The Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal

There is little evidence that it ever came through here, but Youngstown owes a great deal to the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal, for without that canal, there is no question that this city would not have developed into a major steel producing center. Youngstown was land locked,and had no way to move products in and out of the area other than by horse and wagon. The railroads had not yet come into the area.

As canals go, it was small, but for the towns along its route, it was mighty important. It was their lifeline to the east and the Great Lakes, allowing goods to be brought in large quantities The canal was the key to growth, allowing products to reach an expanding market. For Youngstown, the canal set the stage for the city’s rapid spirit of growth that would make it the most important community in the Western Reserve.

Make no mistake about it the P&O Canal – it was no fly by night ditch full of water. While it was no Panama Canal, it was large enough to transport both freight and passengers and service Youngstown’s infant iron and steel industry. It connected the Youngstown and New Castle areas to a north - south canal that allowed freight and passengers a non-stop water route between New Castle, Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio River before the coming of the railroads.

The charter for the Pennsylvania-Ohio Canal was granted in 1827, but the company that would build and operate it was not organized until 1838. Within a few short hours after its stock was put up for sale, $1 million in capital was raised.

THE PANIC OF 1836 - 1837

The economic panic of 1836 - 1837 prevented its actual construction until 1838. it should be noted that most of the funds raised for the canal’s construction came from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for the portion of the canal that ran from New Castle to Youngstown. Monied people from Ohio raised the funds to construct the second leg, from Youngstown to Akron.

Once the money was in place, work crews were hired and the work of building the canal was begun. By May 23, 1839, the first packet boat, the Ontario, captained by a man named Bronson, arrived at Warren. For the next fourteen years the canal would be Youngstown’s most important means of transportation.

Since it was not a year around canal, it had to be drained each year before winter set in, and refilled the next spring by releasing water from the river into the canal.


Within the city limits of Youngstown, there were three basins where the canal boats were turned around, or held while a boat going in the opposite direction passed, and two locks, the first at Center Street, and the second near Salt Springs Road on the city’s West Side.

A loading area was located at each of the three basins, and two warehouses were established in the area of Basin Street.

Travel on the canal was a slow process as the boats were powered by horses that were led along a path that ran beside the canal, but when compared to other means of transportation at the time, it was faster, as the riders could sleep on board the boats, allowing them to keep moving through the night, but along the path of the canal, inns did spring up as well as taverns where passengers could stay over night and catch the next boat. It was estimated that it took a rider 18 hours to go from Beaver to Akron.

It must be pointed out that the boats were large enough to be quite comfortable for the passengers, the boats being 60 feet long and 10 feet wide, and were equipped with cabins, a kitchen, dining room and salon, and capable of carrying 60 passengers and 15 tons of freight. The freight packets did not have facilities for passengers as all it’s space was dedicated to freight which was carried on the boats deck.

The following chart will give the reader an idea of just how important the canal was to Youngstown.










1851.................... -----


1853.................... 174


By today’s standards, these figures are small indeed, but when you transport yourself back in time to the era under consideration, the figures are large indeed.



1844.......... **









1853.......... 3


By 1851, rail travel began to eat into canal travel which explains the decline in PASSAGE travel by canal boat. The canal’s freight service lasted longer due to the fact that early railroads didn’t operate trains large enough to take all the business away from the canal. The cars were smaller, and the length of each train was smaller than they would later be when we would see 80 and 90 cars being pulled by double engines.

One other point must be made here. Today we can see one tug pull three and four barges behind it, but back then, the barges were pulled by horse, and a team could draw only one barge. This meant that the canal in it’s heyday was busy indeed.


A typical year for freight handling on the canal moving out of Youngstown was:


Freight Received At Youngstown

Merchandise..........894,028 lbs.

Salt.........................2, 917 lbs.


Shipped From Youngstown

Wheat 22,221 bushels

Wool 76,030 lbs.

Flour 5,030 BBLS.

Potash 246,682 lbs.

Pork 962 BBLS.

Bacon 22,000 lbs.

Beef 91 BBLS.

Lard 42,143 lbs.

Linseed Oil 59 BBLS.

Butter 233,344 lbs.

Whiskey 140 BBLS.

Cheese 202,806 lbs.

Sundries 407,486 lbs.


Wheat 22,221 bushels

Wool 76,030 lbs.

Flour 5,030 BBLS.

Potash 246,682 lbs.

Pork 962 BBLS.

Bacon 22,000 lbs.

Beef 91 BBLS.

Lard 42,143 lbs.

Linseed Oil 59 BBLS.

Butter 233,344 lbs.

Whiskey 140 BBLS.

Cheese 202,806 lbs.

Sundries 407,486 lbs.

[Source: The Olive Branch, January 24, 1845 covering the 1844 shipping season.]

To further detail the importance of the canal, we might consider the shipping record for 1841 from Youngstown to Akron.

The canal branch from New Castle to Youngstown went east-west, while the canal at Akron went north-south from Cleveland to the Ohio River.


Flour 38,137 BBLS.

Iron Ore 611,857 lbs.

Mineral Coal 99,021 Bushels

Stone Ware 42,199 lbs.

Extra baggage 11,122 lbs.

Furniture 25,222 lbs.

Iron, nails and glass 3,027,514 lbs.

Merchandise 886,412 lbs.

Dried fruit 20,460 lbs

Passengers 1199

Miles conveyed 57118

Machinery 507,679 lbs

Wheat 30,141 Bushels

Pig Iron 82,520 lbs

Paper 15,829 lbs.

Butter 189,023 lbs.

Cheese 275,636 lbs.

Castings 25,662 lbs.

Lumber 57,913 lbs.

Stoves 24,347 lbs.

Potash 12,000 lbs.


Merchandise 507,679 lbs.

Gypsum 557,139 lbs.

Wheat 29,172 lbs.

Lake fish 667 BBLS.

Salt 7,703 BBLS.

Whiskey 226 BBLS.

Extra baggage 43,072 lbs.

Furniture 47,072 lbs.

Iron and nails 19,702 lbs.

Castings 24,054 lbs.

Pot and Pearl Ash 113,769 lbs.

Agricultural implement 4,644 lbs.

Tools 5,873 lbs.

Patent Ware 57,013 lbs.

Shingles 194,000 lbs.

Machinery 1,395 lbs.

Pig Iron 145,447 lbs.

During the canal’s heyday, as many as 50 boats a day would come through Youngstown, and as it was a toll canal, the boats had private owners much the same as the boats that ply the Ohio River today.

It was also during the canal’s useful lifetime that Youngstown experienced its first major growth spirt, and in 1872, the canal finally gave way to the railroads, leaving it a recreational canal until it was finally filled in.

In later years, a new effort would be made to built a canal that would connect the Ohio River to Lake Erie, but shortsightedness would prevent it’s construction.

The Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal is shown in the 1875 Panoramic Map of Youngstown.

[Webmaster's NOTE: check the Maps section here on the site]