Milton History

a pictorial history of Milton, PA

Canal History

From the book "Milton, Pennsylvania, the 19th Century Town on Limestone Run" by Homer F. Folk:

In 1829, the Muncy Line of the West Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal was started. With pick and shovel, wheelbarrows, dump wagons, and horses pulling scoops or drag lines, tremendous manpower and horsepower produced a continuous ditch with water that connected the remote parts of Pennsylvania with the cities of the east.

The standard dimensions of the canal in its cross section, termed the ”prism”, were a width of forty feet at top waterline, twenty-eight at the bottom, and a minimum depth of four feet. The chosen route through Milton had a constant sea level reading until near Cameron Avenue. There the elevation dropped, making a lock with a lift of 6.12 feet necessary. Stone walls held together with hydraulic cement (select limestone burned with clay) were one hundred and twenty feet long, with a passageway seventeen feet wide. Miter or angular joints on the inner edge of the heavy wooden gates located at each end of the lock sealed the gates, with little water loss when the gates were closed. The large square balance beams were manually operated to close the gates. The lock tender, who lived in the state house (lock tender’s house), was responsible for operating the gates.

To the west of the canal was the former Limestone Run creek bed (1). From this source and the marsh to the west of the bed, an unlimited amount of clay was available for the puddling operation, necessary to make the canal bed nearly waterproof. Sand, gravel, shale and other types of porous soils made puddling necessary. Clay was not always so available, sometimes it had to be hauled from miles away, chopped fine with narrow spades, mixed with water until it was pliable, and then worked into the natural soil or built up soil. Additional layers were applied until the clay puddle was two to three feet thick.

After much laborious work during 1828, 1829 and 1830, the canal was put into use in November 1830. Its use that year was short. With the coming of winter and the first ice on the canal, the boats were made ready for winter.

Note (1): Limestone Run was diverted from its original southward direction to empty directly into the Susquehanna River just above Mahoning Street.