Eastern Division Canal

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The Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal was one of the five sections of the Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works. The canal ran 43 miles from Columbia in the east, where it connected to the Columbia and Philadelphia Railroad, to Duncan's Island in the west, where it met the Juniata Division and the Susquehanna Division. It was sold along with the rest of the Main Line to the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1857, which operated the canal until about 1901.


The initial plan, devised in 1827, for the Eastern Division was for it to begin in Middletown and head west to Duncan's Island, where it would connect with the Juniata Division. This design would have it start with a connection to the existing Union Canal. However, in 1828 an additional 19 miles was authorized, allowing the canal to extend further to the east, down to Columbia, and meet the Columbia and Philadelphia Railroad.[1] The new plan would have 43 miles of canal, a total vertical lift of 42 feet and 14 locks.[2] This included an outlet lock at the canal basin in Columbia, connecting to the Susquehanna River. On the west end of the canal, a slackwater pool was created by constructing a dam. This pool not only provided water for the canal, it allowed passage from the Eastern Division to both the Juniata and the Susquehanna Division canals. The entire canal finished construction in 1833.

Passed by the Railroad

The Main Line system had financial troubles almost from the outset. The gravity railroads were particularly expensive to maintain, eating away at the profits generated by sections of the state-owned canal system. This was further complicated by an economic crisis experienced in the 1840s, brought on by an increase in the amount of state-held debt. Some began to suggest that the state divest itself of public works to pay off the debt. The problem was compounded when the Pennsylvania Railroad completed a line running the length of the state in 1854. The Railroad had been running a campaign for years suggesting that the state gave preferencial treatment to the Main Line, and was therefore not competitive. All these factors came together, and in 1857 the state sold the entire Main Line to the Pennsylvania Railroad. While the railroad continued to run the Eastern Division, its use gradually diminished, and it was shut down in 1901.[2]


  1. William H. Shank, P.E. (2001) The Amazing Pennsylvania Canals ISBN 0933788371
  2. 2.0 2.1 Archaeological Testing of the Pennsylvania Canal

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