Three weeks ago construction workers began notching the Brecksville Dam, the first step in the removal of a concrete structure that’s spanned the Cuyahoga River since 1951. As water from the dam pool has been released, another dam dating back to the beginning of the Ohio & Erie Canalway is slowly being unveiled. And there’s a lot of history behind the Pinery Dam.
NOTE: The following is heavily excerpted from a National Park Service document funded by Ohio EPA and administered by Friends of the Crooked River for the National Park Service. Scott D. Heberling, MA, project historian and historical archeologist, was responsible for background research, field survey, and report preparation. The entire 578 page document can be viewed at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=121&projectID=18943&documentID=97568
The story of the Pinery Dam begins in 1827. In their rush to complete the Ohio & Erie Canal and open it to navigation at the earliest possible date, the Ohio Board of Canal Commissioners postponed the construction of certain components that “were esteemed of less pressing importance,” including the regulating weirs around locks and also the feeders which would divert water from the Cuyahoga River into the canal. These shortcuts interfered with the proper operation of the canal since it was impossible to provide an adequate water supply. It immediately became clear that the flow of water from the small streams that were allowed to flow into the canal would be insufficient to sustain canal operations, particularly during the summer season.
The Commissioners took steps to address this problem very quickly after the canal was opened to navigation on July 4, 1827, when they finally had the time to consider matters “of less pressing importance.” They provided for construction of a temporary feeder from the Cuyahoga River at the “Pinery,” while plans were developed for a more permanent feeder complex. On July 26 a contract was awarded to Henry R. Burnam of Boston, Ohio, to build a permanent dam and feeder at that location. According to the contract, Burnam would “construct a dam across the Cuyahoga River near the head of the first rapids below the mouth of Chippewa Creek, & a feeder from thence below the Lock.
The feeder was sufficiently completed to be put into use during the fall of 1827, but Burnam was apparently unable to complete the work, and on December 6 a new contract was awarded to William Brown and Merrick Sawyer to finish the job.
In 1930-1931 Cuyahoga County built the Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge which spanned the valley and bisected the Pinery Feeder Complex. The remains of the Pinery feeder complex are located at the south end of the watered section of canal, just north of Station Road between Mile Markers 16 and 17. The location is easily accessible from the Station Road Trailhead. Although the present dam and head gates date to the mid-20th century, the feeder is fully functional and still supplies water to the canal north of this point as it has since 1827. The original Pinery feeder complex consisted of a V-shaped dam in the river; head gates to regulate the flow of water from the river into the feeder; the feeder channel itself; and a waste weir to return excess water to the river. The structures have been rebuilt or repaired many times between 1844 and 1906.
After the 1913 flood, the Pinery Feeder and the canal section between Brecksville and Cleveland were repaired and continued to operate since they supplied water to the American Steel and Wire Company’s Cuyahoga Works. In 1949 AS&W replaced the 1905 feeder head gates with a new reinforced concrete head gate structure complete with new control valves. Two years later it replaced the old timber crib-dam with a new fixed-crest concrete weir located 120 feet downriver. The old dam was left in place with a 20-foot wide breach in the center to allow the water to flow through. The top of the new dam was one foot higher than the top of the crib-dam which was now submerged beneath the surface of the pool.
One the concrete Brecksville Dam is removed, a historical survey of the Pinery Dam will be performed and when completed, the Pinery Dam will be removed from the river. A screw pump will eventually be installed to maintain water levels in the nearby canal.