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great-falls-nationalAs canals became popular in Europe in the 18th Century, it shouldn’t be surprising that Americans also recognized the benefits of an artificial waterway.

The United States had plenty of rivers, but not all of them ran close to cities or ports and certainly all of them weren’t navigable. However, all that water would flow through artificial channels.

Why Americans Wanted Canals

As America moved west, Americans in greater numbers sought ways to follow. In 1800, only a million people lived west of the Allegheny Mountains. Thirty years later that number had grown to 3.5 million. This westward expansion fueled the need for internal roads.

The National Road reached Wheeling, Va. in 1818 and sped up the movement of goods from the west to Baltimore and Washington.

A beneficial as the road was, transporting goods on it was 30 times more expensive than canal transportation. At the time, it was said that 4 horses could pull a 1-ton payload by wagon on an ordinary road 12 miles in a day. On a turnpike, the same team could pull the wagon 18 miles. But on a canal, the team could pull 100 tons 24 miles in a day.

seal_patowmackEarly Canal Ideas

Early on, Americans saw canals as a way to open up routes into the country’s interior and bring out its rich bounty of natural resources. Canals were untaken from the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River, from the Tioga to the Allegheny, from the Susquehanna to the Delaware, from Lake Ontario to the Delaware, and from Lake Erie to the Allegheny.

Washington’s Dream

George Washington began work on his version of a canal in 1785. His idea was to build canal locks at strategic places along the Potomac River in order to make it navigable. With a short portage between the headwaters of the Potomac and the Ohio, trade from the Mississippi could come east rather than south to reach a seaport city.

The trip became faster, but boaters still faced the dangers of the river. However, merchants were willing to take the risk. In one year, 1300 boats made the journey from Cumberland to Georgetown using Washington’s Patowmack Company skirting canals.161525pv

Success of the Canals

New York began construction of the Erie Canal in 1817. It was completed in 1825 and covered 363 miles from Buffalo, N.Y. to Albany, N.Y. It linked the Hudson River with Lake Erie.

With the opening of the canal, merchants in the then-west no longer had to ship their goods down the Mississippi to a port or overland on the more-expensive National Road.

Almost overnight, the cost to transport goods from places like Montreal, Canada to New York City fell from $100 per ton to about $12 and a 3-week journey took little more than a week.

End of the Canal Era

Canals made early American road obsolete. In turn, railroads made canals obsolete.

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            At the turn of the 20th Century, automobiles were a rarity that few people could afford. If someone needed to get into Chambersburg from one of the nearby communities or get around town, he or she needed to ride a horse or walk.

            That changed in 1902 as preliminary work began on planning a trolley route to service Chambersburg, but not one that was pulled by horses. The Chambersburg and Gettysburg Street Railway Company would be independently powered trolleys that would run from Chambersburg to Gettysburg.

            The Public Opinion reported that, “Mr. Baumgardner declared it was so cold in December 1902 when surveying was done in the open country for the line that ‘we had to cut the ground with an ax before we could drive an iron pin in.'”

            The plan was eventually for the trolley line that ran out to Caledonia Park to push onto Gettysburg. The right of way for the trolley line was purchased, but no track was laid along it. Civil engineer Crosby Tappen would actually walk along the right of way from Caledonia to Gettysburg once a year to preserve the company’s legal right for the path.

            Workers actually began laying track in 1903. “The first section of trolley track in the borough ran onto the Wilson College campus but it never served any practical purpose, according to Joseph P. Turbridy, who supervised the laying of this initial track,” according to the Public Opinion. The line ran north-south along Main Street through Chambersburg and formed a loop on the south end of town. The return line ran along Second Street. The line branched at Main Street at Queen Street and ran out to Caledonia Park.

            Steve Emery of Bethlehem, Pa., built the trolley for a company of investors headed by J. M. Runk, a real estate dealer.

            On August 14, 1903, the trolley was ready to run. “Chambersburg was alive with people last night. It seemed that the whole town had turned out to Main Street. There was something to bring them here, too…” the Public Opinion reported.

            That grand opening caused more interest than a circus parade, according to the newspaper. An estimated 1,500 people took advantage of being able to ride the trolley for free that first day.

            The trolley quickly became a popular form of transportation. Families would ride an open trolley car out to Caledonia in the summer for a picnic lunch while the children played on the playground. Also, every Saturday night, there was a dance at the park pavilion.

            Getting out to the park could be difficult at times, though. The Chambersburg and Gettysburg Trolley needed to cross the tracks of the Cumberland Valley Railroad at two points. However, the railroad company saw the trolley as competition and wouldn’t allow the trolley a right of way across the tracks.

            Two other trolley lines were soon built. The Chambersburg and Shippensburg Trolley and the Chambersburg, Greencastle and Waynesboro Company connected Chambersburg to its neighbors to the north and south.

            “One car ran to Third St., a second from Third to West Fayetteville and a third from there to Caledonia. Patrons had to walk across the railroad tracks at both transfer points,” according to the Public Opinion.

            Not only did this affect the passengers but the calls themselves. If a trolley car further away from Chambersburg needed repairs, it had to be taken across the railroad line and set on the trolley tracks on the other side of the line.

            The Cumberland Valley Railroad purchased the Chambersburg and Gettysburg Trolley in March 1905. Once this happened, the trolley was then allowed to cross the track and passengers could ride straight through to Caledonia. In later years, riders could get a transfer to a bus if they wanted to continue on to Gettysburg.

            However, automobiles continued to grow in popularity, which reduced ridership on the trolley. At its peak, riders could catch a trolley in Chambersburg every 15 minutes, but by the 1920’s, the company began making cuts in service. The trolley company went from using double truck trolley cars to smaller single cars.

            The last trolley left Caledonia Park on December 21, 1926. The Chambersburg, Greencastle and Waynesboro trolley and the Chambersburg in Shippensburg trolley both ended service at the end of July in 1928 and the service to Rouzerville ended on January 16, 1932.

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