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Pennsylvania Canals
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By an Act of April 11, 1825, the legislature of Pennsylvania established the first official Board of Canal Commissioners for the Commonwealth. After a summer and autumn of surveys directed by that board in many parts of the state, a second act was passed on February 25, 1826, formally initiating a program of public canal and railroad works which was to revolutionize traffic and industry.

Taken at the junction of canals at New Hope

Fourteen years later Pennsylvania's system of canals, including the eighty-two-mile Columbia and Philadelphia Railroad and the thirty-six-mile Allegheny Portage Railroad, totaled up to 726 miles of railways and waterways in operation, while another 208 miles were in process of construction. By that time the chief waterway parts of the Public Works, officially designated "divisions," were these: the Delaware Division from Bristol to Easton; the Eastern from Columbia along the Susquehanna to Clark's Ferry and across the river to Duncan's Island; the Juniata from Duncan's Island to Hollidaysburg; the Western from Johnstown to Pittsburgh; the Beaver Division northwards from the mouth of the Beaver River on the Ohio to slack water on the Shenango River six miles above New Castle; the French Creek Feeder; the Franklin Line; the Susquehanna Division from Duncan's Island to Northumberland; the West Branch Division from Northumberland above Williamsport and the mouth of Bald Eagle Creek to Farrandsville; the North Branch Division to the Lackawanna River above Wilkes-Barre. Tributary to these were a number of important feeder dams, and, on the West Branch Division, two highly useful side-cut canals at Lewisburg and Lock Haven.

The Eastern, Juaniata, and Western Divisions, supplemented by the Columbia and Philadelphia and the Portage Railroads, constituted the Main Line from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, forerunner of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Canal at Flemington

In brief, the great heyday of the Pennsylvania canals lasted for hardly more than a quarter of a century. By the middle 1850s the corporate railroads of the state, with their ever increasing rapidity of transportation, had become vigorous and aggressive competitors, and the Commonwealth found it financially advisable to dispose of its canals to private railroad and canal companies. As early as 1843 it sold the Erie Extension Canal, the French Creek Feeder, and the Franklin Line. In 1857 the Pennsylvania Railroad Company purchased the Main Line from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Within a few years the now-useless Western Division was abandoned, and in 1867 the Juniata and Eastern divisions were transferred to the Pennsylvania Canal Company, which also acquired and operated the West Branch Division, the North Branch Division below Wilkes-Barre, and the Susquehanna Division.

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