The Milan Canal - Milan, Ohio


Page One - From Settlement to Construction of the Canal

On January 2, 1817, Ebenezer Merry bought a 453 acre plot of land directly beside the Huron River. He built a dam. a grist mill and a sawmill. He also laid out a new town dividing it into 1 acre lots into what was to become the Village of Milan, Ohio. Merry's grist mill proved to be a catalyst for the new town and by 1824, a total of 280 people were living in Milan which had 32 homes  (two of them brick and one home still standing to this day) along with over twenty businesses of various types serving the new community.

One of the families that moved into the Milan area during the early period was the Abbott family and they located beside the Huron River, about three miles north of Milan in an area that was once known as "New Salem" and later came to be known as Abbott's Landing.  Benjamin Abbott was a shipbuilder and he believed that a sailing ship could navigate the Huron River from Abbott's Landing to Lake Erie and in 1828 he built a small lake schooner called the "Mary Abbott" and navigated it from Abbott's Landing  to Lake Erie and from there sailed it to New York City where he sold the good he was carrying, restocked the ship and sailed it back to the landing. At about the same time, H. N. Jenkins built the schooner "Louise Jenkins" at Lockwood's Landing which was located just below and across the river to Abbott's Shipyard and it also was successfully moved down the Huron River to the lake. Local records indicate that river barges had been built on the Huron River as early as 1811, but the successful launch's of the schooner's "Mary Abbott" and the "Louise Jenkins" firmly established the specific area from which the river was passable for larger lake schooners and not just smaller river barges. This was significant because schooners were able to transport large cargos of goods throughout the Great Lakes.


Photo of the Entrance of the Milan Canal at the Huron RiverThis was also significant for another reason. Four years prior to this in 1824, a group of investors from Milan and Huron had issued a contract for a feasibility study to determine if it was financially viable to build a canal from the Huron River to Milan for transportation of wheat and other goods via river barges to Huron to be loaded onto lake schooners for travel to well paying ports. Prior to this time, the farms in North Central Ohio where not generating much income because the roads to the shipping markets in both Huron and Sandusky were wet, sandy and difficult to travel. At that time, Milan was larger in population than Sandusky and the roads to Milan were dry and the reasoning was that if the farmers could load their goods onto river barges to be taken to Huron to be put on lake schooners this would benefit both towns and all of the farmers in the area. However, once it was established that the Huron River was passable for lake schooners, the Milan part of the group decided to modify the plans to change from a barge canal to a ship's canal. This change of plans greatly delayed the construction of the canal because the Huron group, fearing they would be left out of the shipping business, withdrew their funding and the Milan group had to find new investors.

The Milan Canal Company had 117 people buy shares in the company to invest in the canal with the primary investors being  town founder Ebenezer Merry, George Lockwood, Ralph Lockwood, Daniel Hamilton and F.W.Fowler who also, as a group, comprised  the board of directors of the company. Finally, in 1832, a towpath was built from the entrance of  the Huron Harbor (along the east bank of the river) to Abbottsford (thought to be nest to the Huron River bridge on old Mason Road which was a little over 8 miles) and the next year - in October of 1833, the Milan Canal Company issued a contract for a 3 mile long canal and towpath which was to become known as the Milan Canal. .

The Construction of the Milan Canal

In order for the Milan Canal to come into existence several significant and expensive steps had to be taken. First, the course of the Huron River needed to be moved north of it's then location (shown in maps below where Merry's Mill Race was located) to allow for a boat basin to be constructed beside the town. The new Milan boat basin was originally specified to be approximately 15 foot deep, 1200 foot long by 300 foot wide (although most maps from that period show the length of the basin to be five or six times the width) and designed to accommodate up to twenty lake schooners at any one time in it's harbor. Along with moving the river from it's natural path, a covered bridge was built over the river and a new dam built to divert some of the river's water into the new basin and subsequently into the canal itself. A towpath had to be built from Milan (on the west side of the canal) to the entrance to the Huron River. Since the canal followed the natural landscape of the area, it should be noted that the canal moved to the east side of the towpath near Mason Road.   

The feasibility study showed that the water fall from Milan to the canal entrance of the river was approximately 8 foot so it was necessary to have several water locks on the canal. The lower lock was near the entrance to the canal (entrance shown in present day photo above) about 150' from the river entrance. The upper lock was about a mile from the basin near the end of Fisk Road. There were also a dry dock area beside the locks to accommodate repairs to the boats on the canal. Each lock was able to raise or lower the river water in the canal by about 3 1/2 foot providing a level water route to the boat basin.  Also, adding to the cost of the canal was that newer lake schooners were being built to carry ever larger loads of goods. The canal, which was originally specified to be able to accommodate river barges with 4' draughts, now had to accommodate new, larger lake schooners with much deeper draughts. We don't know the exact depth of the canal although various reports put it between 8' and 14 foot. The depth may have varied depending upon what area of the canal you were on but likely the average depth of the canal was in the 8 to 10 foot range with a maximum of 15" at the basin. Water locks also had to be modified to handle bigger ships. Considering the complexity and cost of building the Milan Canal, it's understandable that it took nine years from completion of the feasibility study to completion of the canal. It was originally estimated that it would cost a total of $ 5,800.00 to build the canal, however upon completion the Milan Canal actually cost $ 23, 392.00 an increase of  300% over the original estimate.

Huron River at Milan Ohio in 1830   Huron River & Boat Basin at Milan, Ohio in 1847

The Milan Canal - Page One - From Settlement to Construction of the Canal

The Milan Canal - Page Two - The Opening of the Canal

The Milan Canal - Page Three - The Story of the Idaho and Town Growth

The Engineering of the Milan Canal


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