Pennsylvania Canal refers generally to a complex system of canals, dams, locks, tow paths, aqueducts, and other infrastructure including, in some cases, railroads in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Assembly of 1824 applied the term to the canals and railroads of the Main Line of Public Works to be built across the southern part of the state, and the term was also applied to canals later added to the state system. Privately built canals, not technically part of the Pennsylvania Canal, linked to the public system and added to its value. Though most of the canals no longer have any function, some segments retain value as historic and recreational sites.
The canal era began in Pennsylvania in 1797 with the Conewago Canal, which carried riverboats around Conewago Falls on the Susquehanna River near York Haven. Spurred by construction of the Erie Canal between 1817 and 1825 and the competitive advantage it gave New York State in moving people and materials to and from the interior of the continent, Pennsylvanians built hundreds of miles of canals during the early decades of the 19th century. These included two canals built by Pennsylvania stock companies, the Schuylkill Canal from Philadelphia to Port Carbon and the Union Canal from Reading to Middletown. By 1834, the Main Line of Public Works, a system of interlocking canals, railways, and inclined planes, was hauling passengers and freight up to 391 miles (629 km) between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Though not all in concurrent operation, the total length of the canals built in Pennsylvania eventually reached 1,243 miles (2,000 km).
By 1840, work had been completed not only on the Main Line of Public Works but on many other lines, officially called divisions. The Main Line consisted of the Eastern Division, the Juniata Division, the Western Division, the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, and the Allegheny Portage Railroad. North–south divisions operated along the Delaware River in the east, the Susquehanna River in the middle of the state, and the Beaver River in the west. A few additions were completed after 1840.
By about 1850, railroads had begun displacing canals as the preferred method of long-distance transportation. In 1852, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) began offering rail service from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and in 1857, it bought the Main Line Canal from the state. In 1859, all canals owned by the commonwealth were sold. The PRR formed the Pennsylvania Canal Company in 1867 and continued to use canals to haul freight. However, the canal business declined steadily in the last quarter of the century, and most Pennsylvania canals no longer functioned after 1900.
The state funded the following canals in Pennsylvania. For interstate canals, the listed mileage is for the Pennsylvania portion only.
- Eastern Division, Columbia to Clarks Ferry, 43 miles (69 km)
- Juniata Division, Juniata Aqueduct to Hollidaysburg, 127 miles (204 km)
- Western Division, Johnstown to Pittsburgh, 104 miles (167 km)
- Allegheny Outlet, Western Division to Allegheny River, 0.75 miles (1.21 km)
- Kittanning Feeder, Kittanning to Western Division, 14 miles (23 km)
- Susquehanna Division, Clarks Ferry to Northumberland, 41 miles (66 km)
- West Branch Division, Northumberland to Farrandsville, 73 miles (117 km)
- North Branch Division, Northumberland to New York State line, 169 miles (272 km)
- Wiconisco Canal, Clarks Ferry to Millersburg, 12 miles (19 km)
- Lewisburg Cut, West Branch Division to Lewisburg, 0.75 miles (1.21 km)
- Bald Eagle Cut, West Branch Division through Lock Haven to Bald Eagle Creek, 4 miles (6 km)
Beaver and Erie
- Beaver Division, Ohio River at Beaver to Pulaski, 31 miles (50 km)
- Shenango Division, Pulaski to Conneaut Lake, 61 miles (98 km)
- Conneaut Division, Conneaut to Erie, 46 miles (74 km)
- French Creek Feeder, Meadville to Conneaut Lake, 25 miles (40 km)
- Franklin Line, French Creek Feeder to Franklin, 22 miles (35 km)
- Delaware Division, Easton to Bristol, 60 miles (97 km)
Private entities funded the following canals in Pennsylvania. For interstate canals, the listed mileage is for the Pennsylvania portion only.
- Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Canal, Bellefonte to Bald Eagle Cut, 22 miles (35 km)
- Codorus Navigation, York to Susquehanna River, 11 miles (18 km)
- Conestoga Navigation, Lancaster to Susquehanna River, 18 miles (29 km)
- Conewago Canal, around Conewago Falls on Susquehanna, 1.25 miles (2.01 km)
- Delaware and Hudson Canal, Honesdale to Roundout, New York, 25 miles (40 km)
- Lehigh Canal, White Haven to Easton, 72 miles (116 km)
- Junction Canal, Athens to Elmira, New York, 3.25 miles (5.23 km)
- Leiper Canal, Crum Creek near Chester, several miles
- Monongahela Navigation Company
- Muncy Cut, Muncy to West Branch Susquehanna, 0.75 miles (1.21 km)
- Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal, New Castle to Akron, Ohio, 18 miles (29 km)
- Pine Grove Feeder, Union Canal to Pine Grove, 22 miles (35 km)
- Sandy and Beaver Canal, Glasgow to Bolivar, Ohio, 0.75 miles (1.21 km)
- Schuylkill Canal, Port Carbon to Philadelphia, 108 miles (174 km)
- Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, Columbia to Havre de Grace, Maryland, 30 miles (48 km)
- Union Canal, Reading to Middletown, 78 miles (126 km)
Parks, monuments, historic places
Several canal segments or other canal infrastructure in Pennsylvania are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One complete canal, the Delaware Canal, is the main feature of Delaware Canal State Park (formerly Theodore Roosevelt State Park) between Bristol and Easton. It is continuously intact for its full length of 60 miles (97 km).
Other Pennsylvania canal infrastructure on the National Register includes the following:
- Allegheny Portage Railroad, from Johnstown to Hollidaysburg, which is both a National Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark
- D & H Canal Company office, scenic drive, northwest side of Lackawaxen Township
- Juniata Division, guard lock and feeder dam, Raystown Branch, Juniata River, 2.5 miles (4.0 km) east of Huntingdon, south of U.S. Route 22, near Springfield, Pennsylvania
- Juniata Division, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of canal between the Pennsylvania Railroad main line and the Juniata River in Granville Township
- Leesport Lock House, a Lockhouse on the Schuylkill Canal in Leesport
- Lehigh Canal, Allentown to Hopeville section, Lehigh River near Bethlehem
- Lehigh Canal, Carbon County section along Lehigh River, Weissport and vicinity
- Lehigh Canal, Glendon and Abbott Street Industrial Sites, Lehigh River from Hopeville to confluence of Lehigh and Delaware Rivers near Easton
- Lehigh Canal, Lehigh Gap to South Walnutport boundary
- Lehigh Canal, Walnutport to Allentown section, Allentown and vicinity
- Schuylkill Navigation Canal, Oakes Reach section, north and east bank of Schuylkill River from Pennsylvania Route 113 to Lock 61
- Union Canal Tunnel, west of Lebanon off Pennsylvania Route 72
- West Branch Division, canal and Limestone Run aqueduct, Milton
- Western Division, canal north of Torrance in Westmoreland County
- Western Division, canal along the Conemaugh River near Robinson
- "Pennsylvania Canals". Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
- Shank, William H. (1986). The Amazing Pennsylvania Canals, 150th Anniversary Edition. York, Pennsylvania: American Canal and Transportation Center. ISBN 0-933788-37-1.
- "Pennsylvania's Transportation System: the Canals". Pennsylvania State Archives. Archived from the original on 2007-11-06. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Delaware Canal State Park". Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2007-11-09.