The Hocking Canal was a small 19th Century canal in southern Ohio that once linked Athens to Lancaster and the Ohio and Erie Canal. It was destroyed by flooding and never rebuilt. It paralleled the Hocking River.

In 1829, southern Ohio private investors interesting to getting salt and other products to the marketplace faster decided to construct a branch canal from the Ohio and Erie Canal at Carroll, Ohio southward towards Lancaster. The Ohio Canal, running from Cleveland to Portsmouth, was the main canal, with several "tributaries" extending from it. One of the tributaries built was the Hocking Canal, connecting Athens with the Ohio Canal at Carroll, just north of Lancaster. Excavation on the "Lancaster lateral" began in 1831. This portion of the Canal was completed September 4, 1838. In the same year the Lancaster Lateral was purchased by the state. Ohio subsequently contracted to extend the canal from Lancaster to Logan, Nelsonville, Chauncey and Athens, fifty-three miles from Carroll. The 56-mile canal was completed in 1843, although much of it was officially opened two years earlier.

Salt, coal, pork products, wool and lumber were shipped out, and furniture and iron products were brought into Athens and Hocking counties via the canal. It had 26 locks, 7 culverts, and an aqueduct crossing Monday Creek south of Nelsonville. Operation of the canal never proved profitable, least of all the 15-mile stretch between Nelsonville and Athens, where a number of salt works were located. Seasonal traffic was the main problem with the canal system, as it had to be shut down in the winter when the canal froze. The owners became frustrated and the realization began to set in that this new transportation was too slow. After all, there was a speed limit of four miles per hour, and this was imposed to keep the wake created by the barges from eroding the sides of the canal!

During the American Civil War's famed Morgan's Raid, Confederate cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan paused in Nelsonville and burned ten wooden canal boats. However, they failed to destroy a covered bridge over the Hocking Canal when citizens rushed to extinguish the blaze after the raiders rode off. This allowed Union cavalry to continue their pursuit of the fleeing Confederates.

On January 20, 1869, regular passenger and freight trains were instituted between Columbus and Lancaster. The first freight train from Nelsonville arrived at Columbus, August 17th of the same year. This train, filled with coal, came from the mines of Brooks and Houston and consisted of twenty-two cars of twelve tons each. It had a small cannon aboard, the discharge of which gave notice of the approach of the train at various points along the line. The first passenger train was operated between Columbus and Athens on July 25, 1870. The Straitsville Branch was opened for traffic on January 2, 1871. At this time, mines on the line had been opened to the extent that there was a daily production of 250 cars, (twelve tons each) or 3,000 tons of coal. The Columbus & Hocking Valley Railroad Company proved a gold mine from the very beginning not only to the original investors, but for Columbus as well. The property was such a paying investment, that a move was soon started to extend the line to Toledo! Accordingly, the Columbus & Toledo Railway was incorporated in 1872, and was financed largely from local subscriptions along the line. Construction was finished and the road was opened in January 1877.

The remnants of Hocking Canal Lock 19 are located on U.S. 33 just above Nelsonville, Ohio.

Repeated flooding, especially in the late 1800s, severely damaged portions of the canal, and the railroad became the favored mode of transportation. In 1890, the canal was closed. Today, remnants of the canal basin are visible in places from a modern bikeway built on the old towpath. The former Lock 19 is preserved as a park. Other remnants include dams, aqueducts, and other locks. However, the last remnants of the Hocking Canal in the city of Athens were bulldozed in 1983 to make way for a housing development.

A map of the Ohio and Erie Canal , including the Hocking Canal.

Portions from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia — Photos by Sandie Cummins

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