From 1829 through approximately 1857, the Conestoga Navigation Company operated a slackwater canal between Lancaster and Safe Harbor. Passengers and freight could board a barge at Reigart’s Landing on South Prince Street and travel down the Conestoga to the Susquehanna.
From there, the traffic crossed the Susquehanna and entered the Susquehanna and Tidewater canal system on the west side of the river. The boats would then travel down the S&T canal to Havre de Grace and from there they could continue on down the bay to Baltimore or they could navigate through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal (which opened in 1829) then up the Delaware to Philadelphia.
There were nine locks between Lancaster and Safe Harbor. Each lock was 100 feet long and 22 feet wide and was accompanied by a dam that piled up the water into ponds to facilitate navigation. The river bottom was dredged to ensure a minimum of four feet of draft. A towpath was cleared on the river bank so that non-powered canal boats could use the system.
The Conestoga canal started at what was called “Reigart’s Landing” named after Adam Reigart who was the first president of the Conestoga Navigation Company. Reigart remained president of the Conestoga Navigation Company until it was sold to Edward Coleman in 1833. Reigart operated a hotel at the head of navigation called “Reigart’s Landing.” Reigart died on May 2, 1844, at the age of 78.
This was located at the end of East Strawberry Street close to where the entrance to Lancaster County Park is today. The entire length of navigation from here to Safe Harbor was just short of 18 miles with a drop of 64 feet.
The following map itself is a reproduction of a copy of something that was printed in Ellis & Evans’ 1883 History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Although there’s no source or date to it, the map was likely prepared during Coleman’s ownership because there are only six locks. Click here to see a larger version of the map.
The Conestoga Navigation Company enabled goods like coal, lumber, grain, and whiskey to be shipped to Baltimore and Philadelphia faster and cheaper than it took to transport them overland to Columbia. A hogshead of whiskey (almost 65 gallons) could be shipped to Baltimore for $1.50 or to Philadelphia for $1.75.
In addition to the mule-powered canal boats, the steamer “Conestoga” provided passenger service between Lancaster and Philadelphia. The steamer Conestoga was seventy-five feet long with separate cabins for gentlemen and ladies. The steamer ceased operations in 1856 when the railroads became the dominant form of transportation.
After about 30 years of operation, the company ran into financial troubles, and finally ceased operations in 1857.