By Janie Southard
NEW BREMEN -- Many first families of Mercer and Auglaize counties who came up the Miami Erie Canal passed through Lock One.
The old lock structure behind the New Bremen Public Library was built of wood in 1833 and the first canal boat passed through in about 1835, according to New Bremen historian Delores Stienecker.
"By 1910 the wood had deteriorated and was replaced with cement. Now that's deteriorating," Stieneker told The Daily Standard this week at the New Bremen Historical Society museum.
To restore the lock, near the intersection of Ohio 66 and 274, the village has applied for a $350,000 state grant, which calls for a 20 percent match ($70,000). The first fund-raiser will be held Sunday at Lion's Club Park, Crown Pavilion and Lock One from noon to 4 p.m.
"We'll have chicken dinners, duck races, musical entertainment and will raffle a painting of a local historical site by Pat Wietholter," Stienecker said. Festivities along the canal are nothing new. In fact, beer and fistfights were not unusual during the canal period, mid 1800s to the early 1900s.
Two canal boat captains, Fred Behm and Bill Combs, made their home in New Bremen. Stienecker recalled from her childhood various conversations with Combs.
"He'd always tell about how the canal boat crews would jump off the boats as they waited at Lock One and fight each other to see who would go through the lock first," she said, adding she never learned why it was so important to be first. Perhaps the fighting was good exercise after being confined to the boats for hours and hours; or maybe it was the substantial amount of beer transported on the canal.
She also said salesmen came up the canal and stayed at one of New Bremen's many hotels for about $1 per night.
"My family came to New Bremen from Germany by way of New York, then around Florida and into the Gulf. From there they came up the Mississippi (River) to Cincinnati and then the canal," she said.
According to New Bremen Village Administrator Larry Durkee, the old lock will be torn down and rebuilt while trying to keep the "old look" of the lock.
"If anyone wants to know what it will look like, they should go up to Lock 14 (north of St. Marys). That's what we have in mind. Jutte (construction company of Fort Recovery) did a beautiful job up there," Durkee told the newspaper.
Lock 14 was completed last year through a grant. Towpath Times, a newsletter for Miami Erie Canal Corridor Association, noted Jutte "customized their forms to give the concrete walls the appearance of stone blocks."
Stienecker said much of the original ironwork of the old lock will still be used.