Summer '08

From the President

By David G. Barber

Recently I attended a tour by the Pennsylvania Canal Society of the lower end of the Delaware Division Canal. This is a sixty mile long, towpath era canal that runs south to north along the west side of the Delaware River from tidewater at Bristol, PA to the Lehigh River at South Easton, PA. In its operating era, it connected the Lehigh Canal to the Philadelphia area and carried many tons of anthracite coal to market. On closing, it was transferred in two separate periods to the state as a state park. Unfortunately, attitudes in the 1930’s and 1950’s resulted in several compromises of the canal, particularly at the lower end.

A few years ago, I began to systematically explore the canal after having seen some isolated points in earlier visits. At that time, the canal had recently been rewatered throughout its length except for the southern most mile and was the second most visited state park in Pennsylvania. Those explorations were interrupted when the canal was hit by three “100 year floods” in a three year period. Plans for more improvements were frozen as the damage was surveyed three times, procedures gone through, and plans made.

On the tour we got to see the filled in lower mile, for which there is much pressure to dig it out. There are many who believe that doing so would help the viability of the Bristol business district which is adjacent. We also got to see the Snyder Elementary School in Bristol which is the only building now built across the line of the canal. This school was built in the early 1950’s and is now obsolete. The interesting sight there was the new school that is being built next door and off of the canal line to replace the 1950’s building. Soon, there will be no buildings compromising the canal line.

Of major interest were the reports of contracts being let and bid for repair of the flood damage to the northern end of the canal. The repairs include measures to reduce the damage of future floods. Also, other measures are being considered to replace some stop gates and provide other measures allow flood waters to leave the canal without damaging it. There is even one project underway to improve the canal around Lock 5, which was planned just before the flooding and then put on hold.

Once these projects are completed, probably in 2009, the supporters of the canal can return to the long range task of making the canal more accurately reflect its claim of being the “only intact towpath era canal.” With hard work, one day, we may even able to navigate this canal in real boats.

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