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The Canal

The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (LC&N) acquired 10,000 acres of coal lands in Eastern Pennsylvania from the State of Pa. plus the right to navigate the Lehigh River. The company also constructed the Lehigh Canal from Mauch Chunk to Easton to provide a means of transporting anthracite coal to Philadelphia.

The canal was constructed in two years using the simplest of earth moving tools, large scoops pulled by horses or mules, hand shovels and wheel barrows. The following description is taken from the Dale Wint book, The History of the Iron Industry and Allied Businesses of the Iron Borough, Catasauqua, PA.

“Work on the canal was commenced during the summer of 1827 with thirteen hands, under the direction of Canvass White, at the mouth of the Nesquehoning Creek; which number soon increased to seventy, and afterwards to many more. Two scows (14 by 35 feet) were rigged for lodging and feeding the men; one was built for the manager’s counting-house, store-house, and dwelling; and another for a kitchen and bakery. As work was finished on the way down the stream, these four scows were floated down from point to point. The construction of the canal was made while the country north of Lehigh Gap was still a wilderness and the working people came from many different nations. Payments were made by check so as not to encourage violence. The work was completed to Easton in 1829, a total distance of 46 miles; the ditch was approximately five feet deep, 60 feet wide at the top and 45 feet wide at the bottom. There were 44 lift locks and 8 guard locks located at the eight dams that were erected. On account of the heavy grade in the course of the river, Catasaauqua had to be well locked. Swartz’s (Hokendauqua) Dam and a guard lock placed north of the borough line and eight-tenths of a mile south was the Catasauqua Lock (No. 36), with a lift of 7.4 feet. “Rohn’s” or “Koehler’s” Lock (No. 37) laid one and three tenths of a mile south of the Catasauqua Lock. This lock also had a lift of seven and four tenth feet.

On June 26, 1829, a gate was opened and water from the Lehigh River flowed into the last leg of the Lehigh Canal, completing the entire length from Mauch Chunk to Easton. The next afternoon at Easton, the packet boat “Swan” made its first trip, a three-mile excursion up the canal. On June 29th, the first boats arrived at Easton loaded with anthracite coal. By the end of July, the “Swan” and “Independence” were making scheduled runs from Easton to Mauch Chunk. The first excursion to Biery’s Port was on an “Ark” run from Allentown, June 26, 1829. The “Ark” was decorated with U. S. flags and it was drawn by two horses. Eleven year old, Clarissa Miller, daughter of Henry Miller and future wife of James W. Fuller I, was one of the members of that merry party.

In 1835, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company decided to extend the canal 26 miles north from Mauch Chunk to White Haven. To accomplish this, Edwin A. Douglass built 29 locks and 20 dams and the work was completed in 1838. The upper division of the canal was in operation until the flood of June 4th and 5th, 1862 destroyed many of the locks and dams.

A double canal was maintained at Catasauqua because of the amount of canal-boat traffic caused by the operations of the Crane Iron Works’ furnaces. Opened in 1839 the second canal ran from just south of the guard lock at Swartz’s (Hokendauqua) Dam to the Catasauqua Lock (No. 36), by the furnaces. This canal remained open for a number of years, but with the iron company relying more on the local railroads for transportation the canal was filled in near the end of the nineteenth century, and in 1905 the Crane Railroad Company extended their tracks north, over the filled in canal, to connect with the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

From 1845 to 1865 two boat yards were maintained for building and repairing purposes at Catasauqua. Bogh Brothers was located just above Spring Street (below the Phoenix Forging Company) and Ginder and Rehig conducted their business at the bottom of Willow Street.

Although by the 1920’s the railroads had gradually taken the canal’s place in local transportation, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company continued to operate the canal until the autumn of 1931. Short sections of the canal continued to operate between Laury’s Station and Easton, until the flood of 1942, which washed away buildings and canal boats, and put to an end the commercial life of the canal.

The local section of the canal was used by the residents for fishing, ice-skating and other recreation throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s. In 1962, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company began selling its assets and in 1964, Edwin H. Koons purchased the Catasauqua section of the canal and it then fell into disuse.”

With the success of the canal, the Company became interested in establishing industry along the canal, especially those industries that would use large quantities of anthracite coal mined from the coal mines that it owned in the Mauch Chunk area.

In the fall of 1838 Erskine Hazard, of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, went to Wales to meet with George Crane, proprietor of the Ynescedwyn Crane Iron Works in Wales who owned a patent for hot blast technology which was capable of producing iron using anthracite coal.

The unique design recognized the need to both pressurize the air (more dense) and preheat it to create a high enough temperature to light the hard coal. Hazard was successful in reaching an agreement with David Thomas, who worked for Crane, to come to the United States with his family to superintend the construction of iron furnaces using that technology.

Given the rudimentary iron industry present in America then, Mr. Thomas had to arrange for the fabrication and transport of major equipment from Great Britain to the Lehigh River Valley to support the construction.

The works would be located at Lock 36 on the canal just above Biery’s Port, using water pressure available there to drive blowing engines for pressurizing the air to the furnace(s). Land was purchased from the Bierys between what is now Willow & Pine Streets for the Lehigh Crane Iron Works, along with land upon which to build homes for the workers.