The Influence of the Schuylkill Navigation Canal



RLHS Bulletin  Vol 106, Pages 33 - 36



      To describe anthracite coal traffic without dwelling on canal coal traffic is comparable to describing horse and wagon traffic without mentioning horses. Canals preceded railroads in all three coal fields, but only in the Schuylkill Valley, from 1842 to 1864, was there bitter competition between canal and railroad. The Lehigh Valley "invasion," in 1855, of that region, and a flood brought the Lehigh & Susquehanna R. R. by 1863, so the competition was of short duration. In making this statement one must recall that the feud between the Baltimore & Ohio R. R. and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was over right-of-way and Maryland funds; actual coal traffic competition began only in 1850, when Cumberland became the terminus for the canal.

      The Schuylkill Navigation Canal, chartered in March, 1815, during the coal shortage brought on by the British blockade of Virginia, English, and Nova Scotia coals, passed its first boat-load of anthracite through the last-constructed section at Reading, on December 3rd, 1824. The craft was the "Pioneer," which passed at 11:30 P. M. through the four locks on what today is Pear Street, between Court and Washington Streets. Waiting to pass these locks were 108 boats and arks of hard coal with loads of up to 28 tons per boat. The canal, built to convey coal from the Pottsville area to Philadelphia, was prohibited by its charter from ownership of coal lands, while the Lehigh Coal & Navigation and the Delaware & Hudson Coal Companies were empowered to own coal lands, to mine, ship and sell coal. As a result, the Schuylkill Navigation encouraged the opening of mines by individuals, and the numerous Schuylkill region producers became a major factor in coal production. This lack of a sure and definite source of coal bred bitter competition with the P. & R., and forced that railroad eventually to purchase coal lands.

      An Illustration of the difficulty and high cost of pre-canal and pre-railroad transportation was the movement, in 1826, of 888 tons of freight from Philadelphia to Mt. Carbon, via the Schuylkill Navigation canal. The Reading Journal, of December 23rd, 1825, reflected that this shipment in pre-canal days would have required 444 wagons and men, and 1776 horses, at a freight cost of $11,185. Canal costs, with 35 boats and 70 men, were $4,117. With 1956 roads it is difficult to realize that wagon freight, with four horses and two tons per wagon, moved only 12 to 15 miles a day, under favorable conditions.

      The same land transportation difficulties attended the loading of boats at the canal ports of Schuylkill Haven, Mt. Carbon and Port Carbon. Between June 19th and 25th, 1829, Pottsville reported 1831 tons of coal in 1831 one-ton wagons passed through that town enroute to the Mt. Carbon docks. All coal shipped on the Schuylkill Canal before 1830, except from those mines fortunately situated near the canal. arrived at the docks via wagon. This wagon tonnage increased from 6500 tons in 1825 to 79973 tons in 1829. The Schuylkill Canal carried all coal delivered by the five pioneer anthracite railroads until 1842. That tonnage was 4,250,740.


The assurance which engineer Solomon W. Roberts, president of the Canal Company in 1844, gave his stockholders at the time the P. & R. competition threatened the older company was the wishful thinking they wanted to hear. Roberts told them that railroads would not stand up under a: heavy, rapid traffic, rail replacement would be too costly. Water replenished by nature, had a transportation advantage never to be lost.


After the penetration of the coal fields by the P. & R. Railroad, the Schuylkill Canal, in 1846, enlarged its waterway to accommodate 180-ton boats and enlarged its dock frontage to handle more coal. Unknown to most railfans today is the ownership of locomotives and several thousand cars by this canal company. In 1849, wharf frontage totaled 5760 feet, with 8 loading capacity of 10,000 to 19,000 tons for each 100 feet. The company also owned, in that year, 1000 four-ton coal cars, capable of delivering 814,000 tons to the docks, if each car made a single round-trip per day during the navigation season. Later, the company owned 3400 cars, designated as "yellows," (Those of the P. & R. were "blacks.") and were maintained in car repair shops at Port Clinton and Schuylkill Haven. This shop was 80' by 40'.


To switch its own cars at its own four docks the Canal Company purchased locomotives, buying the "Conestoga" from the P. & R., in 1853. This was a 13-ton 44-0 built in 1843 by the Locks and Canals Company. When the P. & R. leased the Canal Company in 1870, it paid $10,900 for the three locomotives then owned, viz.:


"Lippincott"      Baldwin #589    1854     0-6-0    Clys. 132:x18   DD 42"

"Navigation"      Baldwin #544    1853     0-6-0    Clys. 132x18    DD 42"

"J. R. Worrell"   Baldwin #758    1857     0-6-0    Cyls. 132x18    DD 43"


They became P,& R. Nos. 283, 284 and 285, respectively.


To insure their coal traffic the Schuylkill Navigation had leased the Mine Hill & Schuylkill Haven R. R. for ten years, in 1862. This road alone had furnished 812,000 of the 1,183,570 tons transported by the canal in 1861. After the lease of the M. H. & S. H., by the P. & R., in 1864, the entire Schuylkill production was prorated 55% to the P. & R. and 45% to the Navigation. Considering that the canal closed several months in the winter, the portions were nearly equal. This arrangement continued until Navigation was leased by the P. & R., June 12th, 1870. At this time the railroad paid the canal company $582,9Z5 for 3331 ("yellows") four-wheeled coal cars.


With the 1956 news of 100-mile coal transmission via pipeline, in Ohio, it is appropriate to note that the proposal to ship Schuylkill anthracite via pipeline from Pottsville to Philadelphia was reported in the Reading papers in 1825, just as the Schuylkill Canal began its first full year of operation.





In 1830, Philadelphia railroad writer Thomas Earle advocated a railroad up the Schuylkill Valley to Pottsville coal, and Hazard's Register, during 1830-34, especially in discussion and description of the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown R. R., repeated statements by officials of that line of the necessity of a rail link with the coal regions. There was sufficient coal demand, these officials stated, to supply traffic for both canal and a railroad. George E. Potts, pioneer Pottsville area coal miner and shipper, claimed, without mentioning the route, to have surveyed the first railroad from Pottsville to New York. This may have been the Hamburg, Bethlehem & Easton Railroad, incorporated on March 17th, 1838, which, in conjunction with the Danville & Pottsville extension to Port Clinton, (or the Tuscarora & Cold Run R. R. ) and the Little Sehuylkill's 1833 extension to Reading, would have provided a line to the Delaware River. (The writer has not read the Pottsville Miners Journal, which covers all the lines of this region, both built and proposed, except for the first several years.)


With the advent of the P. & R. Railroad at Mt. Carbon, coal toll rates fell $1.11 a ton below the 1841 rate on the canal. This reduction was without any great benefit to producers that year, because the depression had cut the demand for coal. However, this rate cut created un-measurable good will for the railroad; a monopoly was out of favor.


A second result of the arrival of the P. & R. in the coal region was the revolution in operation of the lateral railroads which culminated in 1845. Rebuilding of rights of way and bridges to accommodate standard gauge and the heavier equipment will be discussed with the individual lines. With reconstruction, all lines used P. & R. or S. N. coal cars, the latter company having been forced into car ownership by the P. & R. arrival in the field. Lines terminating at Mt. Carbon and Port Carbon received locomotive service from the P. & R. The laterals had charged from $.025 to $.045 per ton-mile for privately-owned coal cars coming onto their lines from short privately-owned branches With the advent of the P. & R., mine owners saved the expense of car investment and maintenance, while transportation with locomotives slashed charges from 50 to 66 per-cent. Nevertheless, the owners soon thought that their dependence on either corporation for coal care cost them control of their own coal production. Though the railroad company increased its car supply yearly to meet demands, complaints against unfair distribution and short supply began in 1845. Its car ownership increased from 1800 in 1843, to 10,188 in 1863.


Of the 142 Schuylkill area collieries owned by 160 operators in 1846, 32 operators sent 990,000 tons to market; the others furnished 247,000 tons. Of these collieries, 107 were mining above water level, without pumping expense, and 35 were below water level.


Coal operators' efforts to free themselves from imaginary or real railroad control occurred on the M. H. & S. H., as well as on the P. & R. The Forest Improvement Company, located on the lateral, attempted to secure a rail charter in order to force lower rates until finally defeated in 1853. This may have been Kimber Cleaver's Mahanoy, Shamokin & Schuylkill R. R., via Rattling Run, of 1844. Unfair car control was the operators' excuse for the effort in 1858-59 to build the Schuylkill Haven & Lehigh River R. R. This and an attempt in 1862 by the M. H. & S. E. to construct this line ended through P. & R. effort. Last minute legislative acts to aid the Allentown Railroad, authorizing 11-mile, branch lines, and Schuylkill coal operators' efforts to attract M. H. & S. H. aid for this line also ended with the Reading lease of the lateral. The Manufacturers & Consumers Anthracite Railroad, incorporated during March, 1866, with R. A. Wilder as engineer, proposed to build over either the Allentown or on the S. H. & L. R. routes, but financial support failed to materialize. How this line planned to use corporate routes owned by the P. & R. is difficult to understand.


On the other hand, competition with the Northern and Lehigh Coal lines in the 1860's forced the Reading to acquire existing laterals by purchase or lease, and to finance new lines to insure its share in the anthracite trade. Examples of these operations were the Schuylkill & Susquehanna-Allentown threat of 1854-61, the M. H. & S. H. attempts to reach the Lehigh Valley, and the Mahanoy & Broad Mountain R. R. manipulations of 1861. In the Mahanoy-Shamokin region of the Second Coal Field, the P. & R. was competing not only with the strong Mine Hill road, but also with the Lehigh & Mahanoy R. R., financed by the Lehigh Valley interests, and a proposed L. C. & N. line.


Of the 72 P. & R. locomotives in 1846, six operated 59,422 miles on the lateral roads, evidently one on each line. In 1852, almost twice that number, plus one used on the "Valley Express, " ran 160,737 miles.




In constructing its line to Mt. Carbon, the P. & R. actually contacted only the Mine Hill and the Mt. Carbon Railroads. The depression of 1841 had forced the Reading to use $5.00 to $100.00 circulating notes to pay contractors and to purchase material. While the Carbon & Port Carbon had been incorporated on July 16, 1842, it was July, 1844, before the P. & R. was able to finance the 2.5-mile link to the Mill Creek & Mine Hill and S. V. N. & R. R. lines at Port Carbon. In 1844, Engineer Osborne had a November 30th deadline to beat. From mid-November to the deadline date, round-the-clock excavation enabled a coal train to "save the charter." This connection ended the Schuylkill Navigation monopoly on Port Carbon coal.


A second track was opened in 1848. The average earnings of this line, between 1845 and 1859, were $27,686, or 12 percent. By 1859, a passenger train operated, chiefly to accommodate miners. The P. & R. Operated the M. C. & P. C. under a tonnage agreement until, in 1860, a fifty-year lease provided for an annual payment of $36,250, and was renewed on September 30th 1909 for 999 years.




  Name            Builder          Date      Type       Cyls.       DD      Wt.      Mileage to date

  Philadelphia    Norris           1844      0-6-0                          17.7     38969

  Columbus        New Castle       1844      0-6-0      16xl9       40      18.2     35813

  Pennsylvania    New Castle       1843      4-4-0      12x16       41      11.4     48323

  Tioga*          Locks & Canal    1843      4-4-0      12sx16      40      11.8     47547

  Erie*           Locks & Canals   1843      4-4-0      12sx16      40      11.8     49188

  Lycoming        Dotterer & Co.   1842      4-2-0      11x20       54      10.4     49940


* Modeled after the "Gowan and Marx."




  Wyoming         Baldwin 162      1842      4-2-0      10ax16      54      19.6       10427 in 1852.

  Palo Alto       P. & R.          1847                                     20.8       14963 in 1852.

  Monterey        P. & R.          1847                                     19.9       15007 in 1852

  California      P. & R.          1848                                     71.5       20088 in 1852.

  Atlanta         P. & R. Reb.     1841                                     10.3       18519 in 1852.

                                                                                      On Valley R

                                                                                      Pass. train

  Witch           P. & R.          1847                                     5.2        11339 Lateral RR


  Carolina        New Castle       1846                                     18.8       11241 in 1852.

  Missouri        New Castle       1846                                     18.8       13412 in 1852.

  Tuscarora       New Castle       1842      44         12X164      40      11.8       5774 in 1852.

  Shamokin        Locks & Canals   1843      4~0        122X16      40      11.8       7434 in 1852

  Potomac         Locks & Canals   1843      4~0        122xl6      40      11.8       1136l9 in 1852.



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