Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Distinctive Museums 4: The Canal House

Serendipity reigned when our tour to the Canal House Museum in Middletown, Ohio, coincided with a visit by Lawrence McMonigle, who built the Canal House several years ago. What a privilege to have met Lawrence and members of his family! Sponsored by the Middletown Historical Society, the museum archives a large number of items, many of which were collected by historian George C. Crout.

Lawrence McMonigle, Who Built the Canal House in Middletown, Ohio

Ostensibly, the museum features life on the Miami and Erie Canal, which extended for nearly three hundred miles from Cincinnati to Toledo, Ohio. Built from 1825 through 1845, the canal provided transportation of freight and passengers between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. By means of a system of over a hundred locks, the canal climbed five hundred feet above the level of the Ohio River to reach the Loramie Summit near Piqua. Mules, as well as horses and the occasional ox, walked along a towpath on the bank while pulling boats on the water. Use of the canal gradually diminished through the latter part of the nineteenth century. The tremendous flood of 1913 damaged the canal so severely as to cause its abandonment. Today, small sections along its path are preserved for tourists.

The Canal House Museum

Visitors to the Canal House Museum might make the mistake I made in thinking that a channel behind the building was part of the Miami and Erie Canal. Actually, the waterway hugging the embankment on which the museum stands was part of the city’s hydraulic system, which powered the wheels of industry long ago. While not as extensive as that of Hamilton (the county seat to the south of Middletown), the hydraulic network of Middletown functioned similarly by siphoning water from the river, running it through a fast channel to spin wheels and shafts within factories, and returning it to the river.

The Middletown (Ohio) Historical Society Sign

The museum’s collection features illustrations depicting the canal across a broad span of years. The walls of the Canal House upstairs and down are filled with pictures of all sorts. I was delighted to find several works of art by Miami Valley artist Herbert Fall (1891–1974) on display. Fall studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the Art Academy in Cincinnati. For many years, he served as a medical illustrator, but, arguably, he is best known for his countless illustrations of life in Butler and Warren Counties, many of which inspire daydreams of yesteryear.

Painting of Canal Boat in George Crout Collection

Anyone whose childhood was spent in Middletown will discover within the Canal House numerous items evoking nostalgic memories. It might truthfully be said that there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Art by Herbert Fall in Canal House Museum


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