The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 5, 2013

Canal enthusiasts converge on area

BY DENNIS BARTLOW
Commercial-News

COVINGTON, Ind. — Canal enthusiasts are converging on western Indiana and Danville this weekend to see the remnants of the former Wabash and Erie Canal.

“When the canal came in, people came to Covington,” said Carol Freese of Covington as she showed displays Friday at the clerk’s building in Covington. “This was a booming town.”

Most of the businesses in Covington in the canal days were located along the canal, which was adjacent to the Wabash River.

More than 40 members of the Canal Society of Indiana are getting a first-hand look at the remains of the canal.

“There are no traces of the locks (at Covington),” said Terry Bodine of Covington, a member of the canal group. The locks were just south of the current U.S. Route 136 bridge on Pearl Street.

The canal in the Covington-Perrysville area was completed in 1848, and it operated until 1875. It was a part of the 460-mile stretch from Toledo, Ohio, to Evansville. When the canal folded, the towpath became a train track from Attica to Covington.

The canal enthusiasts are going to see the canal remains in western Indiana via chartered bus today. They will go to Attica, the site of the Attica-Covington skirmishes, Williamsport, Portland Arch, Covington, Perrysville and Montezuma.

Bob Schmit, president of the canal group, is calling the tour “The Other Side of the Fence” as they look at life on the other side of the canal. One interesting point is the Perrysville Sidecut that allowed for goods from Danville to be transported across the Wabash River to the canal and south.

Many called Perrysville “Little Danville.” Perrysville was the largest town between Lafayette and Terre Haute at that time. Williamsport also featured a sidecut.

The Canal Society of Indiana was established in 1892 to bring together those who share a common interest in Indiana’s historic canals. The group has about 200 members throughout the United States. The society sponsors two weekend trips a year, mostly in Indiana, but they also have visited Illinois and Ohio.

“We have a lot of teachers, lawyers and farmers in our group,” Schmit said. “We gather like this (this weekend).”

On Friday, the group also toured the murals at the Fountain County Courthouse and the Vermilion County War Museum in Danville. They will go to the Skinner Farm Museum west of Perrysville on Sunday morning, and conclude the weekend with a driving tour of the towpath area south of Covington. The society sponsors a monthly journal “The Hoosier Packet,” which includes articles on canal history, reprints of original documents and reports about technical aspects of canaling.

“We are preserving our history through interpretation, preservation and restoration,” Schmit said.

Fast facts

For information on the Canal Society of Indiana, e-mail indcanal@aol.com or check the website at http://indcanal.org