Straight from the Canal. Almost.
“Crooked river” is the most commonly accepted translation of “Cuyahoga River,” as it is most commonly spelled. And it certainly deserves that moniker. Starting about 35 miles east of Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River twists and turns as it heads southwest toward Akron, and then makes a U-turn and twists and turns its way northwest toward Cleveland. The last one or two thousand feet of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland is where its name seems least applicable . . . because the Cuyahoga River goes straight into Lake Erie. Seriously, super straight into Lake Erie. Which naturally means that it’s not all natural.
Nature last left the mouth of the Cuyahoga River a few thousand feet west of where we now see the river emptying into Lake Erie. The problem with nature’s design was that the mouth of the river wasn’t really conducive to efficiently getting ships from Lake Erie up the Cuyahoga River for unloading.
In 1827, the Ohio (& Erie) Canal opened between Akron and Cleveland. The canal emptied into the Cuyahoga River in the area we now call Canal Basin Park (roughly the same place where the B & O jackknife bridge used to come down across the river, near the Lorenzo Carter Cabin). In order to facilitate efficiently moving large lake ships from Lake Erie up to Canal Lock #1 where they could unload goods to be transferred to canal boat, a channel was dug from a bend in the Cuyahoga River straight to Lake Erie. Digging that channel further defined the peninsula we now refer to as Whiskey Island (home to Wendy Park). Breakwalls with lighthouses were added, extending that straight channel even farther.
While the northernmost section of the Ohio & Erie Canal was the first to go (the canal bed was leased to a railroad), the straight channel that was dug to provide easy access to the canal remains in use by commercial ships and recreational boaters today. Visit Wendy Park on Whiskey Island and see for yourself! Doug Kusak
Cultural History Interpreter