A short-lived venture
Despite efforts to make the Wabash & Erie Canal work, the project was impractical from the onset. Its limited use (the canal was disabled by freezing temperatures, drought, or flooding) couldn't compete with the reliability of the railroad. Additionally, the fear that stagnant water might bring disease made the canal unpopular with Evansville citizens. By 1860, most of the southern section was no longer used, and the entire Wabash & Erie Canal from Terre Haute was abandoned in 1861. The following year, the canal bridges within the city were replaced with box culverts with fill dirt over them in 1862. This allowed access to canal waters for those businesses still needing water power for their day-to-day operations. The canal bed was filled in entirely in 1870. Several streets comprised of the old canal bed were named Canal St, explaining the multiple "Canal Streets" found in old maps and street listings.
In 1876, the property of the Wabash & Erie Canal was sold at auction 1876. Several land owners filed suit against the government, however, stating that once the canal failed its property should be returned to them. Legal battles went on for years.
The flat towpath of the canal was suitable for railroad development, and a section of the old W & E canal was used for the Lake Erie, Evansville & South Western (L E E & S W) RR c1871. This line was later part of the Louisville, Evansville, & St. Louis (L E & St L) RR and later still part of the Southern RR. The old canal and tracks can still be seen along Morgan Ave near Wesselmen Park and Stockwell Rd.
Once the canal was abandoned, Smyrna, as with several other tiny communities in Warrick County (Warrickton, Newark, Millersburgh, Boston, Dongola), failed to grow and faded away.
Today few remnants of the old W & E Canal can still be seen, but its influence has been solidified in Evansville's history: the canal helped the city grow. Despite its failure, the speculation alone put the Evansville on the map and brought the railroads that helped connect our city to the larger world.
Wabash Erie Canal at HistoricEvansville.com - http://historicevansville.com/wabasheriecanal.php
Courier Press article (6-29-2007) - http://www.courierpress.com/news/2007/jun/29/interest-runs-deep-in-wabash-and-erie-canal/
Canal Society of Indiana - http://www.indcanal.org/