In June 1859, residents of Tuscarawas County living close to the banks of the Ohio & Erie Canal were treated to a novel sight — a steam-powered canal boat traveling through the area.
The Enterprise, as the boat was called, was the first steam-powered craft to ever traverse the waterway.
"Along the canal, this new species of boat attracted no little attention, many collecting to see it, as news of its approach preceded it by several days," the Dresden Intelligencer reported on June 30.
The Enterprise, under the command of Capt. William Dueul of Franklin Mills (now Kent), left Cleveland on June 18 carrying 50 tons of iron ore, bound for Zanesville.
It did not reach Dresden in Muskingum County until June 27. The day before it arrived there, it traveled 30 miles on the canal through Tuscarawas and Coshocton counties and on June 27 it traveled 16 miles from Roscoe to Dresden.
The Enterprise did not travel at night, so it was obviously moored somewhere in southern Tuscarawas County on the evening of June 26.
The reason the Enterprise did not travel more quickly was because of long grass growing in the canal, which would tangle in the paddle wheels at the stern which provided propulsion for the craft.
"The boat was provided with knives fixed upon the bottom in such a manner as to cut the grass, but still this does not remove the impediments, proceeding from this source," the Dresden paper said.
"We should think this is the greatest obstacle in the way of steam upon canals, and this is not so serious that it is not likely to be partially or wholly obviated, or at least sufficiently so as to render this mode of canalling of sufficient advantage over the former to enable it to supercede it, at some time if not immediately."
At Dresden, the Enterprise entered the Muskingum River, where the boat "made a very handsome speed" of 5 mph or 6 mph.
After unloading its cargo in Zanesville, the Enterprise took a load of coal to the oil works of Brooks & Graves in Walhonding in Coshocton County.
The 60-ton Enterprise was built in the spring of 1859 at a boatyard in Peninsula in Summit County. The majority of the steam-powered boats that traveled on the Ohio & Erie Canal were built in Peninsula.
"Enterprise was equipped with an engine made in Cuyahoga Falls and both engine and driving mechanism were installed previous to launching," Fred W. Bishop wrote in an article published in 1948 about Peninsula boatyards. "It was later found better practice to build in such heavy equipment after the boat was placed in the water."
Following its completion, Dueul took it on several trial runs, including excursion trips on the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal in the Kent area during Kent’s July 4 celebration.
"This undertaking is one which should engage the attention of all who are interested in the business of Canal transportation," the Akron Beacon newspaper wrote at the time. The state Board of Public Works was watching Dueul’s undertaking with reasonable expectations that it would be a success.
Dueul’s boat traveled much of the state.
On Aug. 23, the Enterprise arrived in Columbus, carrying 1,790 bushels of slack coal. Thousands of people gathered on the banks of the canal to greet it. As it passed through canal locks, people would jump on board so they could say they rode on the first steamboat that ever arrived in the state capital.
Later, the boat gave rides on the Scioto River past the state penitentiary for 10 cents a head.
It’s unclear how long the Enterprise traveled the canals and rivers of Ohio, but it is recorded that it did arrive in Cleveland in 1861 with a load of flour from Chillicothe.
The Canal Society of Ohio assisted with the research for this story.
Jon Baker is a reporter for The Times-Reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.