Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length78 miles
The Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway (WCSB), located in southeastern Indiana, runs in a north to south direction along the twin forks of the Whitewater River. The state byway’s 78-mile Canal Route traces the historic canal along the Whitewater River-West Fork through steep hills, rolling farmland and through charming small towns. Three additional ‘loop’ routes run off of the primary route that include more historic sites throughout souteastern Indiana.
Story of the Byway
Needing to get farm goods to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers markets, construction of the Whitewater Canal commenced with Indiana’s Mammoth Internal Improvements Act of 1836. The state of Indiana completed construction from Lawrenceburg to Brookville before defaulting in 1840, turning the canal over to private investors. The Whitewater Valley Canal Company, located in Connersville, completed the canal from Brookville to Cambridge City. The last section to Hagerstown, completed in 1847, was funded by local businesspeople.
Local citizens provided the labor to build this engineering marvel. The Whitewater Canal was only 76 miles long and the nearly 500-foot drop in elevation made it necessary to construct 56 locks, 7 feeder dams, numerous stone arch culverts, and wooden aqueducts in this short distance. A secondary, 25-mile connection from Cincinnati to the Whitewater Canal at Harrison, Ohio, was built later that included a 0.3 mile-canal tunnel through a hillside connecting Cleves and North Bend, Ohio. All along the canal, Whitewater Valley communities and residents celebrated their efforts to build the canal and connect to new markets. Persistent flooding issues along the canal led to its closing in 1861. Railroad investors seized the opportunity to purchase the canal and laid railroad tracks along the towpath of the canal, re-energizing commerce in the valley.
Even though the canal was no longer moving goods along its path, the canal continued to serve the Whitewater Valley. The canal provided hydraulic power for local factories and mills (pulp, woolen, flour, lumber), including Metamora’s existing Grist Mill. Up until the 1950s in Connersville, hydropower from the canal supported its burgeoning economy, especially automobile manufacturing. In the mid-1940s, efforts to preserve some of the canal’s remaining structures led to the establishment of the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site in Metamora.
Today, nearly half of the historic Canal’s original structures are visible, and many accessible. This includes an existing feeder dam, numerous stone locks, hydropower mechanisms, tunnel arches, canal prism, former canal warehouses, stone arch culverts, sites of ice ponds, grist mill, reconstructed canal boat, and the original Duck Creek Aqueduct, a national civil engineering landmark. Imagine wading in a stream flowing between two twelve-foot tall stone walls that once served as one of 56 locks on the historic Whitewater Canal. These are the 175- year old walls that canal boats entered and then the lock gates raised or lowered the water level and enabled the boats to travel up or down the canal. Nearby, visitors can explore an operating Grist Mill, its water wheel turning the millstones and grinding grain for meal. Then, they can take a short trip on a reconstructed horse-drawn canal boat to and through the original, and only remaining, wooden-covered Aqueduct in the country.
In the early 2000s, local leaders created the Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway to showcase and experience the historic canal’s rich heritage and leverage the Valley’s numerous outdoor recreation options and natural beauty to pursue ‘adventure tourism.’ It became a state- designated byway in 2008 and expanded in 2011 to include three “loops” through the valley adding tourism-worthy sites. Visitors can use the Byway’s Driving Guide to trace the canal, find music and arts, emerging culinary options, shopping, architecture, outdoor sports, agri- tourism farms, and additional transportation history.
In the scenic Whitewater River Valley, visitors can hike nature trails, bike the state’s longest rail trail, canoe or kayak on the River, or go trout fishing at the base of the Brookville Dam. In the winter, they can head to Perfect North Slopes for snow skiing or tubing. When summer arrives, they should visit Brookville Lake for camping, boating, swimming, and skiing. Visitors will eat amazing fried chicken in the shadows of church spires in the German town of Oldenburg, enjoy live music and food in Richmond’s historic districts, or choose from the many other great restaurants available. There are opportunities to take walking tours through charming towns filled with antiques shops, wonderful museums, beautiful homes, and historic landmarks. Overnight lodging options abound from quaint Bed & Breakfasts to modern casinos. This byway connects the National Road Scenic Byway and the Ohio River Scenic Byway, all three of which were critical to the settlement of the Northwest Territory. The Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway offers visitors an amazingly rich palette of experiences.
The primary route of the Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway begins in Dearborn County and runs in a northerly direction along State Roads to its northern terminus in Hagerstown of Wayne County. Along with the primary route are three loop routes. The East fork loop takes you through Wayne and Union counties, the Oldenburg-Batesville loop travels through Ripley and Franklin counties and the Dearborn Ripley loop wanders west through Dearborn and Ripley counties. The three loops bring in additional history and scenic beauty of the Whitewater Valley.
Points of Interest
Laurel Feeder Dam
The historic Whitewater Canal Feeder Dam #4 is one of seven feeder dam
Whitewater Canal State Historic Site
In the village of Metamora you will see the Metamora Grist Mill, a Canal Boat and the Duck Creek Aqueduct.
Town of Oldenburg - Village of Spires
Walk along the “strasses” (streets), visit the Franciscan sister's farm, eat at the local restaurants and shop in the quaint businesses that line the street.
Perfect North Slopes
Enjoy skiing, snowboarding or snow tubing on the unexpected hills of southeastern Indiana.
This 5,260-acre lake in a 16,000-acre site has more than 25 miles of hiking trails, boating opportunities and is a nationally known recreational and sport fishing site.
Whitewater Valley Railroad
A heritage railroad operating a 19-mile excursion from Connersville to Metamora along the historic Whitewater Canal.
Whitewater Canal Trail
Approximately 10 miles of hiking or biking trails where you will see some of the best examples of authentic canal structures anywhere.
Whitewater Memorial State Park
Originally established as a memorial to the men and women who served in World War II.
Whitewater Gorge Park
A breathtaking hike through the river gorge along the Whitewater River.
From Lawrenceburg to Laurel
Start in Historic Lawrenceburg, Indiana’s fourth oldest city, which was founded in 1802. There is much to do in Lawrenceburg, but be sure to check out the Levee Walk/Bicentennial Memorial Gate, the Whitewater Canal Terminus, and the many buildings of historic importance that line the streets.
From Lawreanceburg, make your way north to New Trenton. There will be many opportunities to stop and enjoy wetlands, golf courses, and important markers. Check out some of the many opportunities for water recreation along the byway such as kayaking and canoeing. Once you reach New Trenton, make your way to Metamora. On your way you will pass through the town of Brookville, situated at the junction of the east and west forks of the Whitewater River. Enjoy outdoor recreation on the river or explore a number of historic sites such as the St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the Historic District, and the Howland-Goodwin-Strohmeier Hom.
Metamora is an 1838 canal town, whose fortunes paralleled those of the Whitewater Canal. There are many trails, parks, and rest areas for everyone to enjoy. For those looking for more history, take a walking tour, explore the Metamora Grist Mill, or visit the Whitewater Valley Railroad.
End your journey on this portion of the Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway in Laurel, home to the Whetzel Trace, an important east-west pioneer trail. Visit the Old Jail or spend the night in the historic Laurel Hotel. There is much to do and see in this quaint down. Enjoy historical walking tours, visit a park or bird sanctuary, or get back on the Whitewater River to end your day!
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