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The Pennsylvania Canal

Pennsylvania Canal refers generally to a complex system of canals, dams, locks, tow paths, aqueducts, and other infrastructure including, in some cases, railroads in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Assembly of 1824 applied the term to the canals and railroads of the Main Line of Public Works to be built across the southern part of the state, and the term was also applied to canals later added to the state system.[1] Privately built canals, not technically part of the Pennsylvania Canal, linked to the public system and added to its value. Though most of the canals no longer have any function, some segments retain value as historic and recreational sites. - Wikipedia

Second Report of the Pennsylvania Canal Commissioners

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Feb 15, 1826

Harrisburg, Feb. 9.

The second report of the canal commissioners was communicated to both Houses of Assembly on Tuesday last. Its prominent statement are:

1. That the attention of the commissioners was exclusively directed to routes between the Susquehanna and Allegheny. Of course the Pennsylvania Canal bill cannot interfere with the calculations of the commissioners.

2. The distance by the West Branch or Northern route from the mouth of the Juniata to Pittsburg is 353 miles. There are no serious impediments to the construction of a canal upon this route. Estimated cost of a canal $4,324,000. Lockage 2080 feet. Time of passing a lock 10 minutes. At 30 miles a day, 16 days necessary for a boat to pass the whole distance of the canal.

3. The distance from the mouth of Juniata to Pittsburg, by the Juniata route, 267 miles. A canal impracticable. But by a canal, and 28 miles of railroad and inclined planes, a communication may be made. Lockage 1291 feet. Estimatated cost $3,045,000. Without delaying the commencement and prosecution of the work, the final decision may be referred to a Board of Enginners. Two intermediate routes were also surveyed but were not found to possess any advantages which could bring them into competition with the above. - Har. Chron.

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) May 3, 1826

Pittsburg, April 12.

Mr. Roberts, the Engineer employed by the Canal Commissioners to make the survey preparatory to the location of the western section of the Pennsylvania canal (from Pittsburg to the mouth of the Kiskeminetas) commenced operations of Wednesday last, at the lower end of Liberty street. - Gazette.

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) July 5, 1826

Harrisburg, June 23.

Pennsylvania Canal.

The board of canal commissioners broke up their session on the 20th instant. They determined the location of the whole eastern and in part that of the western division of the Pennsylvania canal; and received an almost countless number of proposals for the execution of the work from the mouth of the Swatara to the Juniata, which are left for the acting commissioners, Messrs. Mowry and Lacock to adopt or reject. Among the rest of the contractors is a company from the state of New York, who propose to take the entire bridges, culverts and whatever else appertains or shall be necessary to it.

From the subjoined resolutions of the board, which we have been permitted to copy and can therefore be relied on as authentic, the exact dimensions of the canal and locks, as also its points of commencement and termination, so far as the location is settled may be ascertained. We prefer giving the public this information by publishing the resolutions themselves, instead of conveying it in our own language believing it will give better satisfaction. The enlargement of the canal from Harrisburg to Foster's Falls, was directed by the board with a view to the accommodation of Harrisburg or the erection of water power near it. And we are constrained by the liberality as well as policy of their determination on this point to give them every credit for it; for while they thus afford us important advantages, they likewise as we have hitherto stated, will promote the object of the main work. Our citizens now are and such as are not ought to be, well satisfied. More than has been grated could not be asked from the commissioners in reason or sober expectation. The excavation of the canal will be commenced and prosecuted with as much energy and dispatch as practicable, as soon as the contracts shall have been entered into.

Eastern Section

"At a meeting of the Canal Commissioners of Pennsylvania held at the borough of Harrisburg, on the nineteenth day of June, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six, it was resolved that the board, with the approbation of William Strickland, their engineer (if his Excellency the Governor shall consent,) do hereby determine the location of the Pennsylvania canal from the river Swatara to or near to a point opposite the mouth of the Juniata, and the dimensions thereof as follows, that is to say: Beginning at a point on the Swatara, designated on a plan or draft of the said William Strickland and thence, according to said plan or draft to a point on the East side of the Susquehanna, at Foster's Falls where a stake has been placed by the Engineer. And the board do hereby determine the general dimensions of the Canal to be as follows that is to say: From the last mentioned point on the Susquehanna to Harrisburg, forty-three feet wide at the bottom, with four feet six inches depth of water and with a fall of one inch and a half to the mile. Thence to the Swatara, forty feet wide at the water line, twenty-eight feet wide at bottom and 4 feet in depth, subject to such occasional alterations in the location and other particulars as the Engineer and acting commissioners may find necessary. That the dimensions of the locks be as follows, to wit: Seventeen feet in width and eight-five feet in length, within the chamber."

A mathematical gentleman of our acquaintance was good enough to make a calculation of the quantity of water which would be furnished by the additional depth and width of the canal by which we find that allowing the current which will be created by the fall of an inch in the mile to be a mile an hour, it will give 71,280 cubic feet or 533,174.4 gallons. But by computing what he considered the mean rate of the additional fall produced by the additional water carried through the canal, it will be 77,849 cubic feet or 578, 578 gallons per hour, a quantity believed to be sufficient for any purpose to which it can be applied here.

Western Section

"At a meeting of the canal commissioners of Pennsylvania held in the borough of Harrisburg on the 19th of June 1826, it was resolved that the board with the approbation of Nathan S. Roberts, the engineer, (if his Excellency the Governor shall consent,) do hereby determine in part the location of the Western division of the Pennsylvania Canal and the dimensions thereof as follows, that is to say: Beginning at a point at or near the mouth of Pine creek, on the west side of the Allegheny river, designated on a plan of the said Nathan S. Roberts and thence, according to such plan or draft, to a point at or near the mouth of the Kiskeminetas, also designated on said plan or draft. And the board do hereby determine the general dimensions of the canal to be as follows, to wit: Forty-feet wide on the water line, twenty-eight feet wide at the bottom and four feet in depth, subject to such occasional alterations in the location and other particulars, as the engineer and acting commissioners may find necessary. That the dimensions of the locks be as follow: Fifteen feet in width and eighty five feet in length in the chamber".

So far as we have been informed upon the subject, the following reasons have governed the canal commissioners in confirming the location made by the engineer, of the part only of the western line of canal from Pittsburg to the mouth of the Kiskiminetas. The law authorizing the construction of the canal, directs that the route and dimensions of the canal shall be determined by the board of commissioners, with the approbation of a skilful engineer and the consent of the governor.

It seems that locations and estimates were made by the engineer upon the east and west side of the Allegheny river and plan of the work and a report submitted by him to the board at their late session in this place and that as it regarded expense and the permanency of the canal, he approved of the route upon the west side and disapproved of the east to a point about five miles above Pittsburg where the best ground presents itself upon the east side but the expense of an aqueduct would have to be encountered to embrace it. Thus situated, the board of commissioners unanimously as we understand, the engineer and the governor, thought proper with a view of expediting the work to confirm and order to be put under contract that part of the line about which there could be no dissatisfaction nor dispute, leaving the residue for future decision after a personal examination by the board of commissioners and the governor, should he find it convenient to attend.

From steps thus prudent and cautious and at the same decisive, we can but anticipate to the public the most favorable results in the prosecution and completion of this great work. And without pretending to know more upon these subjects than others, we cannot do less than congratulate our readers upon the auspicious commencement already made upon this important undertaking. The loans already called for have been made upon terms unusually favorable to the commonwealth. It was but to ask and receive and this from our own citizens without travelling beyond the bounds of Pennsylvania. And further, having observed the number of bidders and the anxiety felt to obtain contracts at this place, we are much mistaken if in our next number, we shall not be able to announce the pleasing fact that the whole line of canal will be contracted by those who will faithfully fulfill their engagements much below any estimate of expenses heretofore made. Penn. Intel.

Contractors Begin Operators

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania August 2, 1826

From the Harrisburg Chronicle.

Pennsylvania Canal

The contractors have commenced operations upon four sections of one half mile each of the eastern section of the Pennsylvania canal; two between Stoney creek and the mouth of the Swatara and Harrisburg. From the mouth of the Swatara to the western termination of this section of the canal is about 23 miles. We are near to the first of August and contractors are at work but upon two miles. At this rate, when may be expect the Pennsylvania Canal to be finished?

Site for Western Section Decided

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania August 23, 1826

Pittsburg, August 11.

The Canal

The location of the Western section of the Pennsylvania Canal is at length completed. The Commissioners after viewing the ground on both side of the river, as far up as Freeport, finally confirmed the location above Pine Creek on the Western side of the river and determined that from Pine Creek to this city, it should be on the Eastern or city side, at an elevation which will permit the canal's being carried to any point of the rivers on either side of the city. This decision, of course, renders two aqueducts across the Allegheny river necessary - one just above the mouth of Pine creek, 6 miles from the city, the other above the mouth of the Kiskeminitias.

The contracts for the excavation of the canal above Pine Creek will now be closed and the work commenced. As the line from Pine Creek down is on a higher level than that for which the conditioned proposals were received, a notice of 30 days for new proposals becomes necessary before it can be put under contract. The commissioners closed their session here on Wednesday evening and yesterday set out for Meadville where they will take into consideration the expediency of constructing a navigable feeder from French Creek to the summit level of the Coneaut Lake, and of surveying and locating a canal thence to Lake Erie. - Gazette.

Eastern Section begins Construction

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania September 20, 1826

Pennsylvania Canal

The eastern section of this work has hands employed upon nearly its whole extent of twenty-three miles. The construction of a basin, 570 by 270 feet was commended last week, near to the north-eastern verge of this borough; its purposes we suppose to be a harbor for boats and to contain water with which to propel the machinery of mills.

1827 Meeting of Canal Commissioners

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania May 23, 1827

Harrisburg, May 14

The Pennsylvania Canal Commissioners adjourned on Monday last, to meet again, at this place, on the 1st of June. During the sitting, Dr. Darlington resigned his office, and of course vacated his seat as President of the Board, which was filled by the appointment of Judge Scott, of Luzerne county. A commissioner in the room of Dr. Darlington has not been appointed by the Governor.

The board decided that the location of the western division of the canal, should be, from the aqueduct at the mouth of Pine creek, down the eastern side of the Allegheny river and meet the Monongahela at Pittsburg by the Grant's hill or tunnel route. This division to be immediately located and put under contract.

No appointment of chief engineer, in the room of Mr. Strickland, resigned, has been made and of the engineers to supply the place of Judge Geddes and Mr. Roberts we have no information. The latter gentleman we learn, will give his services until after the next meeting of the board, gratis.*

The canal from the mouth of the Juniata, by that river to Lewistown, and by the Susquehanna to Northumberland, will be located and put under contract as soon as possible. - Chron.

*The Franklin Gazette says - Mr. Strickland has however volunteered to superintend the completion of that part of the Canal which was commenced under him.


At a meeting of the Canal Commissioners, Mr. Guilford was appointed to survey and locate the route of canal from Clark's ferry to Northumberland: Mr. Livermore the route from Johnstown to the Kiskeminetas and Mr. Rawle to take charge of the eastern section in the room of Mr. Strickland. Mr. Roberts, it is understood, will remain on the western section, until it shall be in such a state, as that it can be completed by the assistants. - Penn. Intel.

Pennsylvania Canal Construction

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), July 4, 1827

Harrisburg, June 25

Pennsylvania Canal

Mr. Guilford has been engaged in making surveys and levels, upon the line between the mouth of the Juniata and Northumberland. He went up the Susquehanna, on the east side, and came down on the west.

Mr. De Witt Clinton Jr., started on Tuesday last to make surveys and levels upon the Juniata from its mouth to Lewistown.

When Mr. Guilford and Mr. Clinton shall have completed the above examinations, three of the Engineers employed by the State, will under an act of the last Assembly, examine the ground, from Foster's Falls, below Clark's Ferry, up the Juniata on both sides, so as to enable them to advise and the Canal Commissioners to determine, whether the Susquehanna shall be crossed by an aqueduct at Foster's Falls and the Canal be carried up the west side of the Juniata - or whether it shall be carried up the east side of the Juniata from Duncan's Island.

Mr. John Mitchell of Centre and Mr. William Wilson of Lycoming, are exploring the head waters of the West Branch; with a view to a continuous canal from the Susquehanna to the Allegheny.

We are assured that the State Engineers are most assiduous in the prosecution of the business to which they have been called.

The excavation of the eastern section of the Pennsylvania Canal - from Middletown to the mouth of the Juniata is nearly complete. Bridge and lock building is carried on actively. But the contract at the end of the Kittatiny mountain - at Hunter's Falls it appears to us cannot be completed this year. The contract at the end of Peter's Mountain is also difficult of execution and in a still more backward state, it not having been given out until this season on account of Mr. Strickland's location having been rejected last and adopted this year. - Chronicle.


Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), October 10, 1827

The Pennsylvania Canal, according to a letter from Pittsburg, in the U.S. Gazette is advancing rapidly in that neighborhood. The first stone of the Pier and Lock No. 10, communicating with the Allegany river, was laid on the 24th of September. The excavation is five feet below the level of the river and extends out on its bed two hundred and fifty feet. A hundred men have been employed for some weeks past working day and night and the pumps have enabled them to lay the foundation. The undertaking already spreads industry and trade in the neighboring country. For our own sake, not less than that of general prosperity, we wish all success to the enterprises of our Pennsylvania neighbors.


Harrisburg, April 11

The water is now running through the Pennsylvania Canal to Middletown and it is expected boats will arrive from that town tomorrow. The military, we are informed will turn out in honor of the occasion and salutes will be fired from a field piece under command of Major Bailey. - Reporter

Pennsylvania Canal

The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)

December 17 1828

Harrisburg, Dec. 8

We understand that the water of Fishing-creek was let into the Canal at McAllister's on Wednesday last, and that it flowed without interruption until it came within two miles of Harrisburg, where the embankment is of loose slate, taken from the bed of the Canal. Further the water will not come. - Chron.

We regret to learn that a number of coal arks have been lost on the dams erected at Foster's falls and Shamokin. From the watermen, we learn that the danger in running those dams is considered greater than running the Conowago falls. It is, therefore, necessary that they should undergo alterations before our spring freshet. - Int.

Pennsylvania Canal
Western Division

Republican Compiler, Gettysburg, PA, January 7, 1829

We are informed that the water was passed over the large Aqueduct at Freeport with perfect safety. In a few days the water will be let into the Canal the whole distance from Kiskiminetas to Pittsburg. All the difficult places on the Canal, from the Salt Works to this place are already surmounted and the Salt Boats are now actively navigating it for a considerable distance; free from impediment or danger. It is expected that in about two weeks, the navigation will be open as low as Blairsville. - Pittsburg Statesman.

We know not who can expect the navigation of the Canal to be open from Blairsville, so soon as stated by the "Stateman". Certainly not the Commissioners, Engineers or contractors. They know that the Tunnel, eight miles below this, is not yet completed through the rock. And that in some places, the earth has not been touched by spade, pick or shovel, on the line of canal. Perhaps the editor of the "Statesman" has been lead to express this expectation by a paragraph in the Governor's Message. His Excellency uses words of caution in that paragraph, not pledging his own veracity, but giving it as hearsay only. The canal will not be in a condition to receive the water, at all events not fit for navigation from this place, much before this time next year. The Tunnel on the Conemaugh is not expected to be completed before the first of May or June next. We do not see why the true state of this work should be concealed or why it was represented to the Governor so differently from the truth. - Blairsville Record

Wiconisco Canal Abandoned
Roanoke daily times. (Roanoke, Va), February 27, 1890
An Old Canal Abandoned
Philadelphia, Feb. 26. - President I. J. Wistar, of the Pennsylvania Canal company, has issued a notice that the company has abandoned for public use all that portion of the Wiconisco canal, now a part of the Pennsylvania canal, extending from Millersburg to a point 150 feet above the head of the outlet lock, known as Lock No. 1, near Clark's Ferry in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, being about 124 miles in length.

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