Lehigh Canal

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Lehigh Canal
Lehigh Canal-Glendon.jpg
The Lehigh Canal as seen from Guard Lock 8 & Lockhouse, Island Park Road, Glendon, Northampton County, Pennsylvania
Lower division of the Lehigh Canal, from Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania to Easton, Pennsylvania
Location Lehigh River
Upper: Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania to White Haven, Pennsylvania
Lower: Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe) to
Delaware River at Easton, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 40°46′09″N 75°36′13″W / 40.76917°N 75.60361°W / 40.76917; -75.60361Coordinates: 40°46′09″N 75°36′13″W / 40.76917°N 75.60361°W / 40.76917; -75.60361
Built 1818-1821; 24-27
upper: 1838-1843,
Upper ruined & abandoned: 1862
Architect Canvass White, Josiah White
Architectural style Fitted stone, iron and wood
NRHP Reference # 78002437, 78002439, 79002179, 79002307, 80003553[1]
Added to NRHP Earliest October 2, 1978

The Lehigh Canal was a 'navigation', the type of canal built along the line of a river and parallel to the of the fall of the watercourse, constructed 20 years apart that stretched over two parts of the Lehigh River and totaling 72-mile (116 km) along the Lehigh River in eastern Pennsylvania.

The Lower Canal

The lower canal (46.5 miles (74.8 km)) was built by the Lehigh Navigation Company as a coal road to service the Anthracite appetite of Eastern seaboard cities ahead of schedule, between 1818-1820 (down traffic only), and then gradually rebuilt (with locks fully supporting two way traffic) 1824-1827 by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company and continued in operation as a key transportation canal until the 1931. The lower canal connected the Southern Coal Region to the Delaware River basin, connecting Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe, PA) to Easton, PA using a specially designed canal boat capable of making the one-way trip on the River as well.[n 1] It was used to carry anthracite gathered to the central Lehigh Valley to the urban markets of the northeast, especially Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Trenton, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, but supported new growth industries in Bristol, PA, Allentown and Bethlehem. The privately funded canal was joined as part of the Pennsylvania Canal System, a complex system of canals and tow paths—and eventually railroads. The canal was sold for recreation use in the 1960s. Today, many parts of the canal or railroads later constructed to flank it, have been converted to the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (known colloquially as the 'D & L Trail'), a multi-use rail trail.


The Lehigh Coal Mine Company[edit]

The Lehigh Coal Mine Company (LCMC) was founded in 1792, a few months after Anthracite coal was discovered at Sharpe Mountain, a peak of the Pisgah Ridge near to the location that became Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, and its principals would secure rights to over 10,000 acres before the Lehigh Canal was created. Where that enterprise found it fairly easy to find and mine coal, which occurred in outcrops and vertically aligned shafts near the original find, the mine output needed laboriously loaded onto pack animals which had to carry the coal nine miles to the Lehigh shores. There, the company had to build skiffs using local stands of timber, which then needed manned by stout hearts which had to brave and survive running the various Rapids along the lower Lehigh River. Having no company officer willing to manage from the field, the LCMC hired contractors, or sent out teams over the years which had only sporadic success in getting a boat filled with coal to the markets of Philadelphia. Yet the Eastern cities were undergoing a deforestation caused energy crisis—fire wood for heating buildings, and charcoal for working or making iron was becoming dear to purchase and hard to find by the time of the War of 1812. Prior to the war, so dismal was the LCMC company's record of getting coal to market, that coal imported from England was cheaper to find and more reliable to repurchase. The war gave a small boost to the company's aspirations, and the LCMC sent an expedition which after a year, returned in 1814 after building five boats but able to bring only two to market. They were both bought by the same party, and it was the last straw for many of the companies backers.

Lower Lehigh Canal[edit]

With the discovery of large surface deposits of anthracite coal, the Lehigh Coal Mine Company (LCMC) was formed in 1792 to secure the mineral rights to vast areas of wilderness west of the Lehigh River ranging beyond to the outcrops atop Sharpe Peak of Pisgah Ridge near present-day Summit Hill. The LCMC lacked a principle investor as a hands-on-manager and periodically hired teams to trek to the wilderness to build 'Arks' along the Lehigh near the turnpike operated from Lausanne (1800s Township)[a] above Mauch Chunk to the Susquehanna River valley (passed by Beaver Meadows and the eventual Beaver Meadows mines) and then attempted to transport the coal down the Lehigh River to the Delaware River and on to the docks in Philadelphia. The lack of steady effort and an intimately involved company officer in the operations returned sketchy results, most often the expeditions would loose arks on the rapids of the Lehigh and so the LCMC made little profits, and only sporadic efforts over two decades. Inspired by the energy shortfall during the blockade of the War of 1812, the LCMC sent a large expedition out in 1813, which started down the river in spring of 1814 with five arks laden with coal. Only two of them made it to Philadelphia, and both were purchased by Josiah White and partner Erskine Hazard. The LCMC board in its disgust confirmed the unreliability of the fuel source when they let it be known they planned no further risky expeditions as too costly, giving White and Hazard the idea of purchasing the rights to operate the mining company. In the fall of 1814 they mounted an expedition to survey the Lehigh's problems and those of the coal mine and transportation needs for getting its output to the River reliably and regularly.

Initial construction[edit]

The lower Lehigh Canal improvements were initially designed and engineered by LC&N founder Josiah White[2][b] after they'd very quickly become disenchanted with the decisions and strategies of the Schuykill Canal's board of directors,[2] so by the winter of 1814 were very interested in exploring the option of getting coal from Lehigh valley down to Philadelphia the more than 100 miles (160 km), one way or another.[2]

, but by late 1822 just as Anthracite was achieving early acceptance and the skepticism was waning[c] the drain of building sacrificial 'Coal Arks' for every load delivered to the docks of Philadelphia in 1822 as the LC&N operations were just hitting stride was already a worry to the managing board of directors.[3] By mid-1822, managing director Josiah White was consulting with Canvass White, an veteran designing engineer of New York's Erie Canal locks, and by late 1822 had shifted construction efforts from bolstering and improving the one-way system begun in 1818 with ambitious two-way dams and lock construction capable of taking both a steam tug and a coastal cargo ship all 45.6 miles (73.4 km) from the Delaware to the slack water pool at Mauch Chunk.

Economics of deforestation[edit]

In 1823, having built and tested four such locks Josiah White made a formal proposal to continue the improvements all the way down the Lehigh, but also including shipping locks along the 62 miles (100 km) of the Delaware River at LC&N expense.<

> via a connection with the Pennsylvania Canal (Delaware Division) in Easton.

to 1829. 

The enlarged Lehigh Navigation extended 46 miles (74 km) between Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania (present-day Jim Thorpe) and Easton with 52 locks, eight guard locks, eight dams and six aqueducts, allowing the waterway to overcome a difference in elevation of over 350 feet (107 m). A weigh lock determined canal boat fees a half mile (1 km) south of Mauch Chunk. A connection across the Delaware River to the Morris Canal through New Jersey allowed the coal from the Lehigh Canal to be shipped more directly to New York City.


The upper Lehigh Canal was designed by Canvass White, an engineer of New York's Erie Canal, and was constructed between 1837 and 1843, as authorized by the 1837 revision of the Main Line of Public Works. The upper Lehigh was a twisty rapids strewn watercourse with steep sides, a large part of which was located in a ravine, the Lehigh Gorge. The village of White Haven, PA is at the upper end of the navigation, and inspired by the Allegheny Portage Railroad the legislature sought to more effectively connect the vast coal deposits of the Wyoming Valley to the Delaware basin cities, noted above. The project included three major railroad projects, which LC&N created a new subsidiary, the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad (LH&S) to implement; north to south these were the Rail connection from the Pennsylvania Canal landing docks at Pittston, PA to an assembly railyard at Ashley, PA; the Ashley Planes incline plane railway to Penobscot Knob and Mountain Top, PA, and lastly, a marshaling yard at Mountain Top with a rail road running down a ribs of a ridgeline down to White Haven and the new upper canal docks. During the 1830s, an extension of 26 miles (42 km) to White Haven, Pennsylvania, which included 20 dams and 29 locks, was constructed, covering a difference in elevation of over 600 feet (183 m) to Mauch Chunk. In 1855, as alternative sources opened to steal market share, the canal reached its peak of more than one million tons of cargo. After that, coal mined in the Schuylkill Valley supplanted coal supplied by the Lehigh Canal.


The demise of the canal began with competition from railroads and the catastrophic flood of June 4, 1862. The canal was used as a means of transportation until the 1940s (about a decade after other similar canals ceased operations), making it the last fully functioning towpath canal in North America. In 1962, most of it was sold to private and public organizations for recreational use.

Recent history[edit]

Several segments of the canal were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, under listing names "Lehigh Canal", "Carbon County Section of the Lehigh Canal" (#79002179), "Lehigh Canal: Eastern Section Glendon and Abbott Street Industrial Sites" (#78002437), "Lehigh Canal; Allentown to Hopeville Section" (#79002307) and others. For the Carbon County section, also known as "Upper Canal Lock #1 to Lower Canal Dam #3", the listing included 30 contributing structures.[4]

The Eastern section, now preserved and made into a recreational boating area, runs along the Lehigh River from Hopeville down to the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers in Easton, Pennsylvania and includes the Chain Bridge, which was separately NRHP-listed in 1974. The Eastern section listing is for a 260-acre (110 ha) area with three contributing buildings, seven contributing sites, and 11 contributing structures.[4]

The Allentown to Hopeville section is a 53.9-acre (21.8 ha) area that includes Greek Revival and vernacular Federal architecture among its one contributing building and 13 contributing structures.[4]

Present-day Activities[edit]

An 8-mile (13 km) segment of the canal towpath has been converted into a multi-use trail that runs from Freemansburg through Bethlehem to Allentown. The trail runs along the river and active railroad tracks. A section near Jim Thorpe is accessible to recreational users. The final section in Easton is maintained and operated by the National Canal Museum. Other short sections are accessible, but there are parts of the canal towpath that have been worn by the elements and are not safe to access.[5]


  1. ^ The delay in completing the Delaware Canal is listed as an extra expense in the annual reports of LC&N.
  1. ^ Lausanne is mentioned repeatedly in various 19th century and early 20th century Histories of Carbon County and Luzerne County as a toll station on the foot & horseback turnpike between Mauch Chunk and the Susquehanna River. Other histories mention the turnpike running past Beaver Meadows' developing mines, and mention one of the houses there as being built in association with the toll road and that the initial mine output was hauled out by mule train along the turnpike to the more open country south of the Lehigh Gap. The Turnpike is also mentioned as passing through Penn Haven Junction and running alongside Black Creek and Beaver Creek to get to the mines. This leads to the speculative conclusion that the Lausanne homestead, also mentioned as near the mouth of Nesquehoning Creek was a crossing of that creek where upon the Turnpike ran along the shore to Penn Haven, up to Beaver Meadows and beyond to what became Hazelton.
  2. ^
  3. ^


See also[edit]


  1. ^ If the Lehigh Canal hadn't been built, the Delaware Canal would have had nothing worth the expense to ship, so the investment would never have happened. The principle customer of the Delaware was the coal barges coming down the Lehigh shipped by Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, which also came to manage the Delaware Canal into the 1960s.
  2. ^ The Schuylkill Canal was long delayed by investors quarreling over the best way to proceed. Disgusted, White and Hazard explored tapping Anthracite via the Lehigh, and ended up incorporating the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company which spearheaded many technological initiatives.


  1. Bartholomew, Ann M.; Metz, Lance E.; Kneis, Michael (1989). DELAWARE and LEHIGH CANALS, 158 pages (First ed.). Oak Printing Company, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Center for Canal History and Technology, Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museum, Inc., Easton, Pennsylvania. ISBN 0930973097. LCCN 89-25150. 
  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c Bartholomew, Ann M.; Metz, Lance E.; Kneis, Michael (1989). DELAWARE and LEHIGH CANALS, 158 pages (First ed.). Oak Printing Company, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Center for Canal History and Technology, Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museum, Inc., Easton, Pennsylvania. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0930973097. LCCN 89-25150. 
  3. ^ Alfred Mathews & Ausin N. Hungerford (1884). The History of the Counties of Lehigh & Carbon, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Ancestry.com, Transcribed from the original in April 2004 by Shirley Kuntz. 
  4. ^ a b c National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  5. ^ "Lehigh Canal". National Canal Museum. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 

External links[edit]