Sunday, September 19, 1999

Marker honors canals' roles


Before railroads, waterways were key

BY RACHEL MELCER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST HARRISON, Ind. — Swept up in a fever not seen here since the mid-1800s, local historians raised a new marker Saturday to commemorate the Whitewater and Cincinnati-Whitewater canals.

        The state-issued plaque was raised where the canals once met the Whitewater River off Lawrenceburg Road in this Indiana-Ohio border town. The canals, completed in 1839 and abandoned a decade later, for a brief time opened the region to agriculture and commerce.

        “They were very important because they helped the farmers out in the county get their produce to market easier than driving their cattle and their pigs into Cincinnati,” said Frances Egner of York Township, past president and current genealogist of the Dearborn County Historical Society.

        The canals were overtaken by floods that did costly and, ultimately, fatal damage. And they were replaced by the railroads that were built to support the Civil War.

        Yet they played an important role in regional history — one that is being honored by members of the historical society along with the Canal Society of Indiana.

        One-third of the cost of the $1,450 marker was split between the groups. The balance was paid by the state.

        A handful of supporters, including canal society board member Chuck Whiting of Miller Township in Dearborn County, dressed in mid-1800s costumes to celebrate the marker's installation.

        “I've never done this before,” said Mr. Whiting, who borrowed a steamboat captain's outfit from the Cincinnati Historical Society, where he is a volunteer.

        He coordinated the event with members of the West Harrison VFW Post. “It's a happy event. And perhaps it will get more interest in the old canal,” Mr. Whiting said. “Once you dig into them, I find it quite interesting what you find out. Some people are nuts about railroads, and the canals came before then. Really, the canals opened up states like Ohio and Indiana.”

       



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