York Town Square

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Imagine: 70-foot boat navigated York County’s Codorus Creek

Dan Meckley included interesting material on Codorus Navigation, York County’s second canal, in his paper “The Codorus.” (See York Town Square post: York County rail trail extension to follow canal towpath.)
Meckley’s work brings together material scattered among several sources, a real contribution to understanding this piece of York County’s history.
His work brings us back to the hard-to-fathom day in which the Codorus Creek was navigable to 70-foot freight boats.
But as tempting as it is to view the creek as a pristine waterway in those days, consider this:
York Water Company formed in 1816 to provide clean water to the citizens of York. Even then, the confluence of effluent from tanneries, outhouses, paper mills and the like had fouled the creek’s water.
From Dan Meckley …

In 1825 a charter was granted for the construction of a slack water canal on the east side of the Codorus running from York City to the Susquehanna for a distance of eleven miles. It was a stock company. Charles A. Barnitz was president, Phillip Smyser and John Vogelsong were vice presidents and J. Jessop was the engineer.
One account states: “Because of the low gradient there were eight miles of slack water and three miles were canal with nine locks.” A newspaper article in 1829 states: “The plan proposes ten dams and thirteen locks, with short canals at certain designated points.” The short canals were about 2.75 mis; I believe these were passing canals. Other accounts show 11 locks, 18’ wide and 95’ long. It was designed to preserve and improve the mill properties below York.
Since the first section downstream from York had a low gradient, existing dams at Louck’s Mill, Weidner’s, and Brillinger’s were reconfigured or raised. In the gorge, the Narrows, between Brillinger’s and Codorus Furnace, four dams were required. The first dam was 21’ high with three locks 7’ high. The next three dams, “will overcome a fall of thirty-six feet six inches.” The number of locks is not specified. The total fall from center city York to the Susquehanna was a 120’. The canal was completed in 1833.
First boat, the Pioneer, was build in York. On its maiden trip up from the river, it carried 70,000 board feet of lumber and 100 passengers. The second, the Codorus, was 70’ long and 100 tons burthen. On its first trip down the canal, it carried 160-170 people including the York Band. The bill of lading for the second ark showed 70,000 shingles; nowhere is the construction of an ark described. The boats were pulled by one horse at about two miles per hour.
There were a number of landings in York for loading and unloading. The records show from three to thirteen arks, barges, and boats landing daily. It was very successful for a short time, but the construction of a railroad to Wrightsville caused it to close in 1849.
Remnants of the canal are clearly visible in the lower reaches. A Lewis Miller sketch shows a horse pulling a raft through what appears to be a lock, with the notation, “the Codorus creek has been rendered navigable for arks, rafts,…(not readable) completed in 1833.” The William Wagner engraving for a ten-dollar York Bank note … depicts the canal in the Market St. vicinity, as does the J.T. Williams lithograph … dated 1852, produced from his daguerreotype views of York.