Begun in 1835 and completed in 1840 the Pennsylvania & Ohio (P & O) canal extended from Akron across the Ravenna Summit, down the Cuyahoga and Mahoning Rivers to junction with the Beaver & Erie Canal just south of New Castle,PA. It was about 83 miles long. It was eventually abandoned and sold in 1877.
This canal system was also called "the Mahoning Canal" because for most of its length it traveled along the valley of the Mahoning River. And called "Cross Cut" because it crossed this part of Ohio to Pennsylvania from west to east.
It was privately financed due mostly because the State felt that they should not directly finance a canal that went into another State. It opened up distant markets to farmers and encouraged the development of the iron ore industry that was to be the backbone of development in the Mahoning Valley
James A Garfield, a future president of the United States worked on this canal during the summer of 1848 shipping copper ore, coal, salt and lumber between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Contracts were let for half mile sections August 20, 1835 and construction began September 17, 1835 when the two engineers, Dodge and Harris drove iron stakes into the exact center of the Portage Summit, 1 1/4 miles west of Ravenna.
On April 3, 1840 the "Mohawk" of Beaver and the "Tippecanoe" of Warren journeyed the full length of the canal. The canal officially opened on August 4, 1840 amidst much celebration.

Canal Route

The canal was 82 miles long, 73 1/2 in Ohio, requiring 54 locks and a lift of 424 feet. 50 of these locks were in Ohio. It required 2 aqueducts, 9 dams and 57 road bridges. Locks were the standard 15 feet X 90 feet but unlike most of the locks on the other Ohio canals were built from finished and dressed stone. A few were the normal "composite lock" of rough stone with plank lined chambers and only one was entirely wood. Several "feeder" canals supplied the P & O mainline. These were the Little Cuyahoga Feeder ( 1 1/4 miles), the Cuyahoga Feeder ( 7 miles) which was navigable and begun at a feeder dam in Shalersville, running south to connect with the P & O just west of Ravenna and requiring three locks and an aqueduct and the South Feeder ( 9 miles) which provided extra water to the summit level and was navigable for one mile to Muddy Lake and required one lock.
Akron. The west terminus was at the Lower Basin on the Ohio & Erie in south Akron. It stepped down one lock to cross the Little Cuyahoga and then ascended a "staircase" of nine locks.
Cuyahoga Falls. From here it ran along the south bank of the Big Cuyahoga through Monroe Falls and Franklin Mills.
It then entered the river itself through "Lower Lock" because the gorge at Kent was too steep. The river provided a slackwater of about a mile before the canal ascended out of the river at "Upper Lock" which had a 19 foot rise. The canal then followed the valley of Breakneck Creek crossing to its north bank.
Ravenna. Here the eastern division of the canal entered the valley of the East Branch of the Mahoning River running along the bank through Campbellsport and Newport crossing to the south bank just below McClintocksburg.
Newton Falls. Here the canal crossed the East Branch on a stone aqueduct with three 50 foot spans, reaching the valley of the Mahoning River it followed the south bank.
Warren. It crossed upon slackwater to the north bank of the river and traveled along through Niles, Girard, Youngstown, Campbell and Lowellville where it entered Pennsylvania still running along the north bank of the Mahoning River. It crossed the Shenango River on an aqueduct and joined the Beaver Division of the Beaver & Erie Canal at the "Western Reserve Basin" 7 miles south of New Castle, PA.


Several problems or obstacles had to be overcome in the construction of the canal. These however, were relatively few as the majority of the route was very favorable for the building of a canal. One especially difficult problem was the steep gorge on the Cuyahoga River at Franklin Mills. It was decided to deepen and widen the gorge at this point by blasting. The legendary Cuyahoga Rapids thought to be where Captain Samuel Brady leaped across the Cuyahoga to escape a group of angry Indians were sacrificed and destroyed for the progress of the canal.
Work on the canal was suspended in 1837 due partly to the "Panic of 1837", but also due to a Cholera epidemic which killed workers between April 30th and September 15th of the that same year. Construction resumed in 1838 with the western division and the branch to Middlebury finished in 1839.

Demise of the Canal

Due mostly to the development of the railroad and phenomenal growth of the industries in the Mahoning Valley large areas of the summit of the P & O and its canal property were largely abandoned in 1886. Most lands were purchased by the railroads and the industries. The last functioning section in Youngstown was abandoned in 1872. The canal was officially closed and all remaining property sold off in 1877.

Copyright 1997 Wendy J. Adkins