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Wiconisco Canal

   The Wiconisco Canal was a 19th century transportation waterway, about 12 miles (19 km) long, in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Running along the east bank of the Susquehanna River between Millersburg and Duncan's Island at the mouth of the Juniata River (also known as Clarks Ferry), the canal was completed in 1848 under the direction of superintendent Simon Sallade, a member of the state legislature. The downstream profile of the canal overcame about 42 feet (13 m) of vertical elevation through the use of 7 locks.

   The canal was supplied with water from the Wiconisco Creek and Susquehanna River utilizing a then state-of-the-art Water House at the mouth of the creek. The water wheel there was the largest in the entire state with a diameter of 20 feet, operated by a large steam engine.

   The canal heralded Millersburg's golden age with the town's population doubling by the outbreak of the American Civil War. This, however, was only the beginning of a much larger transportation boom. Used in conjunction with the Lykens Valley Railroad, which previously utilized gravity to transport cars down the valley to the river, it was a canal boat that brought the first steam locomotive up-river to Millersburg for use on the Lykens Valley line. This very locomotive that hitched a ride on the Wiconisco Canal spelled the beginning of the end for the waterway.

   During the most productive times, it was not uncommon for more than 100 canal boats to stack up in the basin awaiting an opportunity to be loaded and then begin their journey downstream, drawn by mules or horses. The majority of canal boats could haul between 70 and 90 tons of coal with a crew of three men. Many of them were owned by residents of Millersburg. It is claimed that some of the finest canal boats were built in Millersburg by the likes of Jacob Patton, Vinton Foreman, George P. Watson, and Benjamin Musser. In the 1850s, steam barges were also used in the canal, which could double the payload. The first owners of steam barges in Millersburg were F. Wenrich and Isaac Miller.

   When the North Central Railroad extended its line northward to Millersburg in 1857, so began the demise of the canal system with a quicker, more efficient method of transporting coal down the Susquehanna River available. Though limited use continued even after the Civil War, maintenance was discontinued and much of the canal was destroyed in the flood of 1889. Thereafter it was abandoned.

   Today, visitors to Millersburg can access some of the best preserved remnants of the Wiconisco Canal from the MYO Park. A well-maintained trail system provides a glimpse into the past as well as spectacular views across the Susquehanna River.

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