Hell's Half Acre

Reputed to be a bootlegging tavern where numerous illegal and unsavory transactions occurred in the 1920s, the former inn at Hell's Half Acre now serves as the Canal Visitor Center for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Nineteenth-century life in the Cuyahoga Valley revolved around the Ohio & Erie Canal, the most important means of transportation between the valley, Cleveland, and Akron between 1827 and 1840. Completed in 1832, the Ohio & Erie Canal transformed how local farmers moved and purchased products. Using the canal, area farmers could ship their products, including corn, wheat, and whiskey, for an average price of five cents per ton, (as opposed to fifteen or twenty cents per ton by wagon). This connection to city markets also meant that the canal boats could bring back new luxuries for valley residents, including cloth, coffee, tea, and glass.

In addition to the exchange of commodities, the canal boats also brought visitors to the valley's small and formerly isolated communities. The Village of Peninsula, for example, thrived as a canal and mercantile town, receiving money and fame as canal travelers stopped by for some leisurely hours in the local dance hall or tavern. Hell's Half Acre, a tavern and inn located at Lock 38 along the canal, represented one of many local businesses that took advantage of the new clientele. During its 150 years, the building at Hell's Half Acre served as a tavern, store, private residence, boardinghouse, and blacksmith shop. Around 1837, Moses Gleeson purchased the property and structure to take advantage of the canal traffic.

The Ohio & Erie Canal shaped almost every aspect of valley life, changing both economic and social fabrics. The canal connected the Cuyahoga Valley to a national transportation system that stimulated growth and specialization for local farms. Instead of growing diverse sets of produce and grains, farmers chose one or two crops to grow in large quantities, such as oats for the Schumacher cereal mills in nearby Akron. Linked to New York's Erie Canal, the Ohio & Erie Canal also brought new residents to Ohio, which became the third most populated state in the 1840s. Irish and German immigrants also travelled to the Western Reserve as canal diggers, working long hours for little pay. Now a part of the larger state and regional economy, Cuyahoga Valley farmers learned about new equipment and scientific farming practices that arrived through new residents, farm journals, and agricultural fairs.

Although the Ohio & Erie Canal transformed daily life in the Cuyahoga Valley, the canal reached its zenith by the last decades of the nineteenth century. Unable to compete with the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal and the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad, producers used the canal less and less. Railroads, which skyrocketed in production in the 1860s, shipped products faster and with less dependency on weather conditions. A catastrophic flood in 1913 caused the final destruction of the valley's canals.

While no longer a tavern or inn, Hell's Half Acre remains an important location for valley visitors to learn about the history of the Ohio & Erie Canal. Presently the Canal Visitor Center, the structure hosts interpretive rangers for the National Park Service who conduct daily canal boat and lock demonstrations, as well as educate visitors about the canal's important role in the history of the Cuyahoga Valley.

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Audio

Shady Reputation
Interpretive ranger Rebecca Jones describes the history of the Canal Visitor Center and how it received its shady reputation.
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New Money and People
Rebecca Jones, interpretive ranger for the national park, describes the changes that the Ohio & Erie Canal brought to the Cuyahoga Valley.
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Goods and Ideas
In addition to new people, the Ohio & Erie Canal brought new goods and ideas flowing past the doors of valley residents. Park Ranger Rebecca Jones further explains the impact of the canal.
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