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Collection Captain Pearl R. Nye: Life on the Ohio and Erie Canal

About this Collection

Captain Pearl R. Nye: Life on the Ohio and Erie Canal captures the culture and music of the men, women, and children who worked and lived along the Ohio and Erie Canal. Nye, who was born and raised on a canal boat, never lost his love of the "Big Ditch." After the canal closed permanently in 1913, he devoted considerable time and energy to preserving its songs and stories. This online presentation includes 22 audio discs containing 75 songs performed by Nye, 74 manuscripts of correspondence and song texts, and 7 photographs. The recordings were made by John Lomax, Alan Lomax, Elizabeth Lomax, and Ivan Walton between June 1937 and September 1938. Library staff transcribed the songs (both traditional music and original compositions by Nye) and included them in this presentation.

Pearl R. Nye. Photograph courtesy of Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

Nye was a prolific letter writer and corresponded with the Lomaxes frequently after meeting them in 1937. In addition, he transcribed the lyrics of hundreds of songs for the Library of Congress. Nye taped handwritten song texts together creating "scrolls"—the longest in this collection is approximately 14 feet. Many of Nye’s letters  and song texts are included in this online presentation.

Also included in this presentation is an essay called "An Informant In Search of a Collector: Captain Pearl R. Nye of Ohio" and a timeline that identifies significant events in the life of Nye and the history of the Ohio and Erie Canal with which his life was so closely associated. A finding aid to the collection is available here: