Historical Markers
Wyoming Division Canal Historical Marker
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Wyoming Division Canal

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
North River & East Jackson Streets,

Dedication Date:
August 20, 1994

Behind the Marker

Of the six main anthracite canals in Pennsylvania, only two were state-owned: the North Branch Canal, which included the Wyoming Division, and the Delaware Division Canal.

Pennsylvania had "canal fever" in 1831 when the state legislature authorized Governor George Wolfe to borrow $2.4 million for several Pennsylvania canal extensions, including the Wyoming Division. The vision behind the Wyoming Division was to connect coal in Luzerne County with descending trade to Philadelphia and ascending trade to New York State. All reasoned that this investment would prosper and with a $100,000 appropriation, the state legislature gave the canal a "go." The idea was for boats to travel unimpeded from the Pennsylvania canal system to the famed Erie Canal, but this achievement took years to accomplish. Proposed routes were hotly contested, contractors "lowballed" engineer's estimates, and weather problems caused delays; by February of 1832 the Wyoming Division was over budget with only six miles built. A new completion date was proposed – August of 1833 – but this date passed too.
Canal boats line up at a coal breaker at West Nanticoke, on the Wyoming Division Canal.
Canal boats line up at a coal breaker at West Nanticoke, on the Wyoming Division...

Building a canal was a massive engineering and construction endeavor and many geographic difficulties arose in the construction of the Wyoming Division. A section along the river north of Wilkes-Barre, for example, had vertical rock bluffs more than 4,000 feet high. The construction of a 30-foot wall running along the river to contain the canal bed also added to the cost and the delays. When the canal was finally completed on June 23, 1834, it was well over budget, with a total cost of $342,625. These shortcomings, however, could not dampen the excitement of seeing the water rush into the canal when the Lackawanna feeder opened.

The entire North Branch line cost about $1.5 million to build. This represented a significant investment for a nineteenth-century state government, but during its nearly three decades as a state-run operation, the canal did return the initial outlay.

The state sold the North Branch line in 1858. For the next twenty-five years, two private companies, the Wyoming Canal Company and the North Branch Canal Company, operated the steadily declining venture.

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