WRIGHTSVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) — At the intersection of Orange Street and South Front Street (aka Route 624) in Wrightsville, York County, are two historical markers for one canal.
The Susquehanna Canal went south along the west bank of the Susquehanna River.
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The Tidewater Canal came north from Havre de Grace, Maryland, where the Susquehanna River enters the Chesapeake Bay. There you can still see the Lock Master’s house, and the waterway’s first canal lock-or last, depending on which way you were going.
When the two canals met, they became the 45-mile-long Susquehanna and Tidewater.
In the mid-19th century, Pennsylvania had canals running on both sides of the Susquehanna River. On the east side, a branch of the Pennsylvania Canal ran from the Juniata River south to Columbia in Lancaster County. On the west side were the Susquehanna and Tidewater.
Boats from the two canals would cross the river between Columbia and Wrightsville on what was, at the time, the longest-covered bridge in the world. It had two towpaths, so canal boats could go both ways at once. Charles Dickens mentioned the bridge and its towpaths in his travelog “American Notes”:
Aug. 8, 1829: The ‘Stourbridge Lion’
“The night was cloudy yet, but moonlight, too; and when we crossed the Susquehanna River – over which there is an extraordinary wooden bridge with two galleries, one above the other, so that, even there, two boat-teams meetings may pass without confusion – it was wild and grand….”
But the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge was burned in June of 1863, to prevent invading Confederate forces from crossing over into Lancaster County. After the war, canal craft was towed across the river by a tugboat.
But by 1901, both canals were out of business, out-competed by the railroads.
Completion of 14-mile walking and biking trail in Lancaster County celebrated.
Now only bits and pieces of the canals remain. Not far from the signs in Wrightsville you can see remnants of the old canal, and walk along the towpath where horses once pulled canal boats. A little further along, on Aug. 8, 1829: The ‘Stourbridge Lion’ng, you can see stone walls, part of the system of locks that raised boats up and down. And out in the river, you can see the old bridge pilings. All reminders of the brief era when the fastest way to travel was a slow boat, moved by real horsepower.