words and photos by Anthony Boarman
In the late 1820s, a small village called Cascade was founded north of the original plat of Akron by Eliakim Crosby. Crosby helped to create a bustling area of industry powered by water, the topography of Akron and a “cascade” of locks. The Village of Cascade was the area’s first industrial valley.
Realizing that they were much more powerful together, Cascade and Akron merged in 1836 after the two sides dueled over commerce and who should be referred to as “Akron.”
As the railroad industry grew, the slow-paced canal and its lock systems became obsolete. The ultimate end was in March of 1913 when Ohio’s Great Flood took Akron by storm, destroying a large portion of the canal systems and many of the locks that helped boats to navigate the hilly landscapes of Northeast Ohio.
As the Cascade Locks sat deteriorated and ignored for almost a century, the Cascade Locks Park Association and countless others restored the area in the early 2000s. This park provides a perfect balance of nature and history in an urban setting.
Visitors can park in one of two parking lots along North Street and enjoy a bike ride, walk or jog on Towpath Trail. On the northern side of Towpath is the jewel of the Cascade Valley, the Mustill Store museum, which was restored in 2000 and pays homage to the canal history of Akron while creating summer entertainment and recreation opportunities.
On the southern side, you can take a walk through history as over a dozen historical markers describe the area’s past and plot out the stone footprint of former mills.
Tucked away in the park is the large stone opening of what is left of Crosby’s Cascade Race, a man-made tunnel that ran parallel to the canal in order to power the mills using gravity and diverted water.
A small footbridge allows visitors to stand above Lock 13 & 14 to witness the massive depth of the sandstone walls. The quarter-mile journey north on the Towpath provides a unique perspective of each canal lock and gradually takes you to a covered footbridge over Lock 10, the final lock within the boundaries of the Cascade Locks Park.
The “cascade of locks” does not stop there, though. I recommend continuing beyond the footbridge on the Towpath in order to reach the summit of the 300+ mile Ohio & Erie Canal, and then onward through Downtown Akron to enjoy some of the gems of Akron: Lock 4 Park, Lock 3 Park, and Lock 2 Park.
Although the Cascade Locks no longer raise and lower canal boats, they serve as reminders of an engineering feat that helped to build a strong foundation for a city and its people.
Anthony Boarman is a social studies teacher and coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He lives in Wallhaven with his wife Emily, daughter Sadie and dog Ava. He is a lover of all things Akron. Follow Anthony on Instagram at @aboarman.
Photos: Lock 11; The Schumacher Wheel at sunrise; The Cascade Race tunnel.