I wasn’t sure what to think when a friend asked me to join a historical novella collection about the Erie Canal. But this historic achievement soon captured my imagination. I became even more excited when I discovered that the Ohio-Erie Canal connected Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes, to the broad Ohio River.
My ancestors settled in Ohio way back in the late 1700s when Virginia gave land to their Revolutionary War veterans instead of paying them in cash. The Virginia Military District, consisting of more than four million acres, was north of the Ohio River between the Little Miami River and the Scioto River. This was before Ohio became the 17th state in 1803.
Fun Fact: President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower signed Ohio’s official statehood documents in 1953, retroactive to the March 1, 1803 date.
Getting back to the Ohio-Erie Canal, here are the basics:
· Date of Construction: 1825 through 1832
· Length: 308 miles
· Lift Locks: 146
Two towns located along the canal’s route, Circleville and Chillicothe, have connections with my childhood so I chose them as settings for my novella. During my research, I learned fascinating information about both.
When I was growing up, my mom and her nine siblings held our annual Christmas get-together at the local high school with a potluck and gift exchange. Multiple cousins and their families still live in the area.
The Town's History
In 1810, the streets were laid out in a circle on top of a Hopewell Indian mound on the eastern bank of the Scioto River, hence the name of the town.
As time went by, the residents complained about the odd layout. They didn’t like going around in circles or how the circular streets formed irregular lots.
The town’s modern-day claim to fame is the popular Circleville Pumpkin Show. It's marketed as the "Greatest Free Show on Earth," and held the third Wednesday through Saturday in October.
My paternal grandparents lived for a time at the end of a “holler” south of this historic city. I loved visiting my grandparents and often spent a week or two with them during the summers. But I didn’t like driving through Chillicothe to get to their house. The century-old paper mill located there emits a very unpleasant odor. The locals euphemistically call it the smell of money, but I always held my nose!
Chillicothe, first settled in 1796, is also located along the Scioto River. The town has the distinction of serving as Ohio’s first capital (1803-1810) and its third capital (1812-1816).
In the years prior to the Civil War, Chillicothe’s free black community played a vital role maintaining stations along the Underground Railroad. In my story, the heroine and hero help runaway slaves escape the hunters who wanted to take them back across the Ohio River.
For the past thirty-plus years, Chillicothe has hosted the annual Feast of the Flowering Moon Festival, a three-day event celebrating Native American culture, with music, arts and crafts exhibits, and various demonstrations.
The city also hosts the annual Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival. Though the multi-day event only began in 2004, the history of storytelling in the region has a long tradition that includes the Shawnee and Mingo tribes, early settlers, and travelers along the Underground Railroad. All these groups passed stories from one generation to the next.
My story in the Erie Canal Brides Collection is called "Journey of the Heart" and takes place in 1852. The heroine, Charity Sinclair, secretly writes abolitionist pamphlets while thwarting architect Tavish Dunbar's effort to redesign her father's post office--a hidden stop on the Underground Railroad. When a slave hunter captures a runaway, Charity vows to rescue the fugitive. But can she trust Tavis with her secret...and with her heart?