June 13, 2019. Our program featured Daphne Mayer who is the Director of Museum and Education for the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. The canal era began in Pennsylvania in 1797 with the Conewago Canal, which carried riverboats around Conewago Falls on the Susquehanna River near York Haven. Spurred by construction of the Erie Canal (construction between 1817 and 1825) and the perceived competitive advantage it would give New York State in moving people and materials to and from the interior of the continent, Pennsylvanians built hundreds of miles of canals during the early decades of the 19th century.
Two Pennsylvania businessmen convinced the State to allow them to build a canal to facilitate transporting anthracite coal from the Poconos down to the Philadelphia area. The State gave them the Lehigh River and the surrounding land at a price of one ear of corn per year. The catch was the project had to be completed within five years. Josiah White and his partner surprised everyone by completing the job in time. The Lehigh River remained the only privately-owned river in the country until 1966. The railroads eventually replaced the canal boats as the preferred mode of transportation.
The history of the canal era is preserved in Easton at the National Canal Museum located in Hugh Moore Park. The museum features interactive, hands-on exhibits designed to interest children and adults. Visitors can experiment with simple machinery, pulleys, levers, and inclined planes. Visitors can cruise the canal on the Josiah White II as the two-mule team of Hank & George pull the boat along at a speed of less than one mile per hour. The park also offers boat and bike rentals, zip lines, and a dog park. Volunteers are welcome to serve as docents, gardeners, and gift shop operators.