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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 Worksmarker to be built across the southern part of the state, and the term was also applied to canals later added to the state system. 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.


The canal era began in Pennsylvania in 1797 with the Conewago Canal, which carried riverboats around Conewago Falls on the Susquehanna River near York Havenmarker. 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 Canalmarker from Philadelphia to Port Carbonmarker and the Union Canalmarker from Readingmarker to Middletownmarker. By 1834, the Main Line of Public Works, a system of interlocking canals, railways, and inclined planes, was hauling passengers and freight up to between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Though not all in concurrent operation, the total length of the canals built in Pennsylvania eventually reached .

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 Railroadmarker. North–south divisions operated along the Delaware River in the east, the Susquehanna River in the middle of the state, and the Beaver Rivermarker in the west. 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.

State built

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

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.

Parks, monuments, historic places

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

Other Pennsylvania canal infrastructure on the National Register includes the following:
  • Allegheny Portage Railroadmarker, from Johnstown to Hollidaysburg, which is both a National Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark
  • D & H Canal Company office, scenic drive, northwest side of Lackawaxen Townshipmarker
  • Juniata Division, guard lock and feeder dam, Raystown Branch, Juniata River, east of Huntingdonmarker, south of U.S. Route 22, near Springfield, Pennsylvania
  • Juniata Division, of canal between the Pennsylvania Railroad main line and the Juniata River in Granville Townshipmarker
  • Leesport Lock Housemarker, a Lockhouse on the Schuylkill Canal in Leesportmarker
  • Lehigh Canal, Allentown to Hopeville section, Lehigh River near Bethlehemmarker
  • Lehigh Canal, Carbon County section along Lehigh River, Weissportmarker and vicinity
  • Lehigh Canal, Glendon and Abbott Street Industrial Sites, Lehigh River from Hopeville to confluence of Lehigh and Delaware Rivers near Eastonmarker
  • Lehigh Canal, Lehigh Gap to South Walnutportmarker boundary
  • Lehigh Canal, Walnutport to Allentown section, Allentownmarker and vicinity
  • Schuylkill Navigation Canal, Oakes Reach section, north and east bank of Schuylkill River from Pennsylvania Route 113 to Lock 61
  • Union Canal Tunnel, west of Lebanonmarker off Pennsylvania Route 72
  • West Branch Division, canal and Limestone Run aqueduct, Miltonmarker
  • Western Division, canal north of Torrance in Westmoreland Countymarker
  • Western Division, canal along the Conemaugh River near Robinson

See also


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