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Discovering the Delphi Indiana Canal
The Canal: For History, Biking, and Hiking
Prior to the late 1800's, many inland areas of the United States relied on canals for affordable transportation. The Wabash & Erie Canal was the longest canal in the country upon it's completion. It didn't last long, but it was a major effort and was successful in it's time.
Today, portions of preserved or restored canals provide a good history lesson and, in some cases offer some interesting trails for hikers and bicyclers. The Delphi Indiana canal is actually a portion of the Wabash & Erie Canal and it gives visitors a firsthand look at an important part of American history. Learn more about it here.
A Bit of History
Indiana is a land locked state. The Great Lakes border the state to the north and the Ohio River makes up it's southern border. At the dawn of the 1800's, transporting goods to the towns and cities throughout Indiana was accomplished over land; a slow and expensive venture.
However, the state began efforts to raise money to build a canal system that would provide more affordable transportation for goods and people. The Wabash & Erie Canal ran from Evansville at the southwestern end of the state, to Fort Wayne at the northeastern end, and then on to connect with Lake Erie in Toledo Ohio.
It was a major accomplishment at the time. It's total length was 468 miles and it included numerous locks, dams, and aqueducts. Irish immigrants made up much of the workforce that built the canal with picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and horse and mule drawn slip scoops from 1832 to 1853. Several hundred workers died from ailments such as cholera, snake bite, and work related accidents. This article provides more detail on the construction and connections of the canal.
Although it was quite successful at the time, the canal was out of business by the early 1870's. This was due to the high cost of maintenance and the completion of the railroad which surpassed it in it's effort to provide the fastest and most affordable transportation.
Various locations around the state today commemorate the Wabash & Erie Canal. A one mile watered portion of the canal lies in Delphi Indiana. Trails allow visitors to hike or bike along their course and around the surrounding area. In fact, there are approximately 10 miles of trails in the Delphi area which follow the towpath and related routes.
The Wabash & Erie Canal in Delphi
Visitors interested in the history of the Wabash & Erie canal or of an 1800's town can learn a great deal with a visit to the Wabash and Erie Canal Conference & Interpretive Center. It hosts a large number of exhibits that give a detailed history of the canal, it's construction and operation, as well as a taste of life in Delphi during this time period. At one time Delphi had been home to paper mills, limestone quarries, tanneries, wagon works, furniture factories, a flax mill, and more.
A small historic villiage is located on this same campus complete with a blacksmith shop, cabins, schoolhouse, and other structures for visitors to experience. There is also a 2/3 scale canal boat which visitors can board to ride along a portion of the canal in the Delphi area. Hours of operation are limited but there is no charge for any of these attractions. You can learn more about hours of operation at the official site.
The town of Delphi, located in central Indiana has focused efforts on commemorating the history of the canal and put resources into developing a trail system which follows the history of the area. The trails are open to both hikers and bicycles. Most provide a wide crushed limestone bed although some are paved. The terrain is primarily flat and easy to traverse with very light traffic.
Much of the trail system follows the towpath alongside the canal; this inlcudes the VanScoy Towpath Trail (1 mile) which takes hikers to the junction of the Wabash River and the Canal, the Underhill Towpath Trail (.9 mile) which takes off from the Interpretive Cener, and the Founders Towpath Trail (.5 miles)
There are also the Robbins trail along Deer Creek (.5 miles), the Ober Millrace Trail (.6 mile), the Draper North End Trail (.5 mile), and a couple of trails that follow old rail lines: the Belt Railroad Trail (.3 mile) and the Interurban Trail (.8 mile). The Riley City Trail (1.5 mile), the downtown loop trail (.9 mile), and the Happy Jack Loop (.5 mile) connect the trails together.
Parts of the canal are maintained and wide enough for a canal boat but hikers will also view portions that have narrowed and are a bit overgrown and algae covered, see a photo to the right. Trails pass the old campsite, an old kiln, and other sites of interest.
Additional trails in the area include the Campbell Ridge Trail a one mile loop trail and the Monon High Bridge trail (1.5 mile) which takes hikers to an abandoned rail bridge.