Paddling Through Ohio History

Island Park canoe beach, 1928. Via Ohio Memory.

On July 13, 1913, the Dayton Canoe Club held its first regatta along the Great Miami River, sparking interest in rebuilding the area’s local White City Amusement Park, which had been destroyed by the disastrous 1913 flood earlier that year. The new park, seen in the photograph above, was named Island Park, and it opened to the public just under a year later on June 20, 1914.

Canoeing at the 1969 Ohio State Fair, via Ohio Memory.

The Dayton-area boaters seen above are part of a long history of Ohioans taking to our state’s waterways during the summer months, both formally as part of canoe clubs and regattas, and more casually on day trips or weekend getaways. In the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ 2017 Ohio Resident Outdoor Recreation Survey, 62% of the over-5,000 households surveyed reported that they had participated in boating activities during the previous year!

Ohio is divided into two watersheds–the Lake Erie Basin and Ohio River Basin–and every area of the state has accessible options for “putting in” a kayak or canoe. These include scenic rivers, water trails and inland lakes, not to mention the Ohio River and Lake Erie themselves! The ODNR Division of Watercraft offers a handy interactive map for you to find local boating sites, as well as information about paddling Ohio’s rivers and streams safely and responsibly.

Ohio Memory has examples to offer of boating safety, from these 4-H club members canoing on Fulton County’s Lake Harrison, from the Normal Memorial Library, to the young fair-goers seen at right learning to paddle in a pool at the 1969 Ohio State Fair’s Natural Resources Park. You can learn more about boating safety from the Division of Watercraft’s Ohio Boat Operator’s Guide: A Summary of Laws and Rules, available on Ohio Memory from the State Library of Ohio.

Canoe Club operated from a boathouse along the banks of the Olentangy River, ca. 1910-1930. Via Ohio Memory.
Canoers on Lower Shaker Lake in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in front of the clubhouse for the Shaker Lakes Canoe Club which was built several years after the club was established in 1907. Courtesy of the Shaker Heights Public Library via Ohio Memory.

Canoe Clubs, like the one above that operated out of Olentangy Park in Columbus, were particularly popular in the early 20th century. The Olentangy River runs nearly 90 miles through Crawford, Richland, Marion, Morrow, Delaware and Franklin counties before meeting the Scioto River in downtown Columbus, and is within a half-hour drive of 1.5 million Ohioans who’d like to take a boat trip along its scenic length. Over the past five years, restoration work has taken place along the Olentangy in Columbus, improving the water quality and recreating the waterway’s original flow. Looking for an active club outside central Ohio? An online search will still bring up many clubs and groups operating today for avid paddlers.

If you don’t have a boat of your own, Ohio’s many canoe liveries can help outfit you for a day on the water and provide everything you need for a safe trip, including transport. Whether you opt to travel downriver or play around on a lake like the men and women at left, have fun if you embark on any of Ohio’s beautiful waterways this summer!

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!




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