“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

East Coventry Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Canal Construction

Canal Construction Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones
1. Canal Construction Marker
Lock Components
Each lock could change the elevation of the boat about 8 feet between the upstream and downstream canals. "Wickets," small butterfly valves, were located near the bottom of the lock door (item B in the drawing) were used to flood the lock to the upstream level or to drain the lock to the downstream level. After pressure was equalized; the main doors could be easily opened, allowing the boat to pass into, or out of, the lock. If a wicket became jammed, it became a "sticky wicket," a phrase that survives today, though rarely associated with its original meaning. Lock 60 in Mont Clare has been restored to working condition. Frick's Lock in East Coventry is waiting for restoration.

Heavy Manual Labor Was Required to Build All of the Components
The canals, locks, and dams were created with large work crews using rudimentary tools like shovels, pickaxes, and wheelbarrows. Sickness was frequent in the difficult living conditions. The crew that is shown above has paused while building the Black Rock dam.

Black Rock Dam
The dams constructed
Canal Construction Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 20, 2020
2. Canal Construction Marker
along the river would create a stretch of placid water, sometimes stretching for 3 miles behind the dam. Canal boats navigated directly upon the river while in this quiet water. Upon reaching the dam, they would enter one or more locks located behind it, in order to transit the change in elevation.

Canal and Towpath
The canals were usually constructed very close to the river, as is seen here at Towpath Park. In special cases, such as southeast of this point on the map, the canal diverged from the river, shortening the amount of digging required. The width and depth of the canal were selected to balance the construction cost against the expected canal traffic. The growth of traffic in the Schuylkill Navigation System caused the system to be upgraded twice. Additionally, the canal banks were not impermeable, and breaches could occur, especially during heavy rains or flooding.

Canal Construction
The canal in front of you was part of the Girard Canal section of the Schuylkill Navigation System. It is one of the few preserved remnants of this Schuylkill heritage.

The Schuylkill was well suited for a canal system because it only dropped 618 feet over the 108 miles that it covered. In order for the mules to tow the canal boats the water in each section of the river had to be still. This was accomplished
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by a series of 32 dams, 23 canals, and 109 lift locks.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceWaterways & Vessels.
Location. 40° 13.368′ N, 75° 36.899′ W. Marker is in East Coventry Township, Pennsylvania, in Chester County. Marker can be reached from New Schuylkill Road (Pennsylvania Route 724) 0.2 miles east of Peterman Road, on the left when traveling east. This marker is on the grounds of Towpath Park. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1730 New Schuylkill Rd, Pottstown PA 19465, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Schuylkill Navigation Company (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Life on the Canal (about 800 feet away); Towpath Park Historical Trail (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Grubb Mansion (approx. 1˝ miles away); Annie Wittenmyer (approx. 1.7 miles away); The Hill School (approx. 1.7 miles away); Pottstown Historical Society (approx. 2 miles away); Pottstown War Memorial (approx. 2.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in East Coventry Township.
Credits. This page was last revised on December 27, 2020. It was originally submitted on November 21, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 25 times since then. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on November 21, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.
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Mar. 5, 2021