Trace of the old canal in Greenville, going south to the Ohio River, November 1999 Photo : Nathan Leary
Erie Extension Canal and Canal Museum
When the Erie Canal, crossing New York state from
Albany to Lake Erie, had been in operation some ten or twelve
years, the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal was shipping from
Philadelphia to Pittburgh on a southern Pennsylvania route.
Suffering from severe "canal fever," the citizens, entrepreneurs
and visionary businessmen in northwestern Pennsylvania began to
agitate for their own canal. They wanted a canal that would connect
the Erie Canal with the Pennsylvania Main Line, Lake Erie, and the
Ohio River, thus extending the infrastructure to support the surge
of people moving westward and bringing new prosperity to
northwestern Pennsylvania by providing a safe and reliable means of
moving commercial goods between major eastern and western cities.
Around 1838, the building of the Erie Extension Canal was commenced
at the old town of Beaver on the Ohio River; it was completed for
shipping to the Port of Erie in 1844. Winding through five
northwestern Pennsylvania counties, it connected the Ohio River
with Lake Erie.
In Mercer County, on the "Big Bend" of the river
south of Greenville, lived the pioneering German families who
farmed along the waterway, served the needs of the canal and its
travelers, and defined the culture and traditions of the region.
Irish laborers, assigned 15-mile stretches of canal work, had dug
the 130-mile length of the canal. They lived in shantytowns,
receiving meager wages and their daily "tot of whiskey." In 1873,
the destruction of an aqueduct across Elk Creek Gorge which had
allowed canal boats to cross the deep river gorge spelled the end
of the Erie Extension Canal. Some believed that railroad designers
had deliberately caused its destruction. Railroads were becoming
the preferred transportation of the period; the canal beds provided
the perfect basis for the railroad bed.
This canal and its culture is memorialized in the
Erie Canal Extension Museum in Greenville, which evolved from plans
made in 1988 to mark the sesquicentennial of the incorporation of
the town. The museum documents the complete history of the Erie
Extension Canal. A full-sized 40-foot canal boat replica, a model
grist mill, and other period artifacts are featured. A miniature
working model of a lock educates visitors about the workings of the
canal and its civil engineering. The complete masonry remains of
Erie Extension Lock number 10 are preserved in a public park with
picnic grounds and fishing facilities.
Project materials include a six-page report on the
history of the Erie Canal Extension, several pages on the museum
itself, and sixteen mounted 5 x 9 black and white photographs with
Originally submitted by: Phil English, Representative (21st District).
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.