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Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company letterbooks

1844-1878
 Collection
Accession: 1293

Abstract

The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company was a major anthracite mining and transporting firm in eastern Pennsylvania between 1822 and 1954. This collection consists of one outbound letterpress copybook dating from 1844 to 1848 of Edwin A. Douglas (1805-1859), Chief Engineer & Superintendent; three outbound letterbooks of William Reed, Chief Clerk at Mauch Chunk, dating from 1852 to 1859; thirteen outbound letterbooks of George Ruddle (1828-1904), Chief Clerk, Treasurer, and Real Estate Agent, dating from 1860 to 1878; and four inbound letterbooks of George Ruddle dating from 1870 to 1874. The letterbooks contain the correspondence of some of the chief field officers at Mauch Chunk, much of it regular exchanges with the officers at the Philadelphia headquarters.

Dates

  • 1844-1878

Creator

Extent

7 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company was a major anthracite mining and transporting firm in eastern Pennsylvania between 1822 and 1954. The company was incorporated on February 13, 1822, as a consolidation of two unincorporated companies, the Lehigh Coal Company and the Lehigh Navigation Company, both founded in 1818. The founders, Josiah White (1781-1850) and Erskine Hazard (1789-1865) had been wire manufacturers in Philadelphia and, as such, were among the earliest regular users of anthracite coal.

Between 1818 and 1824, the company and its predecessors opened coal mines, established the town of Mauch Chunk as a transshipment point, and constructed descending navigation on the Lehigh River from Mauch Chunk to Easton, utilizing a form of hydrostatically operated flash gates. White invented flash gates, commonly known as "bear traps." The company built an eight-mile gravity railroad from its mines to Mauch Chunk in 1827, and the descending navigation was replaced by a full canal and slackwater navigation between 1826 and 1829. The canal was extended northward to White Haven in 1838, using dams and locks of unusual height. Portage railroad construction occurred from 1840 to 1843 between White Haven and Wilkes Barre, but it never carried loaded canal boats as originally planned.

The original Mauch Chunk railroad was rebuilt in 1846-1850 and converted into a system of loops worked only by stationary engines and gravity. Cars would be hoisted up one inclined plane and then coast by gravity to the foot of the next plane, where the process was repeated. This system was replaced by a conventional railroad in 1873, but a portion of it continued to be operated as a scenic railroad for tourists until the 1930s.

A flood destroyed the portion of the canal between Mauch Chunk and White Haven in 1862. The Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad was extended from White Haven to Easton to replace the canal between 1862 and 1868. The railroad was leased to the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey in 1871, giving direct connections with New York. The company had purchased the Delaware Division Canal running from Easton to Bristol in 1866.

The Lehigh and Delaware Division Canals were abandoned for through-service in 1931, although small sections of the Lehigh Canal continued to operate until 1942. The company discontinued coal mining in 1954 and sold its coal reserves in 1966. Its last interest in the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad was sold to Conrail in 1978, and the company was finally liquidated in 1985.

Scope and Contents

The records consist of one outbound letterpress copybook dating from 1844 to 1848 of Edwin A. Douglas (1805-1859), Chief Engineer & Superintendent; three outbound letterbooks of William Reed, Chief Clerk at Mauch Chunk, dating from 1852 to 1859; thirteen outbound letterbooks of George Ruddle (1828-1904), Chief Clerk, Treasurer, and Real Estate Agent, dating from 1860 to 1878; and four inbound letterbooks of George Ruddle dating from 1870 to 1874. The letterbooks contain the correspondence of some of the chief field officers at Mauch Chunk, much of it regular exchanges with the officers at the Philadelphia headquarters.

The letterbook of Edwin A. Douglas documents the design and construction of the company's canal, railroads, and mines during one of its earliest phases of expansion. Projects described include the upper section of the Lehigh Canal, the original Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad and the Ashley Planes, the plane and gravity system on the Mauch Chunk Railroad, the switch from open-pit to deep mining and the construction of breakers, and the construction of the first factory for making wire rope by machine. Aside from technical matters, there are also discussions of operating problems.

The letterbooks of William Reed and George Ruddle are more concerned with the transportation and sale of coal, the day-to-day operation of the canal, and company finances. One of the volumes is missing and was presumably lost in the catastrophic flood of 1862. The letters cover the subsequent rebuilding effort, the expansion of the company's railroad system, and the resulting financial strain. After the mid-1860s, Ruddle was placed in charge of real estate. The letters reflect only routine matters of surface leases, house lots, rents, and taxes and the work associated with the subsidiary Mansion House Hotel Co. in Mauch Chunk.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Related Materials

Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, Canal Department engineering drawings (Accession 1242), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company records (Manuscript Group 311), Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company Records (NMAH.AC.0071), Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company letterbooks
Status:
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2022: Encoded by Angela Schad

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400