Easton in Northampton County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
From Mine to Market
1818 - 1827
"In the Spring of 1827 it was finally concluded we were strong enough to begin and prosecute the ascending Navigation. For the prosecution of that great undertaking the Co. employed Canvass White, Esq. as the principal engineer."
— Josiah White, 1832
Taming the Lehigh River into a viable transportation route was no small endeavor. In 1818, Josiah White devised an openable dam that enabled flat-bottomed "arks" carrying 10 to 12 tons of anthracite coal to float over many of the Lehigh River's rocks and rapids. Nicknamed "bear traps," these low-head wing dams (model on right) operated by allowing a flow of water into the chamber below the metal handles, and then into the space under the two angled gates. When the downstream handle was turned to allow the water to run out, the gates fell and boats rode into the rush of water to the next dam. White built 12 of these dams on the Lehigh, which enabled the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company to ship anthracite to Philadelphia. The bear trap system operated from 1819 to 1826. Although successful, it provided only downstream transportation;
Seeing the success of upstate New York's Erie Canal, White and Erskine Hazard began to convert the downstream-only system of bear trap dams to a two-way navigation in 1827. Nine dams on the Lehigh River created 10 miles of "slackwater pools" where the river was deep and slow enough to float boats carrying 100 tons of coal. The pools were connected by 34 miles of canals. Forty-nine lift and guard locks allowed canal boats to travel the 46 miles between Mauch Chunk and Easton — and a 353-foot drop in elevation. In 1834, after White re-engineered the poorly constructed Delaware Canal between Easton and Bristol, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company finally could load anthracite on its boats in Mauch Chunk and deliver it to Philadelphia. The Lehigh Valley was about to turn the industrial world on its head.
"In 4th month of 1818 Erskine and I surveyed the levels of the River from Stoddartsville to Easton. The ice had not yet disappeared. We found no houses between Stoddartsville and Lausanne and laid in the woods for six nights."
— Josiah White 1832
White and Hazard's two-way Lehigh Navigation system solved the problem of getting anthracite to markets in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. The Switchback Railroad they invented between Summit Hill and Mauch Chunk (right) mechanized the process of getting coal from the mines to the Lehigh River.
Erected by City of Easton, Pennsylvania.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & Commerce • Waterways & Vessels.
Location. 40° 40.042′ N, 75° 14.204′ W. Marker is in Easton, Pennsylvania, in Northampton County. Marker is on Hugh Moore Park Road 0.2 miles south of Hill Road, on the left when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Easton PA 18042, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Lehigh Crane Iron Company (within shouting distance of this marker); The Promise of Anthracite Coal (within shouting distance of this marker); Anthracite Iron - A Revolution Is Born (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Fathers of the Industrial Revolution (about 300 feet away); Iron in Colonial Pennsylvania (about 500 feet away); Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution (about 500 feet away); Men of Iron (about 500 feet away); From Brownfields to Greenfields (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Easton.
Credits. This page was last revised on October 8, 2020. It was originally submitted on October 5, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 33 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on October 5, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.