Extraordinary Stories

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

The "Canals And The Era Of Water Transportation: Part I - Lancaster County's Beginning" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Pulled a book from the bookshelf that I hadn't used for quite some time titled Old Lancaster: Historic Pennsylvania Commonwealth written by Lancasterian Frederic Klein and illustrated by Charles X. Carlson. I have used this book from time to time while writing about the history of Lancaster and enjoy viewing the artwork of one of America's best artists.  I came upon a few pages that talked about the canal systems that connected Lancaster to the Susquehanna River and the advantages of commerce and trade that resulted from that canal.
A pen and ink drawing by Charles X. Carlson illustrating the
canal that ran from Reigart's Landing to the Safe Harbor.
In 1825 the Conestoga Navigation Company completed a seventeen-mile long canal with six locks that connected the Conestoga Creek (later called the Conestoga River) from Reigart's Landing, which was located at the foot of East King Street, to Safe Harbor on the Susquehanna River.  It was felt that this canal would give Lancaster all the advantages of a seaport town and carry freight, coal, lumber and grain faster and more efficiently than the Conestoga Wagons that were currently being used.  The "Edward Coleman" made the first trip down the canal in 1825.  I'm sure their were many in attendance as it made it's way from what is now called Bridgeport to the mighty Susquehanna.  But, the canal suffered quite a few problems and setbacks.  Spring floods seemed to be a constant threat to the few dams along the canal and the cost of maintaining the canal caused change in ownership from time to time.  Then in 1837 the "Lancaster and Susquehanna Slackwater Navigation Company" opened their new operation with a gala cruise down the canal.  The cruise included a band, banquet and toast after toast along the way.  The canal was in operation from 1826 to 1865 and remnants of a few of the dams along the canal still remain as well as one of the nine lock-dam combinations which is located in the Conestoga River Park at Safe Harbor. A year after the Lancaster to Safe Harbor was completed, the Pennsylvania state legislature approved $300,000 for constructing a canal along the Susquehanna's eastern shore to bypass rapids and shallows and make the river navigable throughout the length of the canal.  Six years later the Pennsylvania Canal was begun and a year after that, in 1833, it opened to traffic.  It started in Columbia, Pennsylvania, which is slightly more than 20 miles west of Lancaster, PA, and stretched 40 miles north to the junction of the Juniata River.  In 1836 another canal was begun that was to run from Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, a small town directly across the Susquehanna River from Columbia, PA to Havre de Grace, Maryland.  That canal opened in 1839 and the 45 mile canal completed the journey from the Chesapeake Bay to the Juniata River along the Susquehanna River.  Tomorrow I will post postcard pictures as well as photographs that I have found or taken that will show you what the Havre de Grace to Juniata River canal looked like.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

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