2. The Main Line Canal
Pennsylvania’s Main Line Canal did not run through to Philadelphia. Its eastern terminus, the Columbia canal basin, connected to Philadelphia by railroad. Thus, a trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh comprised a rail journey to Columbia, canal boat to Hollidaysburg, a portage over the mountains via the Allegheny Portage Railroad, and a return to the water at Johnstown for the remaining journey into Pittsburgh. Between Columbia and Hollidaysburg 18 locks raised or lowered the boats, depending on direction of travel. The leg between Johnstown and Pittsburg contained 66 locks. Mules and horses towed the canal boats from a footpath alongside the canal.
The canal bed was 28 feet wide at the base, about 40 feet wide at the water level, and the minimum depth maintained at four feet. Usually it was considerably deeper. The entire system covered a distance of 394 miles. Support systems included aqueducts and feeder channels for depth control, the towpaths and lockkeeper’s houses, bridges, basins, and port facilities to service the boats. Inns and taverns appeared at stopping points along the canal. The entire system operated 24 hours per day, every day of the year, except when severe weather forced some sections to shut down. The canal connected the port of Philadelphia across the Eastern Continental Divide to the raw materials of the west.