The Wabash and Erie Canal
Rooster and I went for a Saturday motorcycle ride with friends. Our adventure took us to Delphi and the Wabash and Erie Canal.
At first, I was hesitant to write a blog about our stop a Canal Park during our Saturday morning motorcycle ride because I didn’t feel like I could do it justice. The park was still closed due to Covid-19. Furthermore, our group didn’t spend much time at Canal Park because of the heat. However, we did get an idea of the potential this replication of a pioneer village along the Wabash and Erie Canal held for telling a story about a piece of Indiana’s history.
A brief history of the Wabash and Erie Canal
The state of Indiana received a grant from the Federal government to build the canal in 1858. Farmers needed a fast way to transport their crops from their fields to distant markets. The channels could also be used to transport people. The system was a series of four canals: the Miami & Erie, the Wabash & Erie, the Central Canal, and the Cross Cut Canal. These four systems commonly became known as the Wabash & Erie Canal. The canal system was 460 miles long and spanned from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River.
Canal boats called Packets flowed down these human-made waterways. Construction was done by Irish and German immigrants, who provided cheap labor. The packets would be pulled down the canal by three horses, oxen, or a combination of the animals. Passengers often complained of the heat, mosquitoes, and the close proximity of other passengers.
Toll booths were set up along the waterway. The fee could be paid with money or product. Once the packet reached the Ohio River, the freight and passengers were unloaded and placed on a steamboat or barge to be taken to the Mississippi River and then the Gulf of Mexico.
Abraham Lincoln followed a similar route down the Ohio River to the Mississippi when he was a teenager and floated a flatboat to New Orleans. Denton Offutt sent the future President and two other young men down to the Cresent City with a cargo of merchandise. Lincoln’s first exposure to slavery occurred on this trip south. Travel by river and canal was the major way to transport crops and merchandise in the 1800s until the railroads made this mode of travel obsolete.
Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center
Canal Park is the home of the Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center. I’ve lived in Indiana most of my life and never knew Delphi had such a wonderful place to explore history. Indeed, this park offers kids of all ages a chance to relive the history of a canal town in the 1800s.
A guided tour of the Federal architecture of the Reed House sounds like the perfect way to step into history. The home was built in 1844 and is furnished with period furniture. However, if you go in for a more rustic living arrangement, you could spend time at the Fouts log cabin built-in 1839.
Moreover, you can stroll the streets and watch artisans go about their business. This village includes a Blacksmith shop, a papermaker shop, and a cooper. Buckets, chains, and cooking pots were made at the coopers. There is also a Loom house and a summer kitchen included in the life of this community. Under normal circumstances, people would occupy these shops and demonstrate to visitors in the park how products were made in the 1800s
Other interesting things at the Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center
The village replica of how life was lived in the past also includes a schoolhouse, a toll booth, a chicken coop, and no community would be complete without an outhouse. The Kuns family cabin is nearby in the pioneer village as well as the Bowen cabin. This tiny community also has a bank barn, which style of construction had its origins in Europe and is built on the side of a hill.
Canal Park also offers other amenities such as camping and boat tours, which is a 40-minute floating trip down the canal on a replica of a canal boat. A guide will share interesting stories about the adventures of everyday life on the Wabash and Erie Canal.
Unfortunately, the boat tours and interactive reenactments have been canceled this year due to Covid-19. Additionally, Canal Park is also a favorite spot for weddings in the Delphi area. Couples now have to scramble to find another location to hold the ceremony.
Our Experience at the Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center
Our short ride from Oakdale Dam to Delphi brought us to the entrance of Canal Park. I believe Lynn’s daughter, Jackie, made the suggestion we stop at Pioneer Village before we rode home. I’m glad she did. As soon as I climbed off the motorcycle, I felt like I’d took a step back in history. Log Cabins sat in a tidy row, waiting for someone to come for a visit. The blacksmith and cooper have closed as well as the papermaker. The carpenter’s shop was silent right along with the basket maker. No children played in the schoolyard. Even the outhouse was empty.
The unpaved streets of the pioneer village created an empty, ghostly feeling because of the absence of people due to COVID-19. Someone even went to the trouble to plant a garden beside a log cabin, in the expectation they might operate as normal before the end of the summer season. I couldn’t help feeling a little sad as I walked across the bridge and studied the canal. I could see in my mind all the fun visitors would experience exploring this place, but The Interpretive Center was essentially closed. The adventure of floating down the canal aboard a packet sounded like a lot of fun, yet there would be no opportunity for us to enjoy this unique experience this year.
We spent about an hour strolling through the Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center. Our visit lacked the flavor of what Canal Park has to offer when the operation is in full swing. Rooster and I will make a return trip in the future. They have a festival every year at the Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center to celebrate the pioneer past and the building of the canal. Maybe Rooster and I will return and spend the day.
One of the big reasons I love to write this blog is it forces my husband and me to look at the place where we live with a new pair of eyes. There are so many places in Indiana we’ve never visited and so many festivals we’ve never experienced. The Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center is one of those elusive treasures. Adventuring is difficult amid the reality of COVID-19. Rooster and I remain committed to exploration. We left Canal Park, but we still had one more stop to make before we headed home for the evening. Adams Mill waited up the road. The gristmill and covered bridge would be our final stop on this wonderful Saturday ride. We said goodbye to Canal Park with a promise we’d make a return visit.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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