ASHVILLE — In celebration of the new Ohio and Erie Canal Southern Descent Heritage Trail, park district and heritage trail members were given special access to Lock 31 on the former Ohio and Erie Canal, near Ashville, for a special tour.
The lock currently sits on private property, owned by Terry Reed, and the Pickaway County Parks District was given special access for the event on Saturday. The canal was built in a multi-step process starting in 1825 and was used up until 1913 when a flood damaged the canal and it was deemed cost infective to repair.
The Southern Descent starts at Buckeye Lake, heading south to the Ohio River, passing through Pickaway County, including places near Ashville, South Bloomfield and Circleville.
Cathy Nelson, Ohio and Erie Canal Southern Descent Heritage Trail Project Director, said she and others started working on getting the various remaining locks put on the National Registry of Historic Places in an effort to help preserve these pieces of Ohio History in 2018. She shared her reasoning why she felt these locks should be preserved.
“I consider this the most amazing engineering feat of all time in this state,” she said.
“It brought progress and prosperity to countless people who live along the canal.”
Nelson, who had previously visited the lock, said she was enamored with the lock and she felt like she was in a “medieval ruin.”
“All the locks are different and were made by different stone masons,” she said. “To have a lock this tall is absolutely amazing. In time, we hope the [Pickaway County] Park District will go for a grant and can work with [Reed] to get it in their hand. Today has been a wonderful day to walk through and see this lock.”
Jane Shaw, member of the Pickaway County Historical Society, gave a brief history of the lock and the Ohio and Erie Canal. She said the lock was rediscovered by a group of men a number of years ago who walked the length of the canal. The lock near Ashville is seven miles from the lock at Lockbourne and eight miles from the site of the lock in Circleville.
“The lock is on private land and Terry Reid grew up on this land and back in the day, they used to let the boy scouts come in,” she said.
Shaw said one of the neat features of the lock was a towpath bridge since the animals that pulled the canal boats didn’t get in the water.
Arista Hartzler, deputy director for the Pickaway County Park District, said they hope to one day purchase the land and restore the lock and give public access to see the piece of Pickaway County history. The lock was put on the National Historic Registry in 2019.
“We’d love to take the trees out and restore this lock to its original glory,” she said.