HERITAGEPA TRAVEL FEATURE: Exploring PA’s History in the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor

By Jim Cheney, UncoveringPA

Throughout the history of the commonwealth, Pennsylvania has been the focal point for numerous industries that have helped to power the nation. In the eastern portion of the state, there were two dominant industries: anthracite coal, and iron.

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor follows the historic transportation path where anthracite traveled from mine to market in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. The D&L seeks to preserve this history and offers many great opportunities for visitors to this five-county heritage corridor to re-connect and learn about the region’s industrial past. Since being created by Congress in 1988, this corridor has provided visitors with a chance to explore the region’s industrial past and enjoy its great outdoor activities found along the path that helped fuel America’s 19th century industrial revolution.

The first stop of any visit to the heritage corridor should be the National Canal Museum in Easton. The museum is located next to a fully-restored 2.5 mile section of the Lehigh Canal, which once ran along the Lehigh River from Mauch Chunk (now known as Jim Thorpe) to Easton.

From there, the anthracite coal and iron produced along the shores of the Lehigh River could continue by canal north to New York City or south to Philadelphia. This system of canals allowed these eastern Pennsylvania goods to reach markets not only in large U.S. cities, but also to reach countries around the world.

The National Canal Museum offers visitors a chance to learn about the history of anthracite canal transportation in the United States and take a 45-minute ride on the Josiah White II, a 48 ton reproduction canal boat pulled by mules. Costumed guides tell the story of the corridor and steer the Josiah White II that takes visitors to the end of the restored section, where the fully-restored Locktender’s House serves as a convenient end of the line.

The canal towpath forms a portion of the D&L Trail, a 165-mile multi-use path that stretches from Wilkes-Barre to Bristol. While the trail has a few gaps, it is hoped that those will be completed in the coming years. In the meantime, bicyclists and walkers can still take to the trail and explore the fascinating history, beautiful scenery, and charming communities along the trail.

Another popular site in the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor is the National Museum of Industrial History. Opened to the public in August 2016, this museum is located near the Lehigh River on the grounds of the former Bethlehem Steel site in Bethlehem.

This museum chronicles the history of industry throughout the United States, but with a focus on the industries that thrived in the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. Visitors to the museum can learn about the history of industries such as steel, textiles, and propane.

The National Museum of Industrial History is also home to a fantastic collection of antique engines that are owned by the Smithsonian Institute. This museum, along with the National Canal Museum and the heritage corridor as a whole, are Smithsonian Affiliates. This gives them the ability to showcase items owned by this prestigious institution and provides them with resources to take their exhibitions into the community.

Of course, there’s a lot more to see in the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. Visitors can explore an old coal mine at the Number 9 Coal Mine and Museum, see where Washington famously crossed the Delaware at Washington Crossing Historic Park, or even explore Eckley Miners Village, a coal town that’s frozen in time.

If you’re looking to learn about Pennsylvania’s industrial past, but also want to enjoy some of the state’s best natural scenery and most charming small towns, a visit to the five-county Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor shouldn’t be missed.

For more information on the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, visit their website at DelawareAndLehigh.org.

About the writer: Jim Cheney is the writer behind UncoveringPA, Pennsylvania’s most read travel blog. He has traveled to every county in Pennsylvania and to many countries in North America, Europe, and Asia. He lives in Harrisburg, PA.