Defiance figures prominently in the early history of the United States and Ohio's early days of statehood, but the area owes much of its growth through the middle of the nineteenth century to the spread of canals across the state.
The building of Fort Defiance in 1794 fueled American efforts to move the area's Native population further to the west, making way for the Americans to settle and establish farms here from the middle of the 1830s.
Just as you find many historical markers in the City and County of Defiance detailing the area's military history during the Revolutionary War era and the area's major role during the War of 1812, there are plenty of other markers here detailing Defiance's development as a canal town.
Start your search for the story of Ohio's early days of statehood on the grounds of Defiance's Carnegie library, which are home to the original site of Fort Defiance and the fort's flagstaff marking the baseline from which surveyors mapped the land north into Canada.
General "Mad" Anthony Wayne built the fort intending to use it as a base of operations after establishing control over the area in the 1790s.
Natives allowed the Americans to maintain a trading post at Fort Defiance signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and Americans ceded the right to settle some of the area in this portion of Ohio.
Wayne's idea of exerting control over the area was ordering destruction of all Native American villages and crops within a 50-mile radius of the fort after victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
The fort was one of America's westernmost outposts in the country at the dawn of the 1810s. General (and later President) William Henry Harrison used the site to stage efforts to repel the Native population and the British during the War of 1812.
By 1817, the Native Americans signed away much of their rights to this area and the Americans founded the community of Defiance in 1822.
By 1836, the settlers established the Village of Defiance, which became a city by 1845.
America's Westward Expansion further fueled growth of the area as two railroads and the extension of the Miami and Erie Canal, and Ohio and Wabash Canal, came through the community.
In 1846, the City of Defiance had 700 residents. The population rose to 5.907 by 1880, and by 2000, 16,465 people called the city home.
Transportation became the major impetus for Defiance's development, with movement of goods and passengers transferred via canals, and later railroads, helping to build the industrial base that continues to support city today.
The best places I found to learn more about the area's canals are Independence Dam State Park, which is three miles east of Defiance on route 424, and Canal Park right in the middle of a downtown Defiance parking lot.
Hike along a towpath trail at Independence Dam to trace about three miles of the Miami & Erie and Wabash &Erie canals along the Maumee River.
The park has markers about the canals' history, remains of the canal, a picnic shelter built by Civilian Conservation Corps as part of a public work relief program during the 1930s plus offers amenities like camping, boating access and fishing.
Find the remains of Lock Number 37 along the Miami & Erie Canal behind a row of shops along Clinton Street.
The canal system opened in 1845 from the Miami River to Lake Erie in Toledo and headed west from Toledo to Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Indiana.
Canal traffic remained strong through those areas until the 1850s when railroads began to supplant canals. Passenger boats stopped traveling the canals by 1862, and the Wabash & Erie Canal ceased operations by 1870.
The Miami & Erie Canal hung on until the early 1900s, and the notorious floods of 1913 pretty much destroyed what was left of the canal. By 1917, workers in the city and county of Defiance gradually drained the canals and filled them in.
Defiance uncovered the remains of Lock 37 in 1997 in its downtown, establishing a pocket park in the middle of a parking lot containing the restored remains of Lock 37 and a sign explaining the lock's operation.
If all of this exploring leaves you little thirsty, you'll find ice tea or coffee at Cabin Fever, which has an entrance just steps across the parking lot from the canal lock.
Looking for a nice lunch or dinner? You can slip around the block to Clinton Street, the main route through town. Try Kissner's with its massive late 1800s bar for a burger and beer, or visit the Black Lantern for a more leisurely dinner.
Want to learn more about Defiance's history? Check out History of Defiance County, Ohio Illustrated 1883 a Kindle edition of the reprint of this historical book from the Cornell University Library.
© Dominique King 2015 All rights reserved