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Upper Providence Township


Upper Providence Township municipal offices are located at 1286 Black Rock Road, Oaks PA 19456; phone: 610-933-9179.

The township was established in 1805. One focal point of historical preservation is the Schuylkill Canal Locktender's House (Lock 60), located in the township. Built in 1846, the Lock connects the canal to a forebay, so that boats can access the river. In the 19th century, a Locktender operated the gates and maintained the correct level of water flow to "lock through" barges and boats.

Historic Resources [1]

  • Black Rock Dam: a stone-filled timber crib structure surrounding a 3-mile dam pool that fishermen, boaters, and water skiers can all enjoy
  • Lock No. 60: a "gateway" on the Schuylkill Canal that allows extra water to flood into a shallower area so that boats may float safely though it, dating back to 1839
  • The Lock House: adjacent to Lock No. 60, the former residence of the lock tender, whose job it was to monitor the waterway and open the lock when necessary
  • Friends Meeting House: located on Black Rock Road, a Quaker church dating back to 1740
  • Far Away Farm: land purchased by William Penn's sons with a house built on the land by Henry Ewalt in 1761
  • Montclair: meaning "Clear Mountain," this house dates back to the mid-1800s and overlooks the river
  • Broadview: a Victorian home with a view of the Schuylkill River

The Oakes Reach of the Schuylkill Navigation Canal was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Text, below, was transcribed from a copy of the original nomination document.

Oakes Reach, Schuylkill Navigation Canal

As part of the Schuylkill Navigation Canal, the Oakes Reach Section was associated with events that helped form the dynamic social and economic changes that occurred during the development of the American Industrial Revolution. It was one link in the chain that bound industrial production in the Lower Schuylkill Valley with needed raw materials from the Upper Valley. As the only section of canal in northwestern Montgomery County, it provided the economic stimulus which fostered growth of numerous villages in this portion of the county. The Oakes Reach section also aided the iron industry in Phoenixville to become a leader in its field. After 1827, Phoenix Iron Company was shipping almost exclusively by canal to Philadelphia via the Phoenix Branch link to the main canal. The Oakes Reach section is representative of the majority of the canal sections, the longest of which was the Girard Canal at 22 miles length, and the shortest, at Schuylkill Haven, a scant one mile long. The Oakes Reach Section and Manayunk sections are the best preserved sections of the canal, being the only places where a controlled flow of river water is maintained.

William Penn had seen the need to provide a navigable link between the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers as early as 1690. The early 18th century saw isolated channel improvements, and Robert Morris organized the Society for the Improvements of Roads and Inland Navigation in 1731, which was really a lobbying effort. A Commission was established in 1761 to clear channels, and subsequently, Pennsylvania chartered the first two canal projects in America, the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation (which became the Union Canal), and the Delaware and Schuylkill Navigation Company. In 1768, a plan was put forth in the Pennsylvania Chronicle which called for state sponsored improvements to the navigation of the Schuylkill River between Philadelphia and Reading by the construction of sixteen dams. These dams were to have good roads along their banks in order that flat boats could be towed by animal power. Strong opposition to any navigation on the Schuylkill was expressed by owners of established and valuable shad fisheries along its banks. However, after the War of 1812, these objections were outweighed by the necessity for improved navigation due to the rapid settlement of the Upper Schuylkill Valley and the discovery of anthracite coal at its headwaters. Growth of iron, textile and paper industries also provided impetus for a cheaper transportation system, heavy bulk goods being expensive to transport by wagon.

In 1815, canal proponents presented a proposal to the Pennsylvania legislature which, in turn, passed a bill incorporating "The President, Managers and Company of the Schuylkill Navigation Company." The Company was given authority to provide lock and slack-water navigation along the waterway. Two specific purposes were stated in the charter – the first to provide navigation or the river, and the second to sell or lease water power from dams along the river. Construction of the canal was divided into two sections: section one, from Philadelphia to Reading, and section two, from Reading to Port Carbon, a few miles upstream from Pottsville. The total distance was 108 miles. Included in the plan was the construction of a tunnel at Auburn.

In the 108 miles, 618' of elevation had to be overcome. This would be accomplished by the construction of 32 dams, 23 sections of canal, 109 guard and lift locks, and one tunnel. The total length of the canal sections would be 62 miles, leaving 46 miles of navigation in the river's slackwater pools. Construction began in 1816. The construction cost up to December, 1824, was approximately $1,800,000. Repair of several leakages raised the total cost to $2.2 Dillion by September of 1825.

The Schuylkill Navigation Company was established by Philadelphia financiers headed by Cadwallader Evans. Financing was obtained from the sale of stock, a method which proved unreliable at times. Philadelphia financier and philanthropist, Stephen Girard, became interested, and through his bank, in 1823, made available in the form of a mortgage for $230,850, a permanent loan to the Company. In December, 1824, over 105 miles between Philadelphia and Mt. Carbon was opened. The section from Mt. Carbon to Port Carbon opened in 1828.

The Schuylkill Navigation was not a continuous canal, but rather a series of open-cut waterways connected by river passage in slackwater pools created by dams. The canals were built with a bottom width of 30', a surface water width of 40' and a depth of 3'. The first locks were built with a chamber 80' long by 17' wide, designed to hold two 75' by 8' boats side-by-side. The capacity of such a boat was 20 to 25 tons. Rapid increase in use of the canal changed the size of the boats, which, in turn, required the doubling of locks. This work began in 1830. New boats were 75' by 13 1/2' and carried 60 tons. The locks were reworked to accommodate the wider boats. In 1834, the canal was deepened to 4', and again, in 1846, to a depth of 6.5'.

...

After having survived disastrous floods in 1850, the Company experienced its peak years of tonnage from 1855 to 1859. The greatest tonnage, by far, transported over the Navigation Canal was anthracite coal. In 1859, the year of maximum shipments, it amounted to 1,372,109 tons out of a total of 1,699,101 tons of merchandise. About 1400 boats, both company owned and privately owned, operated on the canal in 1859.

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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