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History of the Lehigh Canal | Kelchner's Lockhouse

Guidepost at the canal alongside one of the newly installed antique-style lightposts
Photo by Gina Kelchner, 2009

History of the Lehigh Canal

The Lehigh Canal was built and maintained by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company and was completed in 1829. The canal's main purpose was to transport coal downriver from the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania, and bring goods upriver form the ports of Philadelphia and New York. Measuring 46 miles in length, the Lehigh Canal Started just above Mauch Chunk, (present day Jim Thorpe) and continued south to Easton where it joined the Delaware Canal. Construction of the canal was all done by hand using pick axes and shovels. To compensate for the difference in elevation from start to finish, 52 locks were incorporated into the canal's design. In 1942 most of the canal was destroyed by a flood, which ended its 113 years of use.

During the canal era, the town of Walnutport was used as a boat repair center and a stopping point for the boat crews, but by 1952 much of the canal was empty and neglected and breached in many places. Several young fishermen in the area wanted to improve their fishing by building a dam on the canal. The Blue Ridge Rod and Gun Club, led by its secretary Earl F. Snyder, assisted the fishermen and in 1953 restoration work began. The restored Walnutport section of the Lehigh Canal is 4½ miles long, beginning at Lehigh Gap and ending at Bertsch Creek, just below Walnutport.

Kelchner's Lockhouse

The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company built the Locktender's House at Lock #23 in Walnutport c. 1828. The house is one of only two original stone lock houses remaining on the Lehigh Canal and is named after Frank Kelchner, the last active, full time locktender who lived there. Located at 309 Lehigh Street, the structure is a modest 2½ story stone building, complete with a basement. There are three fireplaces that were used for heating and cooking. One of the unique features is the closet staircase that leads from floor to floor. The Locktender's House has been completely restored to its original look and is furnished with items form the early days of the canal. Attached to the Locktender's House is a small museum which houses 19th and early 20th century photos and artifacts. The Locktender's House is open for guided tours the first Sunday of each month, 2:00-4:00 PM from May to October. The dates for 2009 will be May 3, June 7, July 5, August 2, September 6, October 4 and October 18 (during the Canal Festival). To schedule a group or individual tour at another time, call Marilyn Kaul at (610) 767-5817.







Kelchner's Lockhouse
Photo by Gina Kelchner, 2009