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Walnutport Canal: A Brief History of One of Lehigh Valley’s Canals

Walnutport borough is located 15 miles north of the hustle and bustle of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Historically, Walnutport was incorporated in 1909 and was most commonly known for its canal which was located on the Lehigh River.

It was formed in 1829 along with 52 other locks that were built as a way to compensate for varying elevations.

The original purpose of the canal in its heyday was to bring coal from the coal mines of northern regions such as Jim Thorpe (formerly known as Mauch Chunk) and it also was used to bring goods from the nearest ports of Philadelphia and New York.

Long before the invention of large bulldozers and excavators, the standard in construction and excavation was painstakingly done by pick axes and shovels. This was exactly how the Lehigh Canal was built.

Originally, the Lehigh Canal spanned a great distance from Jim Thorpe down to Easton where it joined up with the Delaware Canal. Unfortunately, due to a 1942 flood, the canal was destroyed beyond repair and therefore 113 years of usage abruptly stopped.

A still-existing structure is The Kelchner’s Locktender’s House in Walnutport at Lock #23, built by Lehigh Valley Coal and Navigation Company in 1828. Appropriately named after the last full-time locktender who lived there, Frank Kelchner, it is a 2.5-story stone house that remains on the Lehigh Canal.

According to the Walnutport Canal Association, It has been fully restored to its former glory and is furnished to represent what it would have looked like in the past. The quaint house is surprisingly equipped with 3 fireplaces and features a closet staircase that moves to each floor.

The Locktender’s House is open for guided tours May-October the first Sunday of each month 1:00-4:00 pm. This includes tours during the Walnutport Canal Festival.

As fall is now upon us, it rushes in a fun event in Walnutport every year and that is the Walnutport Canal Festival. Recently, The Walnutport Canal Association has informed the public via its Facebook page that this will be its last year hosting this annual festival that has run for a total of 42 years. They plan to go out strong with a slew of activities for guests to enjoy that are fun for all ages. Many local vendors and associations are expected to be present which will include: horse-drawn wagon, cake walks, demonstrations, old fashioned calliope, crafters, Little Brass Band, Magician/Juggler, and much more.

Please come out and support Walnutport this year for their final Walnutport Canal Festival! The Walnutport Canal Festival is set to kick off on Sunday October 15, 2023 Noon to 5 p.m., rain or shine.

Credit: The Walnutport Canal Association website and Facebook page

Photo credit Walnutport Canal

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