Historical Markers
Lehigh Canal Historical Marker
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Lehigh Canal

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Hugh Moore State Park, Easton

Dedication Date:
October 21, 1995

Behind the Marker

Two Quaker businessmen from Philadelphia, Josiah White and Erskine Hazard, spearheaded the development of the Lehigh Canal. They were quick to see the potential of "stone coal" as a cheaper, more fuel-efficient energy source than wood and spent years attempting to exploit the discoveries of anthracite in the Lehigh Valley. Eventually, they realized that they needed to find a safer, more accessible route from mines to markets. In 1818, they received permission from the Pennsylvania state legislature to improve the navigation of the Lehigh River in pursuit of this goal. 
Canal boats, full of coal, pass through the Lehigh Canal lock in this undated etching.
Canal boats, full of coal, pass through the Lehigh Canal lock in this undated...

During this era, canals often began as river improvement projects. White and Hazard "improved" the Lehigh River by building twelve dams and sluices to release water; this enhanced the flow of water and allowed coal arks to float. Like many others, White's and Hazard's investors soon realized the value of a more ambitious effort to create a man-made waterway. They formed two private companies that ultimately merged to create the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (LC&N). Granted an incredible 36-year long charter, they received a virtual monopoly from the state legislature to mine and transport coal from the Lehigh Valley.
Mauch Chunk Circa 1880
Mauch Chunk, PA, circa 1880.

Completed after two years in 1829, the Lehigh Canal was five-feet deep, 60 feet wide and initially 36 miles long. A towpath, for mules to tow the coal-laden barges, ran beside it. The company built aqueducts, culverts--to continue the route over streams--dams for supply water, and 56 locks from Mauch Chunk to Easton. The canal was later extended and eventually connected the LC&N's anthracite to the Delaware Canal, running south to Philadelphia, and to the Morris Canal, running east across New Jersey.

The company lost no time in building one of the nation's first railroads, the gravity or markerswitchback line that carried coal from Summit Hill to the Lehigh Canal at Mauch Chunk. By 1840 the company had shipped nearly 300,000 tons of anthracite to market, and charged exorbitantly high tonnage rates to other coal producers who shipped via its Lehigh Canal.

Today, the restored section of the Lehigh Canal is known as Hugh Moore Park and is open to visitors.
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