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Relive coal transportation on a ride on the Lehigh Canal

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    One of the crew members, serving as the conductor on the boat ride of the old Section 8 of the Lehigh Canal. HUNTRE KEIP/TIMES NEWS

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    Josiah White II, the canal boat used to give tours. HUNTRE KEIP/TIMES NEWS

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    The sign near the walking path the mules, Hank and George, use to guide the boat.

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    Hank and George turning the canal boat near the locktender’s house along the Lehigh Canal.

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    Hank and George before the ride.

Published June 22. 2019 07:04AM


Railroads constructed by Asa Packer and the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, transported the coal but the creation of canal boats became anthracite coal’s first source of transportation.

Anthracite coal eventually coined “super fuel” changed the way society used energy.

Major cities like Philadelphia needed coal fast.

At the time, coal would be transported from the coal region to Philadelphia on a raft down the river. The trouble on the river was, it can be taken downstream, but it’s very hard to get back up. When the coal-filled raft reached Philadelphia, the raft was disassembled, and the parts were placed on the market, leaving the raft workers to walk or find transportation home — a 100 miles away.

After much thought, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company created the Lehigh Canal, a two-way navigational system. The canal was handmade with clay packed in the ground. To ensure the security of the clay, all of the farmers in the Lehigh Valley were hired to bring their sheep to walk along the canal — sheep hooves were considered the best to pack clay into the earth. The Lehigh Canal opened in 1829.

Each canal boat was powered by mules that learned how to move by leaning on a towline and taking gradual steps along the canal. A boat weighed approximately 48 tons, but the mules did not feel the weight due to buoyancy and gravity.

With the evolution of railroads, canals became a thing of the past. The Lehigh Canal closed in 1942 after a flash flood destroyed much of the area. The canal was in service for 113 years.

The canals are closed, but the history lives on in the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

Visitors are able to ride the 48-ton Josiah White II canal boat along the waters of old Section 8 of the Lehigh Canal in Hugh Moore Park. The authentically dressed crew explains life on a canal boat, considering families lived on them for eight months out of the year.

The canal ride provided by mules, Hank and George, travels down to the locktender’s house. The locktender needed to physically adjust dam locks set within the canal. The conductor of the boat would notify the lock guard by using a conch shell. This could occur any time between 4 a.m. and 10 p.m. The wives and children of the lock guard needed to adjust the locks if he was away.

The stories on the boat not only explain the impact the Lehigh Canal had on America’s industrial system, but the future it paved for children of canal workers.

A childhood was nonexistent for the children living on a canal and in a locktender’s house.

They learned the importance of being busy early on, and many of them married people who were also part of this culture. This developed private canal boat companies.

The shock factor was evident throughout the guided tour full of elementary school children and their parents. The tour guide pointed out that all of the children would have been working 12-hour shifts if they lived during that time period.

Canal rides are open to the public daily in the summer months. Rain or shine.

The 48-ton Josiah White II canal boat plies the waters of old Section 8 of the Lehigh Canal in Hugh Moore Park. Our crew interprets the story of the anthracite canals and the people who worked and lived on them. Two mules tow the boat on a leisurely trip from the National Canal Museum to the Locktender’s House and back.

The National Canal Museum is located at 2750 Hugh Moore Park Road, Easton.

Canal boat tours are 45 minutes long. Tours run rain or shine, except during thunderstorms or high winds. The canal boat is wheelchair accessible.





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