Peninsula: Rich In History

May 18, 2017

In the middle of CVNP lies the village of Peninsula, a small town steeped in Cuyahoga Valley history. The village gets its name from the original shape the Cuyahoga River made as it cut through the area, creating several narrow fingers or peninsulas.

Because of its prime location halfway between Akron and Cleveland, Peninsula was historically a hub for canallers traveling through the area. During the mid-1800s, Peninsula was known for its boat building, boasting double the production of other towns. It also saw a number of other smaller industries, including flour milling along the Cuyahoga River.

This week, learn about a couple major industries Peninsula has hosted over the years.

Boat-Building Ventures

In 1863, Peninsula’s peak boat-building year, 33 boats moved from local yards for the Civil War trade. Imagine walking through the noisy, bustling boatyard in that era: you’d hear the clang of hammers and the persistent crunch of saws cutting through wood. The smell of wet wood and steam would fill the air, immersing you in the boat-making process.

An old-time historian wrote, “A boatyard was not a spectacular place… It consisted merely of an open space with a partially completed boat or two ranged beside the canal bank. A stick of timber might be perched high on a couple of supports with two men whipsawing it into planks… Carpenters, calkers, painters would be busy about the hulls, depending on the stages of completion.”

“The yard would be littered with chips, shavings, and bits of wood and a few small board-laden saw horses,” he wrote. “It is said that the side panels were sawed from logs, hardwood pieces for frames and bottoms came from local saw mills, and the pine lumber for cabins and decks was boated out from Cleveland.”

Just south of Peninsula along the Ohio and Erie Canal was a dry-dock, where boats could be repaired. From there, travelers could continue toward Cleveland or Akron—nearly a full day’s journey in either direction. Imagine a time when it took a whole day just to get from the middle of the park to one of the major cities nearby!

Peninsula Flour Mill

Peninsula was also home to a flour mill built in the 1800s, producing flours such as Peerless Patent Flour. Its close proximity to the canal and valley railroad provided easy modes of transportation to neighboring cities.

The Cuyahoga River was also a helpful tool for the mill, as a dam diverted water to provide power need to grind the grain into flour. On the day after Christmas, 1931, however, the mill burned down, ending the era of flour product in Peninsula.

These days, Peninsula is filled with shops and restaurants for both locals and out-of-town visitors to the national park. It’s also home to one of the Conservancy’s shops, Trail Mix Peninsula. Particularly during the summer months, you can always see people exploring the streets of the bustling little town, continuing Peninsula’s traditional role as a central hub for the people of the Cuyahoga Valley.

Content for this blog post adapted from More Cuyahoga ValleyTales by Margot Y. Jackson and Mary K. Newton