Lehigh Valley boasts some of the most interesting museums in Pennsylvania. If you happen to drop by in the city of Easton, find time to visit the National Canal Museum. It is a history and technology museum that is unlike any other.
Managed and run by the Hugh Moore Historical Park & Museum, Inc., which happens to be the same group taking care of Hugh Moore Park and the Emrick Technology Center, this one is something that you will certainly have fun with. It is not your conventional museum and we’ll find out why in a bit…
Residing in the heart of Hugh Moore Park, which is located west of the city, The National Canal Museum was established in 1970. It originally was a joint cooperative effort of the Hugh Moore Park Commission of the city of Easton, PA and the Pennsylvania Canal Society. It was planned to be a small museum lying in between the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers.
The original purpose of the museum was to become a popular destination for tourists and visitors who were interested in the canal. It also featured school trips where students get valuable and interesting information about the city’s transportation. But in 1978, the museum grew larger, thanks in part to the addition of the Josiah White, a canal boat ride that eventually became a huge draw for the National Canal Museum.
By 1982, the exhibits of the National Canal Museum were subjected to a major redesign, paving the way for the transformation to the towpath canal era. The same redesign project led to the expansion into the industrial heritage of the region. At this point, the museum started to host major events such as the yearly Canal Festival and the Canal History and Technology, which also was held annually. Three years after the redesign, the museum in downtown Easton eventually reached a point where it now had the capacity to have a complete collection and archival ability of artifacts attributed to the canal era as well as the industrial revolution.
Another major improvement took place in 1996 when the museum moved to downtown Easton into Two Rivers Landing. This was intended to help revitalize this area of the city. After the move, the Two Rivers Landing got an average of 250,000 visitors every year. In 2002, the museum started a campaign to recreate and do some improvements on its existing exhibits and this eventually led to the proposal to the National Science Foundation, which resulted to a $2 million grant.
Today, the National Canal Museum’s collections manifest and showcase the material culture as well as history of the nation’s canals and navigable rivers, including all canal-related industries all throughout the Lehigh Valley region. There are currently 3,753 artifacts, 3890 reels of film, hundreds of feet of manuscript materials, engineering drawings, library containing more than 13,000 volumes, and many more. Moreover, the museum’s archival holdings include some rare film footage of canal life, canal maps, captain’s logs, historic photographs, and even the complete set of Army Corps of Engineers’ reports given to Congress annually.