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Pennsylvania Canal

Pennsylvania Canal
A network of east-west canals and connecting railroads spanned Pennsylvania from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. North-south canals connecting with this east-west canal ran between West Virginia and Lake Erie on the west, Maryland and New York in the center, and along the border with Delaware and New Jersey on the east. Many shorter canals connected cities such as York, Port Carbon, and Franklin to the larger network.
Map of historic Pennsylvania canals and connecting railroads
Status Abandoned except for historic and recreational segments and navigable rivers
Original owner Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Construction began 1826
Date completed ~1840
Date closed ~1900

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.


  • History 1
  • State built 2
    • Main Line 2.1
    • Susquehanna 2.2
    • Beaver and Erie 2.3
    • Delaware 2.4
  • Privately built 3
  • Parks, monuments, historic places 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


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 between 1817 and 1825 and the competitive advantage it gave 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. These included two canals built by Pennsylvania stock companies, the Schuylkill Canal from Philadelphia to Port Carbon and the Union Canal from Reading to Middletown.[1] By 1834, the Main Line of Public Works, a system of interlocking canals, railways, and inclined planes, was hauling passengers and freight up to 391 miles (629 km) between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Though not all in concurrent operation, the total length of the canals built in Pennsylvania eventually reached 1,243 miles (2,000 km).[2]

By 1840, work had been completed not only on the Main Line of Public Works but on many other lines, officially called divisions. The Main Line consisted of the Eastern Division, the Juniata Division, the Western Division, the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, and the Allegheny Portage Railroad. North–south divisions operated along the Delaware River in the east, the Susquehanna River in the middle of the state, and the Beaver River in the west.[1] A few additions were completed after 1840.

By about 1850, railroads had begun displacing canals as the preferred method of long-distance transportation. In 1852, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) began offering rail service from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and in 1857, it bought the Main Line Canal from the state. In 1859, all canals owned by the commonwealth were sold. The PRR formed the Pennsylvania Canal Company in 1867 and continued to use canals to haul freight. However, the canal business declined steadily in the last quarter of the century, and most Pennsylvania canals no longer functioned after 1900.[3]

State built

The state funded the following canals in Pennsylvania. For interstate canals, the listed mileage is for the Pennsylvania portion only.[2]

Main Line


Beaver and Erie


Privately built

Private entities funded the following canals in Pennsylvania. For interstate canals, the listed mileage is for the Pennsylvania portion only.[2]

Parks, monuments, historic places

Several canal segments or other canal infrastructure in Pennsylvania are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[4] One complete canal, the Delaware Canal, is the main feature of Delaware Canal State Park (formerly Theodore Roosevelt State Park) between Bristol and Easton. It is continuously intact for its full length of 60 miles (97 km).[5]

Other Pennsylvania canal infrastructure on the National Register includes the following:

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Pennsylvania Canals". Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  2. ^ a b c Shank, William H. (1986). The Amazing Pennsylvania Canals, 150th Anniversary Edition. York, Pennsylvania: American Canal and Transportation Center.  
  3. ^ "Pennsylvania's Transportation System: the Canals". Pennsylvania State Archives. Archived from the original on 2007-11-06. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  4. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  5. ^ "Delaware Canal State Park". Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 

External links

  • Pennsylvania Canal Society
  • American Canal Society
  • National Canal Museum
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