Those Places Thursday: Canal Winchester, Ohio and the McElvey Family


Ollie McKelvy of Canal Winchester visiting cousins in Marion, Ohio. Marion Daily Star, 04 September 1880, page 81. Posted with kind permission for non-profit use only.
Ollie McKelvy of Canal Winchester visiting cousins in Marion, Ohio. Marion Daily Star [Marion, Ohio], 04 September 1880, page 81. Posted with kind permission for non-profit use only.
Beerbower Family (Click for Family Tree)

Transportation is the lifeblood of a nation, especially a young nation such as the United States in the early to mid 1800s. Ways to move people, products, and farm produce (both the vegetarian-type as well as the carnivore-preferred) were necessary for cities and towns to develop, and migration to proceed westward. Commerce was imperative to provide markets to farmers and manufacturers, and to make the US a world trading partner.

When the Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the country overnight, the heavily forested or wide-plained US with its vast distances presented logistic problems for trade and moving people. Our rich waterways had long provided a fairly easy road to markets and new places, but were limiting when an overland portage was required to move a product between two rivers or lake systems. “The Canal Era” began great private and public work projects in 1791, and linked the large expanses of our young country.

By 1830, the US had over 1,000 miles of canals.

By 1840, 3,326 miles of canals had been built at a cost of over $125 million, and the completed miles of the new railroads was about the same.

Canals allowed the cost of transportation to drop from about ten cents per ton mile to less than one cent, thus increasing profits as well as opening new, more distant markets for producers and manufacturers.

Canal Winchester was a city that developed along the 308-mile-long Ohio and Erie Canal. Completed in 1834, this canal finished the privately financed inland waterway that included the Erie Canal, and stretched from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River; it essentially linked New York City to New Orleans by water. This opened up settlement in northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and our McKelvey ancestors were a part of this great era.

In 1828, the Ohio & Erie Canal was planned to go right through the wheat field of Reuben Dove in Fairfield County, Ohio. Although he planned to sue the state, he was instead encouraged to lay out a town as being a more profitable venture, and that he did. He called it Canal Winchester, and we know that at least one McKelvey family lived there in 1880.

The area only had a stagecoach run in the early 1800s; when the first canal boat floated through in 1831, it changed the area completely. The Ohio & Erie Canal brought work: on the canal itself, like barge operators and mates; and work alongside, such as hotels and restaurants, warehouses, and markets. Farmers could increase the size of their fields as they now had a way to transport excess grain, and agriculture thus became big business in the area, changed from mainly subsistence when there was no practical way to get grain to market. The railroad came through in 1869, making the canal less efficient due to the speed and capacity of trains, but the city continued to prosper as it moved with the times.

By 1850, railroads had surpassed the number of miles of canalways, with 2.5 times as many miles.

By 1860, railroads had about eight times the miles of canals, and The Canal Era became The Railroad Era.

Maps are important resources in family history research, and a source we often forget to use to help find clues.

From the newspaper article above, we know that:

Miss Ollie McKelvey lived in Canal Winchester, Fairfield &

Franklin Counties, Ohio in 1880.

Researching the above Canal Winchester, Ohio on maps and checking how far it was to Marion, Ohio, where cousin Sam lived, I realized that Canal Winchester was also close to Pickerington, Fairfield County, Ohio. That place was somewhere some ancestors had lived, I remembered, and sure enough, looking at family group records showed me that Matilda and Eleazer Beerbower most probably lived in Pinkerington, as their infant twin sons are buried there. Son Polaski only lived ten days, and Caspar just short of nine months when he died, so likely the family lived there or nearby during the year 1840. (Matilda was just 17 when the twins were born on 1 April 1840.) Embalming was not prevalent until the Civil War, so they probably would not have traveled far for burial, and may have been living in the area. It is easy to imagine that, even if they had moved away, in their grief they wanted the twin boys to be together in eternity. Their son Samuel T. Beerbower (the above host to Ollie) was born 10 November 1842 in Fairfield County, and their next child likely was as well: George Beerbower, born 10 August 1844 (in Marion, Ohio per my records, but now that is questionable). George died just three days later, and was also buried in Dovel Memorial Cemetery with his infant brothers.

Canal Winchester, Ohio, is located southeast of Columbus, Ohio; Marion, where Ollie was visiting, was due north of Columbus. There are about 60 miles between the two cities, but train service abounded in Ohio in those years, so the trip may not have been too taxing. Since Ollie apparently traveled alone, that is another indicator of the ease and safety of the trip.

Samuel T. Beerbower’s biography in the History of Marion County, Ohio, 1883, notes that his family moved to Delaware County, Ohio in 1849, and from there to Marion, Ohio in 1850, then finally to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1867. It was thus a short window of time (~1839-~1849 possibly?) that the McKelvey-Beerbower family resided in Canal Winchester/Fairfield County, Ohio, but apparently other family lived there, and stayed, as Ollie McKelvey did. Further research in that locality may provide more of the story of the McElvey family.


Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) An excellent set of pictures of the Ohio and Erie canal-

There is a link at the bottom for the Library of Congress’ collection of old canal songs.

Also, see

2) Image from Wikipedia article on the Erie Canal-

View east of eastbound Lockport on the Erie Canal by W.H. Bartlett, 1839. Public domain.

3) Some Canal Era information:

4) The History of Marion County, Ohio, 1883-



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