Downtown Massillon streets are currently closed from 3rd Street NE to 1st Street SW until further notice. FREE parking is available at city hall or parking garage on Erie St S.
Read more

Massillon History: Canal

The Ohio & Erie Canal

written by archives intern Hannah Sues

Photograph of the canal in Massillon, current day First Street Southwest. A canal warehouse can be seen in the center of the image, which is now home to Kozmo's Grille.

The canal system for all places in the United States in the early 1800s was a crucial and very important part in population growth, emerging cities, and booming industries. James Duncan was by far the most influential person during the canal system building and constructing. He had purchased land along the Tuscarawas River and also wanted the State Road straightened to bisect his property. Duncan had used water power from the Sippo Creek, and the location of the canal was very essential to Duncan’s financial success.

Once Duncan won approval to begin building the canal, officials signed contracts for 44 sections of the canal, a distance of 27 miles. Contractors employed over 500 men to help build this canal and “canal building enthusiasm lured men from all walks of life.” Portage Lakes summit fed Massillon a section of the canal, which fluctuated from 40 to 150 feet in width and from 4 to 12 feet deep, averaging roughly 50 feet through Massillon. There were many businesses along the banks of the canal, as well as over 100 locks to adjust the water levels to permit passages of certain boats that were either too big or too small.


July 4, 1825 was the groundbreaking for the canal in Massillon. Over 10,000 people attended to celebrate the major construction project. The canal project brought work and money to the town and also the surrounding rural areas. The contracts for the canal were signed on January 18, 1826 and the meeting was held by James Duncan himself. The canal was financed by state-aid of many donations from local communities, as well as land grants from the Federal Government. In total, $25,000 was set aside for this project.

(click the map for a larger view)

(click the map for a larger view)

Map of downtown Massillon showing early businesses and original waterways. Created by Archivist Mandy Altimus Stahl 2018

Copy of the original plat of Massillon, 1826. Courtesy Spring Hill Historic Home

The boats on the canal brought household goods, agricultural supplies, and equipment at half the previous cost as the standard of living soared at this time. By 1841, the population of the people in Massillon, due to the canal’s construction and success, grew past the population of the city of Canton, reaching approximately 1,650 people.

The number one important and most efficient crop to the people during this time was wheat. Many warehouses were constructed along the banks of the canal ready to store the fertile wheat in the region. Massillon boomed in wheat sales due to a cash-for-wheat policy, the only kind in this region. Due to this, Massillon earned the title of “The Wheat City.” During the peak of wheat-shipping season, the canal freighters brought a half million bushels of grain.

The newly opened Canal Lift Bridge on Main Street
(Lincoln Way West) in 1913 after it was damaged in the flood. Collection Massillon Museum

Canal boats lined up in a lock in southern Massillon, c. 1900. Collection of the Massillon Museum


There was an economic boom after the construction of the canal. Schools were quickly built, bigger properties were created, canal stores opened, produce markets flourished, steam mills erected, and warehouses grew. The growth in industry led to a population boom. Industrialization soon followed the building of the canal, bringing many new people and lots of new ideas for Massillon. Now we see a door opened for many new opportunities within the city, as well as jobs and growth in the canal industry. Without the canal system running through Massillon, the city may have never flourished the way that it did, and “the canals of Ohio transformed the State economically and gave the people an outlet for produce, products, and cash for employment” (Smith 33).

J. Watson Groceries and Wholesale, c.1850
Photograph by Abel Fletcher
Collection of the Massillon Museum

Watson's later became part of the Atwater-Wellman Warehouses (seen at right).  Historian Henry Howe visited Massillon in 1846 and described the city thus;

“It is very thriving and is one of the greatest wheat markets in Ohio. At times Main Street is almost completely blocked by immense wagons of wheat and the place has generally the bustling air of business.

Atwater-Wellman Warehouses along the Canal, c. 1900
Collection of the Massillon Museum

When the Ohio and Erie Canal opened in Massillon in 1828, farmers came from miles around to auction their wheat for the best prices.  The Atwater-Wellman Warehouse offered cash for wheat, giving farmers immediate payment for their goods, to later be sold up and down the canal. This earned Massillon the nickname The Wheat City.


Because the construction of the canal was so important economically and industrially, Massillon grew more rapidly than any other commercial point on the waters in Ohio. The canal system was the most efficient and popular way to travel and disperse goods and products to the people. In the 1850s, the development of the railway system doomed the canal and it slowly faded away. In the early 1900s, Massillon was struck by disastrous flooding. The two worst were in 1913 and in 1935. It was decided to fill the canal in the 1930s.

For more information contact Archivist Mandy Altimus Stahl over the phone: 330-833-4061, or via email.

Canal photographs from the archives:


Ohio & Canal views in Massillon, Ohio

Ohio and Erie Canal

City Archives: Canal Improvements

City of Massillon: Canal improvements 1930s

City Archives: Paving Photographs

City of Massillon: Paving Projects 1920s-1940s

City Archives: Sewer Improvements

City of Massillon: Sewer Improvements Album



  • news
  • mailing list
  • volunteering
  • membership
  • calendar
  • shop