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Side Quest: Conestoga Navigation Company’s Lock #6 in Safe Harbor

Hidden in Conestoga River Park along River Road in Safe Harbor is Lock 6 of the Conestoga Navigation Company.

Of the nine original Conestoga Navigation locks between Lancaster and the Susquehanna River, Lock 6 is the only survivor.
Of the nine original Conestoga Navigation locks between Lancaster and the Susquehanna River, Lock 6 is the only survivor.

The Conestoga Navigation Company was a slackwater canal that ran a winding 18-mile course through a series of six major locks and several dams with a 63-foot elevation change between Lancaster and Safe Harbor. 

In all, there were a total of 9 locks. Lock #6 measured 109 feet by 18-1/2 feet.

Boat approaching the Conestoga Navigation Company dock at Safe Harbor.
Boat approaching the Conestoga Navigation Company dock at Safe Harbor.

The project began on March 3, 1825, when the Conestoga Navigation Company was incorporated. The first dam and lock were finished the following year on July 31, 1826. By August 5, 1826, a new boat, the “Edward Coleman,” was the first to pass to Lock # l. Finally, in late 1828, all locks and dams were completed costing a total of $59,813.00.

In May of 1829, 14 arks and rafts arrived at Reigart’s Landing in Lancaster City. It was in this moment that Lancaster City was directly linked to the Susquehanna River, and indirectly, to the Chesapeake Bay. The dream to turn Lancaster into a port city was (briefly) realized.

It was said that while the canal was in operation, a person could board a ship in Lancaster, PA, and depart in Paris, France. Although there’s no evidence that anyone actually ever did that.

Port of Lancaster sign at Safe Harbor.
Port of Lancaster sign at Safe Harbor.

Reigart’s Landing was located on the Conestoga River near the intersection of South Duke and Chesapeake Streets.

Reigart's Landing - headwaters of old canal system. Note ruins of old stagecoach bridge linking Hickory Town (Lancaster) with Rockford and Henry Leman's rifle works. Image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org.
Reigart’s Landing – headwaters of old canal system. Note ruins of old stagecoach bridge linking Hickory Town (Lancaster) with Rockford and Henry Leman’s rifle works. Image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org.

The company soon experienced financial difficulty, and its assets were sold to William and Edward Coleman, ironmasters. In April 1837, the Colemans received a new charter for the business under the name “The Lancaster and Susquehanna Slack Water Navigation Company.”

Eventually, the owners of the Safe Harbor Iron Works purchased the rights to this company around 1846. Navigation on the Conestoga River was used chiefly in relation to the Iron Works. The destructive flood of 1865 effectively ended the use of the system. Click here to read more about the Safe Harbor Iron Works.

Here’s a great video featuring Benton Webber at Lock #1 discussing the canal system.

Planning Your Visit

Here’s the street address for finding Lock 6: 4 Conestoga Boulevard, Conestoga, PA. Conestoga River Park is open from dawn until dusk and is a popular place to picnic and fish. There is plenty of available parking.

Super-Size Your Side Quest

There are more substantial locks (Lock 12, Lock 13, and Lock 15) you can visit and even walk through in York County near Holtwood. These structures were once part of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal. Click here to learn more and where to find them.

Lock 12
Lock 12 of the old Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal
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