Search WWW

Pennsylvania Canal, Wilson, 1898

The extraordinary success of the Erie Canal and the probability that it would rob Pittsburg, and all of Pennsylvania, in fact, of a valuable carrying trade, to say nothing of depriving the State of a large share of the trade of the great West, were the primary causes of the action of the State to enter upon an extensive system of internal improvements, among which was an elaborate plan for canals. The Governor's message to the Legislature on December 3, 1818, announced in detail the contemplated.ed scheme for public improvement. Among other things, he said the plan to connect the Ohio River and the Great Lakes with the tidewater of the Delaware had often been suggested and by many was believed practicable; that the Susquehanna and the Allegheny could be thus connected by four routes: 1. By the Juniata and Conemaugh. 2. By the Sinnemahoning and Toby's Creek. 3. By the north branch of the Sinnemahoning and Potato Creek. 4. By Pine Creek. Besides these, the Great Lakes could be reached by the Allegheny River and French Creek, or by Chetauque Lake and Conewango Creek; that the Kentucky and Ohio Canal Company (at the falls of the Ohio) had reserved 500 shares of its stock for each of the States, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, and for the United States Government, and ended by recommending that the State should take suitable action in the premises.

"Another plan is on foot in that hotbed of projects, Cincinnati, which we honestly confess adds another item to the amount of our present uneasiness, and this is a canal from the lakes either into the Ohio or the great Miami. We are aware that a hundred tongues will immediately exclaim, 'This is idle; the people of Cincinnati are going to the devil; they cannot pay their Eastern debt, and their present rag currency will end be utter ruin' " (Gazette, July 22, 1819).

Pittsburg brought great pressure to bear to secure the canal. The newspapers here and the leading citizens fought hard for this coveted line of intercommunication. It was pointed out a hundred times how the Erie Canal would rob Pittsburg of the trade of the West, and the consequences to Philadelphia were forced upon the attention of the conservative citizens of that city in scores of pointed appeals. It was not the fault of Pittsburg that the canal was not ready for operation in 1819 instead of 1829.

"If the canal be opened by a fictitious capital a boat will float upon it as safely as if it were finished by the treasury notes of the United States, although bearing an interest of 5 per cent. Let individual bankruptcy occur, the property will only change masters, and these great establishments will be as important and as lucrative when bought at sheriff's sale as when in the hands of the original proprietors, although they may have cost millions in the construction" (Gazette, January 22, 1819).

The great success of the Erie Canal when once put in operation caused the friends of the measure in this State to redouble their efforts. In 1820, though but partly finished, the Erie Canal tolls amounted to $5,473.34. So prodigious became its business, it was announced in 1830 that the tolls had reached $1,056,921.12. In 1841 they almost doubled the latter figure. It was completed in 1825, and its unqualified success gave a great impetus to canal building throughout the world. It paid large dividends, and the value of its stock went soaring. Then it was that this State was bitterly reproached by the press and citizens of Pittsburg for its apathy and shortsightedness -- its total blindness to the highest interests of its citizens. It is difficult to describe the despair which took possession of all classes here when contemplating the neglect of the State government to parallel the action of New York with a canal Line from east to west across this State. It was fervently believed by the majority that the trade of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and the lake country was permanently lost to this state -- wrested from her by the more enterprising citizens of New York. So great became the demand for all sorts of canal stock in New York city, that when the Morris Canal and Banking Company was organized, and its stock placed on the market, fully $20,000,000 was subscribed where but $1,000,000 was for sale. Men stood waiting in line for days and desperate fighting ensued to secure front places.

By act of March 27, 1824, three commissioners were appointed to explore the proposed routes for a canal from the Susquehanna to the Allegheny; but the act of April 11, 1825, repealed this law and appointed five commissioners to consider making a navigable communication between various points in the State, among which was one between the Susquehanna and the Allegheny Rivers, Actual operations on the Pittsburg canal project were first begun under act of February 25, 1826; but it remained for 1827 to witness the passage of the general canal law of the State.

Previous to this a canal convention was held at Washington, D. C., November 6, 1823, on which occasion the western portion of the State was represented by Harmar Denny and James S. Craft. Another convention was held in 1826, at which time the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal engrossed the principal attention of the assemblage.

At a public meeting of the citizens of Pittsburg, held in January, 1827, a committee of three delegates, James Riddle, Henry Baldwin and Walter Forward, was appointed to represent the interests of Pittsburg at Harrisburg in regard to the location of the western section of the Pennsylvania Canal. It is probable that Pittsburg had never before been so united as it was on this subject. A permanent canal committee had been appointed at a public meeting of the citizens to watch and stimulate the progress of events. The probable connection of Pittsburg with Philadelphia and Baltimore by canal and with all the West by improved river navigation opened up a delightful prospect for the contemplation of all Pittsburgers.

The canal law had no sooner passed the Legislature than active steps were taken to carry its measures into effect. Surveyors were sent over the proposed routes, committees of the Legislature made careful examinations and exhaustive reports, and the entire line from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, besides many others, was accurately surveyed and described by the engineers. A disagreement occurred among the latter. William Strickland and D. B. Douglass, two of the engineers, reported that on the western division of the canal the route on the west side of the Allegheny River was much more practicable than the one on the east side, owing to an absence of bluffs which lined the latter. Nathan S. Roberts, the third engineer, reported adversely to the other two in many important particulars. lt was found difficult, also, to get releases of land, especially through Pittsburg, on which to extend the canal. Late in 1826, and therefore previous to the passage of the principal law, the western branch of the canal was almost wholly under provisional contract.

The State by enactment permitted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to extend a branch, or the main line, northward to Pittsburg. In January, 1827, Ohio incorporated the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal, popularly called the "Crosscut Canal," which was designed to extend the Pennsylvania Canal from Pittsburg westward into Ohio to tap the Ohio and Erie Canal and secure the trade of Ohio and Kentucky through Pennsylvania. This canal was incorporated by this State April 14, 1827.

Next to the existence of the canal itself, the most important question was on what route through the city of Pittsburg should the canal be run. One plan was to extend it down Liberty and Penn streets, another down Smithfield, and another in a tunnel through Grant's Hill, the objective point being the mouth of Suke's Run. The tunnel route was finally selected, and the contract for its construction was given out.

"Be it resolved by the Select and Common Councils, That the Board of Canal Commissioners be respectfully but earnestly requested to adopt the latter route (tunnel line ending at the mouth of Suke's Run), and in that event the faith and funds of the city be pledged; that the expense of making the canal, tunnel and bridges according to the report of the engineer, including damages to private property, as well as all other attendant expenses, shall not exceed the sum estimated by the engineer as the costs of the Liberty and Penn street route, with the addition of $10,000 of damages to private property, allowed by the board in their resolution of February last" (City Ordinance of May, 1827).

Early in 1827 the question of the western termination of the canal was seriously discussed by the citizens of Pittsburg and Allegheny, the latter insisting that to extend it through the former to Monongahela was an unnecessary and useless expense. But Pittsburg had in view a closer relation with the canal than across the Allegheny, and also had in view the extension here of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and designed a union of the two at the mouth of Suke's Run at some future time. Time proved that the building of the tunnel was a useless proceeding, wholly unnecessary and followed by no suitable recompense.

On May 25, 1827, Acting Commissioner A. Lacock called for proposals to be delivered at the house of George Beale, in Pittsburg, for constructing sections of the canal of about a quarter of a mile each from the mouth of Pine Creek, for the aqueduct of 1,100 feet, and for the tunnel.

In May, 1827, the canal commissioners adopted a resolution for continuing the canal down the west side of the Allegheny River to a point opposite Washington Street, there to cross and proceed by a tunnel through Grant's Hill to the Monongahela at the mouth of Suke's Run, the work to commence immediately.

By the last of June, 1827, all of the western division of the canal was under contract. The aqueduct was taken by LeBarron for $100,000; and the tunnel and so on to Suke's Run by Meloy & Co., for $61,000, but changes were afterward made. It was stipulated that both aqueduct and tunnel should be completed by March 1, 1829 Mr. Roberts had estimated the cost of the canal through the city on the three proposed routes as follows:

Tunnel route . . . $85,767.49
Smithfield Street . . . 65,O33.28
Liberty and Penn streets . . . 55,567.35

Many instances of the cheapness of freight rates from New York via the Erie Canal to this place were circulated just previous to this time, doubtless to spur the flagging interests of the citizens into action in the interests of the Pennsylvania Canal. In May, 1827, it was declared that one house here had secured shipments from New York via the Erie Canal at the rate of $2.25 for 112 pounds (Gazette, May, 1827).

In 1827 subscription to the capital stock of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was solicited, Alexander Brackenridge and James Correy signing the call. The act of the Legislature of Pennsylvania to assist the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal with a stock subscription of $1,000,000 was regarded with great favor by the citizens of this vicinity.

In 1828 the committee of the House on internal improvement submitted a bill which proposed a vast extension of the canal system of the State. It was designed to extend the canal from Lewistown to Frankstown; from Northumberland to Bald Eagle; from Northumberland to the New York State line; from Blairsville to Johnstown; the present line to Easton and from Pittsburg by the Beaver route to Erie on the lake. A railway was also proposed from Philadelphia via Lancaster to Columbia, and later to be extended to York. "The location of a railway across the Allegheny on the Juniata route and a contract for the necessary materials are also one of the objects of the bill" (Mercury, May, 1828).

The laying of the foundation stone of Washington Lock No. 1, Pennsylvania Canal, May 3, 1828, was attended with great ceremony. It was the western termination of the canal. Masonic Lodges Nos. 45, 113, 165 and 173 conducted the proceedings, under the leadership of Magnus M. Murray, P. D. G. M. The local militia companies turned out and a large concourse of citizens assembled under a beautiful sky. Hon. James Ross delivered the oration of the day, an eloquent tribute to the historic men who had brought the grand enterprise to its (then) present state of completion.

"The Canal. -- Yesterday morning the water had reached within six miles of Alleghenytown" (Gazette, May 22, 1829). By act of April 23, 1829, the Legislature authorized the acting commissioner of the western division of the canal to pay to James McAvey & Co., contractors for building the tunnel and canal through the city of Pittsburg, the full amount for labor already done; and in case the work should be abandoned by the contractors, to turn the completion of the same over to the authorities of Pittsburg "agreeably to the principles contained in the guarantee given to the Board of Canal Commissioners by said city." The guaranty of the city was that the canal through the city should not cost more than $65,567.35; but by April, 1833, it had cost $109,473.98. The State demanded the difference, which was refused, whereupon, by act of April 9, 1833, suit was ordered to be brought within three months if the sum was not paid sooner.

"The Canal. -- The water has at length arrived within the bounds of Alleghenytown (Gazette, June 23, 1829).

The canal packet, General Lacock, under Captain Leonard, made its first trip, and the first made on the western division of the canal, late in June, 1829, the starting point being opposite Herr's Island (Mercury, September, 1829).

"Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. -- Major Roberts, the engineer, has just completed the location of the western section of this great improvement. It terminates at the eastern extremity of this city, at a point which permits its connection with the Pennsylvania Canal above the Monongahela locks and on a level with the tunnel and aqueduct" (Gazette, July 24, 1829).

"The packet-boat General Lacock and the Pittsburg and Blairsville packet passed through the river locks -- the former descending and the latter ascending -- on the 9th. Yesterday the navigation of the canal may be said to have formally commenced, though some parts of it have been in profitable use for a considerable time past. A canal-boat laden with 130 barrels of salt arrived yesterday from the Kiskeminetas works" (Gazette, August 11, 1829).

Three canal-boats arrived on September I4th, and five left the same day; one arrived the 15th and two the 16th; four departed the 15th, two the 16th and three the 17th (Manufacturer, September, 1829).

"The 31st day of October, A. D. 1829. -- This day forms an interesting epoch in the history of internal navigation in Pennsylvania. On that day the canalboat, General Marchand, Captain Trout master, arrived at Pittsburg laden with blooms and with one ton and ten hundredweight of merchandise for Messrs. M. & F. Tiernan, of this city; B. Thompson, of Wooster, and R. W. McCoy, of Columbus, Ohio. This is the first arrival of merchandise from Philadelphia by the western section of the Pennsylvania Canal" (Gazette, November 3, 1829).

In March, 1829, the contractor to build the canal tunnel under Grant's Hill having failed to complete the work, proposals were called for from contractors to finish that task. No sooner was the canal ready for operation than transportation companies put on their boats and began to ply between Pittsburg and Blairsville. In 1830 David Leech owned and conducted a line of canal-boats between Pittsburg and blairsville, charging 20 cents per hundredweight for freight and a cents a mile for passengers.

In February, 1830, an important canal meeting was held here, from 500 to 700 men taking part in the proceedings. It was admitted that New York capital had built the Ohio and Erie Canal, and it was then argued that if the Pittsburg and Erie Canal should be built and the two then connected by the Mahoning Canal, Pennsylvania would get a large part of the Ohio and Kentucky trade. Strong resolutions in favor of the Beaver and Shenango Canal were adopted.

Among the speakers were William Wilkins, Charles Shaler, W. W. Fetterman, J. B. Butler, Benjamin Bakewell and Joseph Patterson (Gazette, February, 1830).

"The great benefits of our canal are now beginning to be realized. With the exception of a comparatively small portion of land carriage, goods have been brought from Philadelphia to this city by water; 7,927 pounds of merchandise, consigned to Birmingham and Carlisle, arrived in this city from Philadelphia on Saturday last, having been but fifteen days on their passage. The freight was but $2.25 per hundred, being $1.25 lower than formerly" (Mercury, May, 1831).

Opinions differed whether it was wiser to build a canal or a railroad from Pittsburg to Erie, from Pittsburg to some point on the Ohio and Erie Canal, or from Baltimore to Pittsburg; but all favored improvement for slackwater navigation on the Monongahela, if not on the Allegheny. The facility with which wheat and other Ohio products were shipped over the Ohio Canal to Lake Erie, thence to Buffalo and thence via the Erie Canal to market, did at this juncture of affairs cut off the Ohio trade from Pennsylvania. In 1830 wheat sold for more at Massillon, Ohio, than at the salt works fifty or sixty miles east of Pittsburg. As a fact, the connection of the Erie Canal with the lake system proved far more valuable than the connection of the Pennsylvania Canal with the Ohio River.

The construction of the Crosscut Canal was the most popular subject of the early '30s to Pittsburgers. Careful surveys were made and two routes were proposed: 1. By the Big Beaver and Mahoning rivers to the portage summit at Akron, 150 miles; and, 2, by the Little Beaver and Sandy rivers to the Ohio and Erie Canal at Bolivar, Ohio, 120 miles. The Ohio and Erie Canal was finished to Chillicothe in September, 1831; it did an enormous business from the start.

At first the Pennsylvania Canal seemed to languish, no doubt owing to the hard times of 1830-2. During the entire season of 1832 the tolls collected at Allegheny by William B. Foster, collector, amounted to only about $884.32. The next year, however, business greatly improved; during the month of October, 1833, they amounted to $802.74. The freight rates from Blairsville to Pittsburg were $2.75 per ton, and salt per barrel from the Kiskiminetas 25 to 31 cents.

"Boats have passed the subterranean passage through Grant's Hill and safely debouched into the Monongahela River. The canal is also generally navigable and an inland trade is brisk. Some skeptical gentlemen have affected not to understand this underground project, but they may now not only see through it, but go through it in a canal-boat" (Statesman, August, 1832).

In 1833 the canal convention took important action by appointing committees to report upon the feasibility of the western canal project. The committee of the canal convention, having made their investigations by personal visits to all points along the proposed routes, reported in November, 1833, that a railroad built from Pittsburg westward would have to depend wholly upon private subscriptions, and was, therefore, a hopeless project; that a canal built merely to connect the Ohio Canal with the Pennsylvania Canal presented the serious objection of two reshipments, one at each end; that putting the proposed railway out of consideration as impracticable, the committee had come to the unanimous decision that a canal built via the Ravenna summit should be recommended by them; that it should terminate at Akron; that an unbroken chain of canals would be preferable to a broken chain of canals and railways; that the canal proposed to pass via Sandy and Little Beaver creeks could not be adequately supplied with water. On this committee this city and county were represented by Richard Biddle, George Miltenberger, George Cochran, William Robinson, Jr., Charles Avery, Alba Fisk and William Leckey.

The amount of tonnage and tolls taken on the Pennsylvania Canal at Pittsburg for articles going East from November 1, 1832, to November 1, 1833:

Months . . . Tonnage . . . Passengers miles traveled . . . Value

1832 . . . November . . . 470,320 . . .6,152 . . . $330.72
     December . . . 401,020 . . . 18,246 . . . 228.05
1833 . . . January . . . 215,593 . . . 645 . . . 60.10
     February, closed.
     March . . . 388,966 . . . 605 . . . 203.94
     April . . . 1,187,670 . . . 990 . . . 548.30
     May . . . 712,578 . . . 8,326 . . . 581.10
     June . . . 1,512,809 . . . 136 . . . 576.95
     July . . . 943,000 . . . 1,102 . . . 498.28
     August . . . 820,440 . . . 1,593 . . . 486.87
     September . . . 814,669 . . . 1,257 . . . 597.02
     October . . . 939,578 . . . 1,228 . . . 802.74
   Total . . . 8,406,643 . . . 40,280 . . . $4,917.07

In 1833 the Legislature appointed commissioners to survey the damage done to private property by building the canal through Grant's Hill and report the probable expense of filling up the deep cut thereon.

Previous to the winter of 1833-4 during only one month of the year was the canal closed; the Erie Canal was closed from four to five months. This difference was widely advertised by Pittsburg in order to benefit local trade.

A Pittsburg manufacturer in September, 1833, after investigation, announced that if this city was connected by canal with either Erie or Cleveland the following articles could be furnished to the lake country from here cheaper than from New York over the Erie Canal: iron, common steel, shovels, picks, hoes, mill screws, flint and common glassware, anchors, nails, chains, spades, mattocks, axes, window-glass, bottles, steam engines, chain cables, vises and screws (Gazette, October 1, 1853). A large meeting was held here in August, 1833, in the interests of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, on which occasion a memorial to Congress to assist the western division of this canal was first prepared. At this date the canal was finished as far west as Harper's Ferry.

The Pennsylvania Canal was not yet finished throughout its entire length; it was necessary to unload goods and carry them over the portage and then reship them. Portable canal-boats were finally used and iron canal-boats were talked of in 1833.

In 1830 the interruption by ice to navigation on the rivers was about thirty days; in 1831, sixty-two days, 1832 twelve days, 1833 five days, 1834 three days. Interruptions by low water in 1830 were 130 days, 1831 forty-four days, in 1832 109 days, in 1833 sixty-four days, in 1834 seventy-six days.

The great increase in business on the canal of 1834 over 1833 is seen from the following table of tolls collected (Gazette, August 8, 1834):

Months . . . 1833 . . . 1834

March . . . $203.94 . . . $907.05
April . . . 548.30 . . . 1,324.77
May . . . 581.10 . . . 1,855.92
June . . . 576.95 . . . 2,539.47
July . . . 498.28 . . . 2,720.60

Totals . . . $2,408.57 . . . $9,347.81

The Rochester and Olean Canal was strongly talked of in 1834. In July 1834, $10,000 worth of stock was conditionally subscribed here for the Sandy and Beaver Canal. The directors of the Sandy and Beaver Canal in July, 1834, were Benjamin Hanna, Henry Loffler, Elderkin Potter, James Robertson, John Brown, James Hamilton and Benjamin Bakewell. This canal was rapidly completed Late in the year the steamer Beaver formed a union with the canal packet-boat Alpha to carry freight and passengers from Pittsburg to Newcastle, whence stages branched in all directions. The distance of fifty-six miles was covered in twelve hours; fare, $1.62-1/2; freight, 20 cents per hundred.

On March 24, 1834, the first canal-boat to cross the mountains and reach Pittsburg arrived with goods from Philadelphia, thirteen days out. Goods usually arrived from Philadelphia under the previous conveyance in twelve days. The business over the canal so vastly increased in the spring of 1834, that the cars at the portage were inadequate to hold or convey the goods.

In 1834 the most important consideration before the citizens here was to build the canal from Pittsburg to Beaver and thus form a continuous system. The distance was a little more than twenty-five miles. The stock of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal and the Sandy and Beaver Canal was really subscribed before the doors for securing subscription under the act had been thrown open. This priority of subscription was made to prevent New York from buying up a majority of the stock and then stopping work on the Pennsylvania canals, in order that the Erie Canal might reap the benefit. The joining of the Pennsylvania and Sandy and Beaver canals was steadfastly pressed forward. At this time Philadelphia, for almost the first time in its history, had a violent attack of enthusiasm. That city actually seriously considered at this time the practicability and utility of a railroad from that point to Pittsburg and discussed the question of building a branch from the Pennsylvania Canal to Erie. Baltimore, also, grew enthusiastic over a canal, or railroad, or both, to Pittsburg. The latter city greatly enjoyed this commotion.

"A new era is about opening on Pittsburg. Her high destiny is now more distinctly visible than before and cannot be defeated" (Gazette, May 4, 1835). When the stock of the Crosscut Canal, after ten years of hard work on the part of Pittsburg, was put on the market in Philadelphia in April, 1835, the rush of all classes to subscribe was something tremendous. All stock was sold at an advance of about $4 per share. It was proposed at this time to extend the Philadelphia and Harrisburg Railroad to Pittsburg and was believed that the stock could all be sold immediately (Gazette, May 1, 1835). No doubt this could have been done, had such a project been in readiness, and would have given Pittsburg its big railway ten years earlier.

In June, 1835, there were two daily canal packet lines and four daily lines of stages for the East in operation here. There were also four daily lines of stages and one daily steamboat packet line in operation for the North and West. The four big hotels and the innumerable small ones were crowded to their utmost capacity. There was sent East over the canal from April to October 1, 1836 (Manufacturer, November 23, 1836):

Bacon . . . 3,619,068 pounds.
Lard . . . 210,455 "
Feathers . . . 49,875 "
Deer skins . . . 85,472 "
Tobacco . . . 4,144,255 "
Wool . . . 816,177 "
Flour 39,578 barrels.

From November 1, 1836, to November 1, 1837, there were shipped East over the canal 50,068,010 pounds, and tolls to the amount of $48,807.97 were collected.

Going East on canals . . . 1835 . . . 1837.
At Buffalo, tons . . . 32,426 . . . 44,157
At Pittsburg, tons . . . 16,950 . . . 20,687
Excess at Buffalo . . . 15,476 . . . 23,470

The canal season of 1837 extended from March 25th to December 16th; boats cleared, 2,416; pounds handled, 55,633,766; tolls collected, $52,043.39. Thomas Fairman was collector at this time

By October, 1837, there had been spent on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal (Crosscut) about $250,000. The eastern division was about half completed. It was a little over forty-four miles long, while the whole line was about ninety miles long. The panic of 1837 hampered and delayed the completion of this canal. Owing to the fact that commission merchants refused to receive goods and pay freight on the same soon after the panic struck the city, the canal transportation companies resolved in a body to suspend freighting because they received no money with which to pay tolls (Harris' Intelligencer, May 20, 1837).

In 1838 a new express line of boats over the canal was established with many improved facilities and equipments to complete the journey between Pittsburg and Philadelphia in three and one-half days. Little & Linford were the proprietors. Portable canal-boats, brought into service in 1839, began to improve vastly the transportation eastward. In March, 1839, O'Connor & Co. of Baltimore put in operation their portable car body line of transportation between that city and Pittsburg via Susquehanna Railroad and the Pennsylvania canals, the time of transportation being twelve days. In April the trip was made in less than nine days (Baltimore American, April, 1839).

The iron canal-boat Kentucky arrived here March 30, 1839, having come through from Philadelphia, deducting delays, in five days and six hours. She brought eighteen and one-half tons of goods for the merchants. She was a portable boat, built in three sections, which were detached at the foot of the Alleghany Mountains and passed over on cars constructed for that purpose. On the other side they were again attached and set afloat, and thus no transhipping of goods was required

The following were the principal canal transportation lines here in 1840: D. Leech & Co. of the Western Line, H. & P. Graff of the Union Line, Taaffe & O'Connor of the Portable Car Body Line, John McFadden & Co. of the Portable Iron Boat Line, William Bingham of Bingham's Line, J. C. Reynolds of the Despatch Line, McDowell & Co. of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Line.

In the spring of 1838 the Pittsburg and Beaver Canal was surveyed and its cost estimated. It was put under contract soon afterward, was rapidly pushed forward, and in April, 1840, was open for business. The total cost of the western division of the Pennsylvania Canal up to this time was $2,964,882.67. Up to 1841 the revenue was $887,013.65 and the expenditures $889,834.46, so that it did not pay expenses to say nothing of interest on the cost. On the contrary, the profits of the Erie Canal kindled astonishment here as elsewhere.

Why this difference should exist was not known, because the trade on the Pennsylvania Canal was certainly large. By 1843 the western division of the canal had cost a total of $3,949,617 for its 107-1/2 miles.

In 1843 the canal aqueduct became impassable, whereupon the Legislature was asked to make the necessary repairs. This it failed to do, though the city was authorized to perform the work and reimburse itself out of the tolls, which was accordingly done. At no time did the canal repay the State for the expenditure. The tolls in 1846 amounted to $88,264.41.

In March, 1854, the news was received here that the State Legislature was on the point of selling the "public works" to the Pennsylvania Railroad, which intelligence occasioned general rejoicing; but the announcement was premature. By August, 1855, two attempts to sell the works had been made and had failed. In both instances the Legislature fixed a price and the conditions for which the transfer would be made, but the railroad refused to buy or bid, although having unofficially suggested the terms offered. The railway considered it vital to its interests to get rid of, or get control of, the canal and portage railway, and offered to buy them at a figure equivalent to the value of the Columbian Railroad, providing the abandonment of the canal from Pittsburg to Harrisburg could be secured. Its object was to get rid of a dangerous rival and at the same time secure a monopoly on the trade east and west across the State. It finally appeared that the requirement of the State that the canal should be kept in navigable condition throughout its entire length was the reason why the railroad would not buy. In order to force a sale upon its own terms the railroad, through its agents, bought out nearly all the transportation companies operating upon the canal and crippled the others, and was thus enabled to manipulate traffic for the benefit of the railroad line and to the detriment of the canal. To save the canal the board of managers raised the rates of toll, which act still further crippled the remaining transportation companies, who were forced to abandon the trade. In fact, many of the transportation companies began to operate as feeders for the railroad instead of for the canal. The traffic of the latter was thus reduced to a low limit and soon the State was willing to sell upon nearly the terms proposed by the railroad. It was a brilliant financial scheme, successfully carried into effect by the railroad, and resulted in the transfer of the canal to the railroad in 1857. Portions of the canal were operated for a short time, but during the rebellion were abandoned.

Source document: "Standard history of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania" edited by Erasmus Wilson. p. 117-128. Chicago : H.R. Cornell & Co., 1898.

Submit info or inquiry - share some facts or ask a question.

Page created:
Last modified: 16-Oct-2001