From Ohio History Central
The Ohio and Erie Canal was one of Ohio's most important canals during the mid nineteenth century.
During the late 1810s, Governor Thomas Worthington and Governor Ethan Allen Brown both supported internal improvements, especially canals. Both men believed that Ohioans needed quick and easy access to the Ohio River and to Lake Erie if they were to profit financially. Farmers and business owners would be able to transport their products much more easily and cheaply with canals rather than turnpikes. They also hoped that canals would open new markets for Ohio goods.
Most canals remained in operation in Ohio until the late 1800s. There is a short stretch in the Muskingum Valley near Zanesville still in operation today. By the 1850s, however, canals were losing business to the railroads. Railroads had several advantages over the canals, which made the railroads much more popular. While railroads cost more to ship people and goods, they could deliver people and items much more quickly than the canals. Railroads also were not limited by a water source as canals were. Because of these advantages, railroads quickly supplanted the canals.