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One-tank trips: Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal lock at Havre de Grace MD

IMG-20150507-00074In the early 18th century as the population of the United States moved ever westward and new inland communities formed,  businessmen wanted faster and more reliable methods of transporting goods, cargo, and people rather than crude country roads hacked out of the wilderness. Over time, even as roads improved, this need continued, as did the need to provide water-born transportation routes along non-navigable rivers such as the rock-strewn Susquehanna in New York and Pennsylvania.

Canals seemed a logical solution, albeit time-consuming to build and maintain. Eventually, a network of canals crisscrossed many areas, including York County, PA. The Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal ran from Wrightsville in east-central York County paralleling the west bank of the Susquehanna southward to Havre de Grace, Maryland, at the opening to Chesapeake Bay.

On a recent visit to Havre de Grace to speak at a Civil War event, I took the following photographs:

IMG-20150507-00065Canals frequently made use of locks to raise and lower the water level between sections which were of different elevations. The canal boat would enter the lock, which would be sealed behind it. Water was pumped in or released, depending upon the direction of travel and the upcoming elevation. When the water level matched the next section, the boat would be released to continue its journey.

IMG-20150507-00063The old lock and lock keeper’s house at Havre de Grace are still in excellent condition and have been nicely interpreted for the modern visitor. Here is one of several wayside markers in the small park surrounding the preserved lock and house. Click on this link to visit the park’s website for much more information.

IMG-20150507-00062The lock house was built about 1840. At its heyday, the canal was a bustling transportation route hauling lime, iron ore, grain, foodstuffs, lumber, coal, and other cargo/freight between Wrightsville and Havre de Grace. At Wrightsville, canal boats could cross over the Columbia Bridge into Lancaster County and connect with the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal on the east bank of the Susquehanna.

IMG-20150507-00064A series of ferry boats at various places along the Susquehanna offered route across the river to transport passengers and freight which often came partway up or down the canal.

IMG-20150507-00066The canal, as mentioned, paralleled the river. The Susquehanna is the longest non-navigable river in the United States. Back in the 1800s, it was way too swift-flowing, with far too many rocks and shallows to be viable for long-distance transportation needs. In addition, frequent winter ice flows and spring/summer floods created additional problems for boats.

IMG-20150507-00067This view from the old canal path along the river looks westerly past the preserved lock to the lock house. In the early 1800s this would have been a busy scene of commerce.

IMG-20150507-00068The southern terminus of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal emptied into the Susquehanna River/Chesapeake Bay opening at Havre de Grace, which allowed the further transportation of cargo and passengers southward toward Baltimore and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean. At one time, warehouses and transfer docks lined Havre de Grace.

IMG-20150507-00069The canal was an important economic link between York County PA and Harford County MD, as well as adjacent counties. It also provided a pathway for fugitive slaves looking to follow the canal/river northward to potential freedom.

IMG-20150507-00070Once in York County, a network of Underground Railroad conductors (many of them free blacks such as Isaiah Waters and James Loney) rowed the escaped slaves across the treacherous river to Lancaster County. There, they followed several routes into the interior of the county where Quakers and free blacks often provided food and shelter.

IMG-20150507-00071At times there were traffic jams for the canal boats awaiting the use of the lock (one boat at a time could enter it). This basin provided a spot to park while awaiting permission to enter the lock. Now, it is a tranquil spot for waterfowl.

IMG-20150507-00075View looking east from the parking lot (free parking; free admission) toward the locl house, lock, river, and beyond to Cecil County MD. The bridge is a toll bridge (currently $8) connecting Havre de Grace to Perryville.

IMG-20150507-00073The lock house is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in season.

If you go:

The Susquehanna Museum and Lock House is about an hour to an hour and a half from most parts of central York County.  It is at 817 Conesteo Street in Havre de Grace, MD. There is no admission charge. The parking lot is rather small. While there, be sure to stroll down the streets of downtown Havre de Grace. There are plenty of restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, and boutique stores (including a fantastic record/comic book/fantasy wargaming/book/collectibles store).