., 1947-1958

  1. Updated railroad companies' cost estimates for railroad bridges over proposed canal and related road work, 1958
  2. Correspondence regarding the updated estimates (the estimates are changes to reports dated 1947)

Series 6 -- Pamphlets In Opposition to the Proposed Canal and Other Projects

  1. "The Taxpayers' Case Against Youngstown's Beaver-Mahoning Dead-End Canal," Pittsburgh, 1944
  2. "In Opposition to the Proposed Canalization of the Big Sandy River and Its Forks," 1945

Series 7 -- Photographs

  1. Thirty photographs showing conditions along route of proposed canal from Rochester, PA to Struthers, OH, 1939
  2. Nine aerial photographs and photos of artist's sketches taken in 1939 of proposed canal area.
  3. Photographs (147 photos) taken through Grand River Reservoir District from Farmington, OH to Lake Erie, 1945
  4. Photographs of cemeteries located in Ashtabula and Trumbull Counties, Ohio, in canal pathway, (25 photos)
  5. Report on Stream Flow in the Grand River at Harpersfield and Painesville, Ohio, with 25 photos, 1945