Today there are few original canal boats remaining. Those that are on display or in use are usually faithful reproductions of one of several types of canal boats commonly found on the canal system.
Canal boats were either cargo, passenger, or a combination of them. Cargo canal boats were distinguished by having closed end sections and a smaller middle section with 2 open areas. The rear cabin was for the captain and his family. The front cabin was for the crew and the middle cabin was the stable that kept a spare mule team and hay for the teams.
Canal boats were not designed for speed, but compared to the alternative modes of transport during the day, they provided the ability to move large amounts of cargo quickly. These boats were designed to have a shallow draft even when carry enormous payloads.
Canal boats were typically 70' - 80' long, 14' wide and they rode low in the water when loaded with 50 - 80 tons of cargo, yet they only drew about 3' of water.
Passenger boats came later as increased revenue was sought when cargo loads decreased. These had the 3 cabins the same as cargo boats, but the other 2 areas were enclosed and had tables that doubled as beds. Passengers often rode on top of the boat during the day.
The boats were usually towed by 3 mules in line with a tow rope attached to the front of the boat with a young teen walking with the mules.
Above: a canal boat lantern (circa 1855) built by Peters and Kathehhorn of Cincinnati. On display at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, Ohio
Canal boats today
Today there are 5 operating canal boats on the Miami/Erie and Ohio/Erie canals.
The Volunteer is based in Grand Rapids Ohio, south of Toledo on a authentically restored Miami & Erie section of the canal. Includes period dressed docents, plus a trip through a canal lock.
St. Helena III is based in Canal Fulton on the Ohio & Erie and can carry 70 passengers.
Monticello II is located in Coshocton on the Ohio & Erie and can carry 120 passengers.
General Harrison is located in Piqua on the Miami & Erie and it can carry 120 passengers. It is part of the Piqua Historic Area.
Sandpiper is based in Toledo on the Maumee River and it can carry 101 passengers. Because this is a navigable river, it is required to have its own power which is supplied by a diesel engine.