The Ohio & Erie Canal was a technological marvel. The inland waterway incorporated a series of sandstone locks that enabled boats to climb differences in elevation along the Continental Divide. The steepest section of the canal was between Akron and the Little Cuyahoga River. In a single mile, 15 locks, or "steps," were necessary to move the boats along. The canal boats, which were pulled by mules on the towpath, made it possible to ship goods from the Great Lakes (Lake Erie) to the Gulf of Mexico (via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers). Locally, the canal, which opened between Cleveland and Akron in 1827, can be directly credited with the growth of Akron. The city's population swelled thanks to the bustling activity surrounding the tight bundle of canal locks.
By 1880 the canal's significance was in decline due to the introduction of railroads. After the flood of 1913, less than 100 years after the canal opened, it was abandoned. For decades, the canal was largely forgotten about or ignored. The concept of restoring the towpath for use as a multipurpose trail began to emerge in the 1980s, and the first section of the Towpath Trail opened in 1993.