Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Take the canal boat from Pittsburgh"

In 1835 Rebecca Gratz visited her brother Benjamin and his family in Lexington, Kentucky, for several months over the summer. As fall approached her brother Hyman wrote her, promising to meet her on her way home at Wheeling, West Virginia, or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He suggested that she plan to "take the canal boat from Pittsburgh," that she would like it much better than a land journey.

Few people realize today that Pennsylvania once had a system of canals, connected in a few places by railroads, which could take travelers all the way across the state. Certainly, as Hyman suggests, the ride on a canal boat must have been much smoother than anything the roads of the era could offer.

The canals of Pennsylvania, dug (for the most part) during the building boom following the success of the Erie Canal, were soon completely superseded by railroads. A map of the state's canal system appears on the website of the Pennsylvania Canal Society.

(The letter from Hyman Gratz to Rebecca, dated Sept. 15, 1835, is found in the Gratz Family Collection, Manuscript Collection No. 72, American Philosophical Society.)

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