The Lehigh Coal And Navigation Company records
The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company records house the business records of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. This collection dates from 1815 to 1940, the bulk from 1826 to 1913, and consists primarily of maps and drawings, along with a few related textual documents. The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company is credited with shaping the course of the American industrial revolution in Pennsylvania, as it contributed to innovation in transportation, manufacturing, and use of natural resources. Pennsylvania’s wealth of extractable resources fueled the emergence of the coal, iron, and steel industries throughout the Lehigh Valley. This collection reveals how natural resources are distributed throughout this region, as well as society's impact on the regional environment in the form of canals, railroads, residences, and technological advancements. The collection also provides insight into the greater-Philadelphia area’s regional technological and industrial history through detailed drawings of canals, culverts, locks, and related equipment.
The collection is arranged into three series: “I. Drawings, 1832-1940,” “II. Maps, 1815-1933,” and “III. Texts, 1826-1920.”
Series “I. Drawings” comprises the majority of the collection and dates from 1832 to 1940, with the bulk of the materials from 1902 to 1913. These drawings show how canals were built and changed course, thereby affecting trade routes. This series may serve researchers to better understand the commercial development of the Lehigh Valley region through study of immigration and trade routes, as these drawings list relevant local landowners and reveal canal and railroad shipping routes. The drawings are arranged chronologically.
Series “II. Maps” dates from 1815 to 1933, with the bulk of the maps dating from 1826 to 1872. Intended to document anthracite fields in the 19th century, the maps contain information regarding Lehigh Valley property boundaries, names of residents and businesses, and the course of waterways. The maps also provide a source of documentation of the network of canals and railroads, whose construction spanned over a century throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. The series is arranged chronologically.
Series “III. Texts” is a small series that includes mostly business papers or complementary documents to some maps and drawings found in series “I” and “II.” Topics covered in this series include toll rates for various waterways and canals, land survey notes, and water rent deeds. The series dates from 1826 to 1920, with the bulk dating from 1826 to 1867, and is arranged chronologically.
This collection would be of interest to researchers of the anthracite industry, Lehigh Valley economic growth in the 19th century, and canal and railway development and technology. In particular, the 387 drawings and maps represent unique accounts of the natural and built environments as seen through the author’s or illustrator’s eyes spanning the period from 1826 to 1922.
- Bulk, 1826-1913
- Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (Organization)
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The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company was a prominent coal mining and shipping company first established in 1820 with the merger of the Lehigh Coal Mining Company and the Lehigh Navigation Company, both of which operated in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania beginning in 1818. The Company owned and operated an extensive system of coalmines in Pennsylvania’s Carbon and Schuylkill Counties, two canals, and several railroads and railways.
The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company is credited with shaping the course of the American industrial revolution in Pennsylvania, as it contributed to innovation in transportation, manufacturing, and use of natural resources. Entrepreneurs who worked in the cement, iron, and, subsequently, steel industries, drove the need for new methods of and routes for transportation. Although coal had likely been used first by Native Americans, a woodsman named Philip Ginder was widely credited with the discovery of anthracite, which led to the founding of the Lehigh Coal Mine Company on 10,000 acres of land between Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania (now Jim Thorpe) and Tamaqua, Pennsylvania in 1793. At the time, anthracite’s value was recognized but it was prohibitively expensive to transport, despite the relative ease in its mining. The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company first attempted to construct roads and wagon tracks through the wilderness to Philadelphia, where anthracite was gaining in popularity. But distances and the weight of the rock proved to be insurmountable obstacles to a successful mining operation. Attention quickly turned to waterways as a means of transport, including the Lehigh River, but it was determined to be too difficult to navigate via the available watercraft of the period. All the while, anthracite was gaining in popularity, having been adopted by blacksmiths and ironworks.
Josiah White and Erskine Hazard, owners of a nail works, first pioneered improvements to the navigability of the Lehigh River and introduced the anthracite industry to the Lehigh Valley. Interest in this new fuel spurred the partners to raise money to establish the Lehigh Navigation Company to improve the river; shortly thereafter the Lehigh Coal Company was formed in 1818. In 1820, realizing the interdependency of the two companies, the investors merged the two companies to form the Lehigh Navigation and Coal Company, which was renamed and incorporated as the Lehigh Coal and Navigation company in 1822. In the following years, increasingly larger shipments of anthracite were delivered to the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia via flat boats known as arks. The need to document shipping routes, coal fields, and waterways, as well as to map property boundaries, likely motivated the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company to contract surveyors and cartographers to create maps and drawings. Increased development, including the construction of the Lehigh Canal, which stretched from Mauch Chunk to Easton in 1827, called for additional documentation. Also in 1827, the Company expanded its reach and grasp of technology to construct a railroad that extended from the Schuylkill mines to Mauch Chunk. During the same time, the network of canals continued to expand, with the opening of the Delaware Canal in 1832.
In 1841 and 1862, catastrophic floods devastated the Company’s locks, dams and bridges, impacting canal, river, and railroad transportation of anthracite. Repairs were made, and new maps were made, along with updated technical drawings of locks and canals. Another technological development forged by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company included the timely development of the Switchback Railroad, which was dependent upon gravity. In the 1850s, a gradual shift from canal transportation to railroads took place; this change is represented in the Company drawings.
By the beginning of the 20th century, coal had lost its hold on the energy market. The Company was forced to close business activity in 1932, and shareholders dissolved the company in 1966.
Processing Information note
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company records LU.001
- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe
- 2013 December 9
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository
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