“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Airville in York County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

The Canal Boats

The Canal Boats Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Pfingsten, July 16, 2020
1. The Canal Boats Marker
A great variety of boats traveled the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal. Fast-moving packet boats, which carried passengers and were pulled by horses, sometimes at a trot, always had the right of way when passing through the lock. Slower freight boats, each often hauling 150 tons of coal, had to compete vigorously for their right of way: the first boat through the lock was often the one whose crew had won the fistfight.

Other boats using the locks included sailing vessels, the occasional steam boat, and even rafts! Steam boat passage was frowned upon because of the possible damage they could deal to the canal walls. The rafts were among the most unique vessel to pass through the canal because they were not quite boats, but held floating, paying customers nonetheless. These boats were made of lumber and sized exactly to the width of the locks. The raftmen who attended these vessels lived in crude shacks on top of their loads as they were towed along the canal to the market. And finally, the "emigrant boats" - house boats, often ramshackle, were occupied by families with a taste for the vagabond life.

Travel on the packet boats was

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an exciting blend of discomfort, inconvenience and adventure. Charles Dickens, the noted English author who toured America in 1842, wrote a charming account of his canal boat trip between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

"it was somewhat embarrassing at first... to have to duck nimbly every few minutes whenever the man at the helm cried Bridge and sometimes, when the cry was Low Bridge to lie down nearly flat. But custom familiarizes one to anything, and there were so many bridges that it took a very short time to get used to this."

"....Going below, I found suspended on either side of the cabin, three long tiers of hanging bookshelves... I descried on each shelf a sort of microscopic sheet and blanket; then I began dimly to comprehend that the passengers were the library, and that they were to be arranged edge-wise, on these shelves, till morning."

"The washing accommodations were primitive. There was a tin ladle chained to the deck with which every gentleman who thought it was necessary to cleanse himself (many were superior to this weakness), fishing the dirty water out of the canal, and poured it into a tin basin, secured in a like manner."

"At eight o'clock, the shelves being taken down and put away and the tables joined together, everybody sat down to the tea, coffee, bread, butter, salmon, shad, liver, steak, potatoes, pickles, ham, chops, black-puddings,

The Canal Boats Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Carl Gordon Moore Jr., April 21, 2021
2. The Canal Boats Marker
Close-up of the advertisement
and sausages..."

"And yet despite these oddities... there was much in this bode of travelling which I heartily enjoyed at the time, and look back upon with great pleasure."

Charles Dickens

Canal Scene, George Storm, Artist

Courtesy of State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Two Boats Navigating The Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Harford County

Newspaper ad from late 1800s

The Columbia
Packet Line.

Mullison, Collins, & Co's
Splendid Line of Packet & Freight Boats

The Packet Boats leave Columbia every alternate day, at 6 o'clock, A. M. and arrives at Havre-de-Grace the same day, at 6 o'clock in the afternoon. Next day, in return, leave Havre-de-Grace at 6 o'clock, A M. and arrives at Columbia, same day at 6 o'clock, P. M. in sufficient time for passengers to take the Packet-line for Harrisburg. Freight will be received at either of the above points, at packet speed.

The same Company have a Daily Line of PACKET-BOATS running from Columbia to Harrisburg, and from Harrisburg to Columbia.

Also, FREIGHT BOATS, running twice a week between said places, on which Freight will be received, destined for Havre-de-Grace, Baltimore, and all intermediate places.

Group of four markers and Lock 15 image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Pfingsten, July 17, 2020
3. Group of four markers and Lock 15
Packet Boats
Will arrive in Harrisburg in time to take passage

Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Waterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1842.
Location. 39° 47.975′ N, 76° 18.5′ W. Marker is near Airville, Pennsylvania, in York County. Marker can be reached from Riverside Road east of River Road, on the right when traveling east. Marker is just north of Muddy Creek Access, in Lock 15 interpretive park. A walkway is available from either area's parking lot. The shortest route from southbound River Road is to go onto Riverside Drive at 330 River Road. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Airville PA 17302, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Canal Community (here, next to this marker); The Locks (within shouting distance of this marker); The Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal (within shouting distance of this marker); Parks are for People (approx. 1.3 miles away); Lock No. 12 (approx. 1˝ miles away); Survivor of the Past (approx. 1˝ miles away); The River, the Dams and the Lakes (approx. 2.9 miles away); Dedicated to the honor and sacrifice (approx. 5.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Airville.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 22, 2021. It was originally submitted on July 18, 2020, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 231 times since then and 88 times this year. Last updated on April 22, 2021, by Carl Gordon Moore Jr. of North East, Maryland. Photos:   1. submitted on July 18, 2020, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.   2. submitted on April 22, 2021, by Carl Gordon Moore Jr. of North East, Maryland.   3. submitted on July 18, 2020, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.

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Dec. 6, 2023