Howard Burba
 Dayton Daily News Scrapbook

The Miami and Erie canal from Cincinnati to Dayton was finished in 1828 and the first boat arrived in Dayton in January of the same year.  The head of the canal here was at First St and was called “Head of the Basin.”  All the freight boats then landed there, to load and unload and the packet boats all landed at Third St., just north of the bridge.  A packet left Dayton every morning at 8 o’clock arriving at Cincinnati next morning about 3 o’clock.  The fare was $2 one way, including dinner, supper and bed, and always good, square meals, the best the market could afford, were served.  The packet boats were all taken off after the C.H. and D. railroad commenced running, which was in 1851.  The old “skippers” commanding the packets from “start to finish” were James Douglas, George Owen, William Mixer, Bone Davis, Tom Tilton, Ben Ayres, Christ, Snavely, Christ, Hellriggle, John Wiggim, John R. Smith, Mose Van Horn, William Dickey and C.A. Cathcart.  All these old “canal dogs” are dead and gone years ago.

“During the years 1835 and 1836 the canal lock at Durst mill and the aqueduct were built for the purpose of extending the canal to Toledo, on the lake, which was done in the early ‘40s.  After the lock and aqueduct were finished the boats going north were obliged to back down the canal to the junction at Sixth St. and then go north.  That part of the canal from the lock at Durst’s mill to the lock just south of the aqueduct was originally the feed for the canal.

“The engineers who surveyed the canal from Dayton to the lake were Samuel Forrer, James Mitchell, E.G. Barney, Alexander Conover and David H. Morrison.  The “Seely Ditch,” as it was called while in existence, was intended for a canal.  Morris Seely, a son-in-law of William Huffman, was the originator of the proposed canal.  It was partly dug over a mile in length and then abandoned for lack of funds.  It was dug from the north side of the fairgrounds, running in a northeasterly course up to what was later Pearl St., then to Fifth St., where it ended.  Seely was backed by William Huffman.  He had applied to the state for an appropriation to finish his canal, but he failed to get it. 

“The object of the canal was to have boats running through that part of the town, where Mr. Seely owned nearly, if not all, of the land east of the Shakertown Rd., (now Wayne Ave) and by getting this canal through his lots they would have then come into market at good prices.  But the whole thing fell through.

“Seely was a candidate for the Ohio legislature and was elected.  He then again tried to get an appropriation by the state to finish his canal and again failed.  The project was finally dropped.

“This old ditch was the cause of a big mob about the year 1848.  Before commencing to build the lock at Durst’s mill in 1835, they built a dam across the canal nearly or about opposite Starr’s coal yard on Wayne Ave., to run the water out of the feeder down through the Seely ditch into the canal, while the lock was being constructed.

“About that time there was a saw mill built about where Pierce and Coleman’s building stands on Wayne Ave., with a mill-race running to the east side of Wayne Ave., south of Fifth, then southeast on what is now Simpson St., and then into the ditch at pearl St.  This saw mill was owned by E. F. Barney and E.M. Thresher, who continued to run the mill until stopped by a mob of citizens.  The cause of this mob was the ditch, which was condemned as a nuisance.  When the mill stopped on Saturday night, the water would all run off and leave the black mud, with dead dogs and cats exposed to the hot sun.  This caused a great deal of sickness in that end of town.  Complaint was made to the town council, who replied that they had nothing to do with it as it (the race) belongs to the state.

“The authorities at Columbus were then applied to for an adjustment of the matter and they replied that they had nothing to do with it.  Then it was that the town council notified Mr. Thresher to cease flowing the water through the mill-race within 30 days.  Mr. Thresher requested the town council to give him time enough to saw up the logs he had on hand, which the council agreed to do.  But in less than a week the was hauling logs.  He was again notified to stop within 30 days whereupon he got out an injunction against the city of Dayton. 

“This enraged the citizens, who then got out an injunction against Mr. Thresher by filling up the ditch and they filled it to a point opposite Hickory St. school house, about 200 feet.  While at work at this point, Tom Morrison, a contractor and builder, went there and began to berate the crowd, telling them what a mean act they were committing.  He was grabbed by a half-dozen men, who ran him into that ditch of black filth and threw him down and wallowed him in it.  He begged to be helped up.  They let him up and he did not stop to ask any questions but left on a dead run.

“Soon after Morrison had left, Mr. Thresher came to a point within a square of the mob and sent word that if they did not desist he would at once open his mill gates and flood that whole end of town.  They sent him word to go ahead.  Two of the crowd started as fast as they could go for the powder magazine and broke it open, took out a keg of powder and got to the mill at about the same time that Mr. Thresher did.  They saw him and called to him, saying that the moment he opened the gates that moment, they would “blow him and his mill to hell.”  He skipped out.  They certainly would have blown the mill up.

“After filling up the ditch at “Brabham Hill,” where the Hickory St. School now stands, the mob then moved up the Wayne St., stone culvert and there demolished that structure.  They then proceeded to the stone culvert on Fifth St. and tore that down, then they filled u p the ditch for about 100 feet.  After this the mob dispersed and went to their several homes.

“There were some 200 witnesses subpoenaed to appear before the mayor, G. W. Bombarger, in the city hall, for the purpose of taking depositions in the case and as each witness was sworn he was handed his fee of 50 cents.  The case was finally tried before a jury in Troy, about 1848, and the jury after being out about one hour, rendered a verdict in favor of the city of Dayton and all the costs to be paid by Mr. Thresher.

Soon after the ditch on Wayne Ave. and Simpson St. was filled up and buildings were erected on the east side of Wayne Ave. from the old saw mill to Fifth St.  The filling of that old ditch was the making of that part of Dayton.  The Wayne Ave. market house is now built over the bed of a part of “Seely’s Ditch.”

“E. Thresher was one of Dayton’s great benefactors.  It was his knowledge of lumber and timber that led to the firm of Barney and Thresher.  The great Barney and Smith car shops were started in a saw mill near the canal lock close to the site of the enormous plant which grew out of it.”

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