Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor
|Industry||National Heritage Corridor, Historic preservation|
|Products||Hiking trails, River recreation|
The Delaware & Lehigh Canal National and State Heritage Corridor stretches 165 miles, generally from north to south, across five counties and over one hundred municipalities in eastern Pennsylvania in the United States. It follows the historic routes of the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad, Lehigh Valley Railroad, the Lehigh Navigation, Lehigh Canal, and the Delaware Canal, from Bristol (northeast of Philadelphia) to Wilkes-Barre in the northeastern part of the state. The Corridor's mission is to preserve heritage and conserve green space for public use in Bucks, Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon, and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania.
Definition of a Heritage Corridor
A national heritage area is a region that has been recognized by the United States Congress for its unique qualities and resources. It is a place where a combination of natural, cultural, historic, and recreational resources have shaped a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape.
Heritage areas allow local communities to cooperate on efforts to preserve the resources that are important to them. This partnership approach to heritage development allows collaboration around a theme, industry, and/or geographical feature that influenced the region’s culture and history. This strategy encourages individuals and agencies to prioritized programs and projects that recognize, preserve, and celebrate many of America’s defining landscapes.
Within the National Heritage Corridor there are more than 100,000 acres (400 km2) of public lands for outdoor recreation, including numerous state, county and local parks.
The Corridor includes hundreds of historical sites related to a variety of subjects including:
- social development of young America (Leni Lenape settlements)
- the anthracite coal mining era (the Molly Maguires labor movement)
- the Industrial Revolution (Bethlehem Steel)
- the development of systematic canals (the Lehigh Navigation, Lehigh and Delaware Canals)
- the development of rail transportation (Lehigh Valley Railroad)
- the evolution of natural conservation (John J. Audubon and Bucks County conservation movement)
It also contains sites that can be interpreted to represent the transforming principles that became the foundation of the American Constitution — religious freedom, mutual responsibility between government and the people, and equality.
In 1988, the U.S. Congress designated the Corridor as nationally significant, in recognition of its nine National Historic Landmarks, six National Recreation Trails, two National Natural Landmarks and hundreds of sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
History of the Corridor
The Corridor has long been a busy crossroads. The Susquehannock, Iroquois, Leni Lenape, and other tribes frequently traveled through the northern region, while the Delaware Canal parallels old trading routes. Many original Native American villages that developed here in the wilds of Pennsylvania drew European settlers in search of opportunity.
The founding of anthracite coal in 1791 by Philip Ginder in what is now Summit Hill in Carbon County, PA provided a way for the region to develop and contribute to America’s iron and steel industries. The anthracite coal in the region is known as “stone coal” because of its rock-like hardness. Anthracite is created over millions of years as countless layers of sediment compress plant debris from swamps until it becomes hard. The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor follows the route stone coal took from mine to market, winding through northern mountains and along the banks of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers.
In the early to mid-1800s, a lengthy network of locks, canals, and towpaths was built to ship anthracite, further aiding the mining industry’s growth. The Lehigh Canal system generated a great deal of industrial development in the form of mining and the accompanying infrastructure. It gave rise to many towns and offshoot businesses, such as timber cutting, sawmills, steel mills, tanneries, etc. The Delaware Canal, on the other hand, was a means of shipping goods and establishing commerce. It supplemented existing overland routes resulting in the lack of an industrial boom along this route. However, the Lehigh and Delaware Canals merged to create part of a grand transportation systems stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1862 a massive flood, which destroyed dams, locks, canal boats, and villages, helped to shift the shipping of anthracite coal towards the railroads.
Much like the canals, railroads helped to transport goods and contribute to the development of the region. Asa Packer's Lehigh Valley Railroad, which ran from Mauch Chunk to Easton and on to New York City, was the first rail line to have a significant impact. The Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad, Reading Railroad, and the Pennsylvania Railroad also moved into the area to create competition for the shipping of coal and goods.
The canals and railroads that serve as the Corridor’s backbone once transported coal, lumber, slate, iron, cement, and steel from mountain to market, fueling the Industrial Revolution and supplying downstream industries for more than a century. Of all the products and businesses born out of the coal and transportation connection, none were as significant as Bethlehem Steel, locally known as “The Steel.”
Corridor uses today
The mission of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor is to enrich communities through actions and partnerships that conserve the resources, preserve the history, and enhance the quality of life. Today, the Corridor offers a broad range of experiences for visitors and residents such as hiking, boating, camping, biking, fishing, etc.
Historically, the Corridor has been used to link people and communities, and this is still a prominent goal of the Corridor today. The entire trail is used to connect and promote the importance of this region. Each community has unique ecological attributes and a diversified history to conserve.
The Corridor is used to preserve these features while offering an opportunity to educate and enjoy nature.
The D&L Trail follows the 165-mile route that anthracite coal took from mine to market. It winds through northern mountains and along the banks of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers through northeast Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, and Bucks County. The D&L Trail passes through towns, industrial powerhouses, and along remnants of the Lehigh and Delaware canals. This earthen path exposes walkers, hikers, bicyclists, and others to some of Pennsylvania’s finest wildflowers, waterfalls, and wildlife.