After too many weeks away from the blog I stepped out on a beautiful spring day to explore more of the Lehigh Canal. The hike began a few miles up-stream from Slatington (my last adventure) in the town of Weissport. This village was built on the site of Fort Allen which had been built by Benjamin Franklin during the French and Indian Wars. (Well, Ben probably didn’t cut the trees and lift the logs but he was the one responsible for the fort being built!)
In 1783 Col. Jacob Weiss purchased 700 acres of land from the Moravians who had named the town, New Gnadenhuetten. Weiss couldn’t spell ‘Gnadenhuetten’ or pronounce it-so he renamed the place Weissport in 1792, after himself, of course.
In 1791 a hunter named Philip Ginder discovered coal in Summit Hill. This discovering happened much like Jed Clampett‘s discovery of oil in the ‘Beverly Hill Billies’ TV story. One difference between Jed and Philip is that Philip didn’t get rich from his discovery. Instead, Ginder showed the lump of coal to Jacob Weiss who took the coal to Philadelphia to be inspected. Sure enough it was what the folks at the time called ‘Rock Coal’ or Anthracite Coal. Weiss proceeded to establish Lehigh Coal Mine Company but couldn’t make it profitable (Probably because he couldn’t spell too good!)
A few years later Josiah White and Erskine Hazard bought the business and created the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. Eventually White and Hazard also built and owned the Lehigh Canal which gets us to today’s blog. Oh, by the way, Jacob’s United Church of Christ, in Weissport, is named for Weiss.
The hike on this day began in Weissport opposite one of the buildings that was part of the thriving canal boat manufacturing operation in the 1830’s owned by Jacob Weiss’s son, Lewis. The spring like day was gloriously filled with the sound of birds and the rush of the Lehigh over the rocks. The geese and ducks were enjoying the weather and a fisherman was casting for trout. What a wonderful day to be hiking between the Lehigh River and Canal.
Walking along the path it is easy to recognize the remains of locks numbers 8,7,6 and 5. Pausing to reflect on what once was, I imagined the canal in operation. Canal boats were floating along the canal with men manning the rudders. Boys were guiding the mules along some portions of the canal pulling the boats through the water. The lock tenders and families were busy moving the boats from one level to the next as the coal headed toward Easton. Men were shouting to each other, over the sound of rushing water, in broken and accented English while they accomplished their tasks. Each man (and it was all men) was doing his part to build the country.
Now folks, I know we hear differently from some segments of our political realm about who built our country. I submit to you that the folks who built this country were the guys spending weeks at a time on the canal boats with no retirement plan. The country was built by the lock tenders who lived on the lock and worked from sun-up to after sunset with no health insurance. Our country was built by the guys building the canal boats who didn’t get paid when they were sick or injured. The young kids working instead of learning how to read or write to help support the family built our country. The same is true of all the industry in The United States. The folks working for minimal pay in the mines, on the rails, in the factories and on the farms built the country we know today. Men like Josiah White, Erskine Hazard, Jacob and Lewis Weiss got wealthy on the country, they didn’t build it.
Enough social commentary! Present day lock five is the most interesting of the ones I passed. A local church has built a ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ over the lock and created a little retreat space on the other side of the lock.
The large white sign invites the traveler to spend some time talking to God, who listens. Now, I thought this was pretty cool! Then my eye caught the sign at the foot of the bridge to the right which reads, ‘Beware of snakes.’ – Of course, I decided to eat my snack, aware of snakes, in the retreat area.
Sitting on the bench munching on a banana I realized in front of me was the foundation of a lock tender’s house. Somebody and probably his family once lived and worked in and around the house that sat on this foundation. My admiration goes out to that family and all the families who toiled at least six days a week every day-light hour on the Lehigh Canal, and all the canals, to build this nation.
We are a fortunate society to have descended from so many folks willing to invest long hours for little financial reward so we might receive the benefits of their sweat and toil.