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Building the St. Helena II

Rebirth of a Nineteenth-Century Canal Boat

Carroll Gantz

Publication Year: 2012

How a community built a replica canal boat and pioneered a national movementBuilding the St. Helena II tells the story of the 1970 reconstruction of an authentic, operational nineteenth-century canal boat. The narrative unfolds in the small village of Canal Fulton, Ohio, along the surviving one-mile section of the 333-mile Ohio & Erie Canal, which in the 1820s connected the new nation’s western frontier to the thriving coastal states. Canal Fulton was at the leading edge of a national environmental movement to reclaim, restore, and reuse historic U.S. canals for education and recreation.

Author Carroll Gantz describes how canals penetrated the wilderness and became the nation’s first interstate transportation system—transforming the Northeast and Midwest from an agrarian to an industrial society—and how the construction of the 4,700 mile network of man-made waterways attracted settlers inland. In Ohio, the canals transformed the state from a wild, western territory into a productive and prosperous business region. Canals were soon replaced by railroads, however, and by 1900 they had mostly been abandoned, built over, or destroyed by nature.

Gantz relates how the rest of Ohio and then the country joined the environmental and historical preservation movement, inspired by the innovative actions of Canal Fulton, to preserve its canal and build the country’s first modern replica of an 1825 canal boat. Dozens of replica canal boats were built, and over a thousand miles of land was reclaimed for the education and recreation of millions of Americans, from Massachusetts to Illinois. As a result, part of the national heritage once on the verge of being lost was instead reborn.

Complemented by scores of contemporary photographs, the historical origin of St. Helena II as well as her design, construction, launch, and use over her 18 years of operation is discussed in detail. Her final restoration as a permanent exhibit is also described, with full-color illustrations. St. Helena II’s tradition survives today in her worthy replacement, St. Helena III.

Canal buffs, historians, educators, engineers, sailors, and those interested in restoration will welcome this addition to canal literature.

“This work fills in an important piece that has been missing in the body of works on canal history—that is, information on the boats themselves, specifically their design and construction, and documentation of the design and construction of the first authentic, operating canal boat replica. The appeal is lasting in that this is a piece of canal history that adds to our knowledge of both the historic canal era and the more contemporary canal revival, for all time.”—Peg Bobel, coauthor of Canal Fever: The Ohio and Erie Canal from Canalway to Waterway (The Kent State University Press, 2009)

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

In Doctor Faustus, dramatist Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) described the beautiful Helen of Troy from Homer’s Iliad as “the face that launched a thousand ships.” It could be said that another lady, St. Helena II—a faithful replica of an actual nineteenth-century Ohio canal boat created in Canal Fulton, Stark County, Ohio, ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

I am indebted to all those who participated in the resurrection of the St. Helena canal boat and to some of them or their families who assisted me in writing this book. Among the latter are fellow volunteer John C. Harriman, son of Ed Harriman, for outstanding photos from the Edward W. Harriman Family Collection ...

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Chapter 1. American Canals

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pp. 1-12

After 1825, before railroads rendered them functionally superfluous, canals were the primary and most efficient interstate transportation system of the new United States for about thirty years. At their peak, there were 117 canals (53 major ones) in nineteen states (there were only twenty-four states in 1825), ...

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Chapter 2. Ohio Canals

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pp. 13-22

In 1817, just as the Erie Canal was begun, Ohio started planning a major enterprise that would result in a network of over 813 miles of canals and make it the third most prosperous state in the Union. From 1810 to 1820, the state’s population had doubled to half a million settlers, mostly clustered along the Ohio River Valley. ...

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Chapter 3. Decline and Survival

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pp. 23-31

Competition from railroads, loss of toll income, and the cost of maintenance ultimately made many canals unprofitable. Although faster steam-powered canal boats and “electric mules” (small electric locomotives) began replacing the slower four-legged mules, the wake caused by increased speed eroded canal banks and required more maintenance. ...

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Chapter 4. Stark County, Ohio

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pp. 32-42

The 1960s saw the assassination of national leaders, demonstrations against the Vietnam War, an antiestablishment youth culture, as well as the beginning of the space program. Civil rights, preservation of the environment, and women’s liberation became popular political causes. ...

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Chapter 5. Canal Fulton’s Boat

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pp. 43-59

The “exciting news” was finally announced in Al Simpson’s column of June 26, 1966. Work on a canal boat had finally begun in Pete Neidert’s farm equipment building in Canal Fulton. A few dedicated volunteers were laying out and cutting full-sized templates for a sixty-foot boat. ...

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Chapter 6. Construction Begins

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pp. 60-77

In June 1967, all that existed on the construction site was the main keel, about fifty-seven feet long, resting on a half dozen six-foot-high telephone pole segments. Bow and stern patterns had been completed but were now replaced, using the new plans. ...

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Chapter 7. The St. Helena II Is Born

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pp. 78-96

For several weeks, water leaked in and filled the bottom of the hull, causing some of us apprehension, but soon the planks swelled, and after an electric bilge pump emptied it, the hull became as tight as a drum, thanks to the expert caulking job. Temporary bracing was then removed from the hull. ...

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Chapter 8. Dedication

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pp. 97-109

Canal Fulton’s fifth annual Olde Canal Days Festival on July 10, 11, and 12, 1970, attracted ninety thousand people in fine weather. It was the village’s most gala festival to date, preceded by promotional articles in the Akron Beacon Journal (June 30), Cleveland Plain Dealer (July 1), the Barberton Herald (July 2), ...

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Chapter 9. Canal Boats USA

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pp. 110-121

During the 1950s and 1960s, several canal societies had promoted the history of canals and the preservation of canal artifacts such as locks and aqueducts in their geographic region: The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Association in Maryland (founded in 1954), the Canal Society of New York (founded in 1956), ...

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Chapter 10. Ohio & Erie Canalway

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pp. 122-132

When he dedicated the St. Helena II in 1970, Ohio state senator Ralph Regula said: “The success of this project stands as a challenge to all of us—to continue to preserve the heritage of our past and to challenge us to great goals in the future. Borrowing a phrase from one of Stark County’s well-known industries ...

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pp. 133-135

On a mostly sunny Saturday in Stark County, Ohio, on August 21, 2010, the City of Canal Fulton and the Canal Fulton Heritage Society hosted the St. Helena II Awards and Fortieth Anniversary Celebration in St. Helena Heritage Park. The awards ceremony took place on the deck of the beautifully restored St. Helena II, ...

Appendix A: “Canal Nostalgia,” by James Dillow Robinson

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pp. 136-138

Appendix B: Honorable Ralph Regula’s Dedication Address

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pp. 139-143

Appendix C: Transcript of Recorded Lecture Played on the St. Helena II

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pp. 144-147


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pp. 148-149


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pp. 150-151

Illustration Credits

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pp. 152


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pp. 153-165

E-ISBN-13: 9781612773872
E-ISBN-10: 1612773877
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351222

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2012