The "Fulton Lock"
Located about 20 miles south of Akron's Summit Lake, Lock 4 Park stands as one of the best examples of a lift lock on the Ohio & Erie Canal. Canal engineers numbered this the fourth lock south of the Akron summit (not to be confused with lock 4 north - which is just under Bowery Street in downtown Akron). Locals and canal boatmen referred to it as the "Fulton Lock" or even "Mill Lock." The original sandstone structure was completed in 1827 and was one of 146 lift locks that allowed boats to navigate along the more than 1,000 feet of vertical relief from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This specific lock had about a 7 foot lift. Though the lock is no longer operational, the park itself has been a picnic grounds and local favored fishing hole since the 1800's.
The Grist Mill
Like many other locks, Lock 4 facilitated not only commerce and transportation but also industry. Engineering and entrepreneurial people have long used natural forces like wind and water as energy sources to drive machinery. The constant flow of water around this elevation change afforded millers enough hydraulic power to drive mill stones. In the 1830's, Duncan & his company built a 4 story gristmill on the site. Duncan had even laid out plans to create a city around his mill (the town was to be called Fenelon). However, the competition with Fulton, which was a mere mile away, caused such aspirations to be abandoned [Duncan would later establish a milling operation in Massillon as well]. The mill, last operated about 1902, was razed in 1908. Two of its mill stones can be seen near the upper lock gates.
Restoring a Piece of Our Past
Toward the end of the 19th century, Ohio legislators were reviewing plans to refurbish the much dilapidated canal system. However, it would not be until the early 1900's that such repairs would actually be preformed. Among the improvements to be made were on the original cut-sandstone walls. Lock 4 was refurbished in 1908 by Dailey Brothers Construction Company. The sandstone blocks of the lock chamber were cut back and re-lined with cement. Though the canal era would end within a decade of these repair efforts, the walls themselves (having undergone various repairs) have withstood the test of time. If one looks closely, you can still see most of the "Dailey Bros" stamp on the lock wall.
The lock gates have been replaced several times since the close of the canal era. In 1938, the Works Progress Administration made strides to transform portions of the canal corridor (from the Nimisila Feeder to about Massillon) into a long contiguous park. With the assistance of William McLaughlin, they repaired the lock and even built a small interpretive building next to the lock. The little red-brick building depicts what a lock tenders' house might have looked like (the bricks, being re-purposed, came from old Route 21 - what is now Canal/Erie Street). World War II would interrupt work on this canal-strip park, and in the post war years the notion of such a park running the length of the canal was apparently lost (though later proponents would suggest pockets of parks within this same corridor). All-the-same, the efforts at Lock 4 have stood through time and visitors today can continue to enjoy the fruits of these labors.
In 1970, Lock 4 would again see renewed interest as strides were made to make it functional once more. Indeed, the "splash down" of the St. Helena II sent out ripples in every direction (literally and ideologically). As the community now had a working canal boat, it only made sense to include a functioning lock in these operations. Grant money, donations and lots of sweat went into this restoration. In 1982, with a cadre of dignitaries present, the Heritage Society dedicated the grand re-opening of the lock with an inaugural boat ride and ceremony. Making their way south through this historic chamber, then turning around in the lower lock basin and locking through once more for the return trip to downtown, St. Helena II passengers throughout the next several years could genuinely enjoy the whole canal experience.
Lock 4 Today
While the lock and canal lands themselves remain the property of the Stark County Commissioners, portions of property between the canal and Erie Street was gifted to the Stark County Historical Society for the express purpose of historical enjoyment and recreation. In 1975, the properties (along with the rest of the Historical Society's boat assets) were given to the Canal Fulton Heritage Society and we are proud to report that these lands have continued to hold to these original purposes. Whether for recreational fishing, picnics or just as a place to park along the Towpath Trail, Stark Parks does a wonderful job maintaining this site for visitors.
The last time the lock was operational was the mid-1980's, yet even today many an area resident can recall the day they as a school child 'locked through' this historic structure. Unfortunately, a combination of factors currently prevent us from operating the lock. While efforts have been made toward re-restoring it, only time will tell if the St. Helena III herself may yet take passengers to the lower basin sometime in our near future!