As a topic for inclusion to these ramblings on this first week of September and apropos for Labor Day Weekend, my muse comes from the picture above found in recent photo files.
It’s a drawing of Bristol, PA, in the mid-1800s, when the Delaware Canal was an integral part of Pennsylvania’s and Bucks County’s lifeline, particularly Philadelphia’s.
Mules on towpaths alongside the shallow waterway pulled barges that carried anthracite coal and other bulk goods such as gravel, limestone, lumber and cement, sixty miles from Easton, Pa, at the northernmost point, to the final lock in Bristol at the Delaware River.
The canal dates back to 1832, constructed as part of a solution for the first energy crisis in the United States. Pennsylvania built the Delaware Canal for feeding coal to energy-intensive Philadelphia as part of its transportation-infrastructure building plan known as the “Main Line of Public Works.”
The top image is presently displayed on an informational placard in Bristol’s Basin Park as a reminder of what was once vital to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The canal closed down in 1931 due to many economic factors, such as the birth of the railroads for transportation, and also for declining usage of anthracite coal.
On the 19th-century drawing, the basin appears with all the barges and the last lock on the left, which emptied into the Delaware River. The whole shebang was buried ultimately under dirt, debris, concrete and asphalt that turned into a municipal parking lot and public park.
Below is how Bristol looks today:
In comparison with the drawing, the outline of the parking lot above and tree-lined area beside it resembles the former basin. Barges abandoned there after the canal closed served as landfill and interred with the rest of the original Delaware Canal’s terminus.
Many a wild night was spent in local saloons by the barge captains and crews when they arrived at the basin, in this blogster’s’s humble opinion.
After having to eat and sleep in unsavory conditions on their crafts for the several-days journey, the men were surely happy to let loose in town, stable their mule teams, eat a decent, hot meal; tend to their needs and book a room in the several boarding houses along Mill Street, and at the King George II Inn for the rest if their stay.
For the trip back north, barges loaded up with steel products awaited to be transported to the commonwealth’s northern cities and beyond. Across the Delaware River in Easton lay the opening to the Delaware and Raritan Canal, which took goods to and from New York City.
A lot of materials passed through that final lock in Bristol. The incoming barges were then pulled by steamboats down the river to Philadelphia, where the products were unloaded, distributed, and vise versa.
A boatload of labor was involved in all the processes surrounding the activity of the Delaware Canal. The work was important to the development of a young nation who was experiencing growing pains with their ever expanding industrialization.
Sadly, a part of American history lay buried by the wayside in Bristol. A portion of the canal north of basin was filled in up to the old Grundy Mills, where the last stretch of the original waterway now remains.
Across the street sits a state park, dedicating the canal as a National Historic Landmark, from where the remainder of the original waterway leads northward to Easton.
Some areas had been washed away by local floods over the years, many of which have been repaired. About seventy-five percent of the original canal’s towpath has been restored for the public to enjoy.
Bristol, PA, founded in 1681, prior to the arrival of William Penn from England, was an important port for the development of Pennsylvania and America, most importantly during the American Industrial Revolution.
A tremendous amount of history transpired there. One can feel the old vibes when visiting. That’s why the borough is one of my favorite lazin’ spots.
Happy unofficial end of the summer, for it’s back to school for many, back to work for others, and cooler temperatures arriving hopefully after the upcoming mini-heatwave towards the end of next week, dagnabbit. I hope that will be the last one for 2016.