After their construction, the Ohio canals quickly assumed an integral role in the prosperity – and failure – of the many towns that had been settled along its banks. Villages like Basil and Baltimore flourished; new businesses set up shop frequently, and the canal itself provided the volume of water necessary to power mills and plants. However, towns like Monticello, which had once surpassed Columbus in size, suffered great hardships, due to their swampy locale and neglectfulness regarding proper sanitation and plumbing; this led to the eventual evacuation or death of every resident, making Monticello a true ghost town.
There were seven locks located in the Baltimore-Basil region; these were locks two through eight. The rivalry for canal-related business between these two towns often led to hostility among the citizens.
At the location of Lock No. 2, on the south side, there stood the Walnut Cottage Mills, owned by a man named Warner. When Warner eventually sold the mill, the new owner renamed it White Mills. Josephus Norris, from Baltimore, MD, later acquired White Mills as a debt payment, and John Smith ran it for Norris until a fire destroyed the building. A store owned by Otho Jenkins, who left Baltimore during the Gold Rush, stood near the mill.
Very nearby to Lock No. 2, the Norris Lock (No. 3) powered another mill owned by Josephus Norris. His son later became the mill owner. The Norris mill primarily ground flour and feed, and also carded wool until 1880. At one time, operations ceased for two years due to a drought, because the canal’s water levels were too low to power the mill. In 1895, Norris’s son sold the mill; the buyers tore it down and rebuilt it in Baltimore.
West of the Norris mill, the Short Level Lock (No. 4) featured a drop of eight feet, rather than the standard six. It was so named due to the short level of the canal that it controlled.
Lock No. 5, located approximately one-hundred-fifty yards, is considered to have been the most important lock in the county, and its dry dock is referred to as the best between Cleveland and Portsmouth. This lock, in particular, helped Baltimore prosper. Located nearby, the Baltimore Basin served as a sort of holding area for canal boats; they would wait here for their turn to be loaded or unloaded. The Baltimore Basin was the largest and busiest between Newark and Circleville, and, at one time, three warehouses stood on its banks.
At the lower end of the basin, Lock No. 6 powered the Fairfield Paper Company’s mill. West of Fairfield mill, two icehouses stood along the south bank; their stock came from the canal when it froze in the winter. The Mulnix mill, located just below the lock, gave the lock its nickname (the “Mulnix lock”). The mill caught fire one night, rousing residents of both Baltimore and Basil; then-owner John Smeck allegedly destroyed it himself out of frustration at a lack of business.
At the Wells lock (No. 7), John Wells owned a mill powered by water from the canal. Basil residents and other citizens in the region frequented patronized the mill.
The best preserved of the canal locks in the area is Bibler Lock (No. 8). Located at the edge of Basil, it served as a skating rink during winter. Several buildings stood at this lock, including a four-story foundry, a screwdriver factory, and various warehouses. Today, it is located behind the Baltimore Waste Water Plant. There has been an ongoing effort to preserve Lock No. 8, and Fairfield County Parks recently acquired the property from Baltimore. In 2018, Bibler Lock became one of nine Ohio & Erie Canal locks approved for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to the sources listed in the bibliography: Monticello information acquired from Henson P. Hazelton’s article, “Ghosts of Monticello: Fairfield-Co’s Lost City,” published in the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette on November 19, 1936; information regarding the preservation of Lock No. 8 found on the Fairfield County Parks official website.
Maxwell Dibble, 2018 Collections Intern
Canal Photo edited by Katherine Kunkler, 2018 Graphic Designer