Friday, March 7, 2014

Pennsylvania History Class 4

The last day of co-op is over. I will miss those little boys. For the last class we traveled to a local historical site, the Lewistown Narrows Canal Park, for a field trip. The open space matched up well with their natural exuberance as they explored every inch of the grounds.

The Lewistown Narrows Canal Park became a reality when the road going by became a side road instead of the main road from Mifflintown to Lewistown. Cars on what is now the main road zoom by at 65 mph on a four lane highway instead of the limited 55 two lanes that we used to travel along the river.

History buffs decided that the former lock keeper’s house and the still surviving canal lock should be restored and opened to the public. I enjoy taking children there. The place gives them a chance to see a sample of the canals that used to extend all over our state of Pennsylvania.

Canals came into existence because of the need to get people and goods from one place to another. Deep trenches dug by hand formed the base of the transportation system. Water from local springs filled the ditches, and boats began to travel down these long narrow water ways. Where the elevation changed, doors were added to make a box-like place within the canal where water could be used to raise or lower the boat to a new height. A man or woman living at the nearby lock keeper’s house had the responsibility to open or close the lock gates to begin the process.

The indentation where a gate used to be fastened.

The Lock Keeper's House

Mules or horses connected to the boats with ropes pulled the canal boats, and a boy guided the animals along the path beside the canal.

The first canal built at Conewago Falls in York County in 1797 allowed boats to continue past the falls. Pennsylvania formed the Pennsylvania Board of Canal Commissioners in 1825 and public locks opened in Pennsylvania six years later. The Board continued to direct canal building and operation until 1859 when railroads had become so popular and efficient that most canals were no longer profitable. Today the only operating canal system in Pennsylvania is the Monongahela River Navigation which is located on the Ohio River between Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

Model of a canal boat at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site in the Visitor Center
Remember in my last blog that I told you my class might do a skit about Jimmy Stewart at the closing program? The hesitant boy came through with the courage to perform. Unfortunately, we should have had microphones. My husband and son sitting near the back said they had trouble hearing it. I could hear every word from up front and thought they did a terrific job!


  1. Very, very interesting, Sandy. I love your blog posts even though I've never been a history buff. You present all the facts so clearly.

  2. We actually went on a canal boat ride with the older children, but it was so long ago, I'm not even sure where it was.