Mauch Chunk And Coal Mining
( Originally Published 1900 )
The Lehigh above Bethlehem comes through the clear-cut "Lehigh Gap " in the Blue Ridge, which stretches off to the northeast, where are two other notches, one cut partly down and the other deeply cut—the first being the " Wind Gap " and the other the "Delaware Water Gap." The Indians used to tell the early pioneers that the wind came through the one and the water through the other. The Jordan Creek flows out from the South Mountain, and in the valley is Allentown, the chief city of the Lehigh, having thirty thousand people, and numerous factories and breweries. Here is the township of Macungie, which is Indian for "the feeding-place of bears." It was to Allentown, when the British captured Philadelphia, that in 1777 were hastily taken the Liberty Bell and the chimes of Christ Church and St. Peter's Church, being concealed beneath the floor of old Zion Church to prevent their capture and confiscation. Above Allentown the Lehigh traverses the valley between the South Mountain and the Blue Ridge, passing Catasauqua, "the thirsty land," and Hokendauqua, seats of extensive iron manufacture, the first of these establishments on the Lehigh, founded in 1839 by David Thomas, who came out from Wales for the purpose. Then we get among the slate factories in crossing the vast slate measures that adjoin the Blue Ridge, and go quickly through the deep notch in the tall and here very narrow ridge, the waters foaming over the slaty bed, its thin layers standing up in long straight lines across the stream. Beyond is another valley, and then comes the wide-topped range known as the Broad Mountain. In this valley was Gaudenhutten, where the Indian trail, known as the " Warrior's Path," crossed the Lehigh, and where the first Moravian missionaries from Bethlehem came and built a church and converted the Indians. It was the scene of one of the terrible massacres of the Colonial wars. Within the gorge of the Broad Mountain is the oddest town on the Lehigh, Mauch Chunk.
This noted coal town has two principal streets one laid along the front of a mountain wall above the river bank, and the other at right angles, stretching back through a cleft in the mountain. Most things are set on edge in Mauch Chunk, and the man who may have the front door of his house on the street often goes out of an upper story into the back yard, which slopes steeply upward. Mount Pisgah rises high above, crowned with the chimneys of the machine-house of an inclined-plane railway. A view from it discloses a novel landscape beneath, the rail-roads, canal, river and front street all being compressed together into the narrow curving gorge which bends around Bear Mountain, the " Mauch Chunk " over opposite. The red sandstone is universal, and the chocolate-colored roads leading out of town are carved into the mountain walls. Through the centre of the place the river pours over a canal dam, its roaring mingled with the noise of constantly moving coal trains. The curious conical Bear Mountain, around which everything curves, rises seven hundred feet high, and the town, which has about four thou-sand people, rests at various elevations, wherever houses can get room to stand—in gullies or gorges, or hanging on the hillsides. From every point of view rises the tall and quaintly turreted tower of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, looking like an ancient feudal castle of the Rhine, which was built as a memorial of Asa Packer by his widow; for here was his home, and his grave is in the cemetery almost over the roof of his house.
At Summit Hill, nine miles northwest of Mauch Chunk, the anthracite coal of this region was first discovered. Philip Ginter, a hunter, found it while roaming over Sharp Mountain in 1791. This " stone coal" was carried down to Philadelphia and exhibited, and a company was formed, taking up ten thousand acres on the mountain and opening a mine. For thirty years they had disappointments, as nobody would use the coal, which cost about $14 per ton to transport to Philadelphia. To cheapen this, efforts were made to improve the navigation of the Lehigh, out of which grew the canal which was the early route of the coal to that city. Asa Packer once said that in 1820 three hundred and eighty-five tons went to Philadelphia, and this choked the market. In 1827, when the mining at Summit Hill had got a good start, the " Switchback " gravity railroad was built to bring the coal out from the mines to the river at Mauch Chunk. The loaded coal cars ran by their own momentum nine miles down a grade of about ninety feet to the mile. To get the cars back, they were hauled up the inclined plane on Mount Pisgah, then run by gravity six miles inland to Mount Jefferson, where they were hauled up a second plane, and then they ran three miles farther by gravity to the mines. This route was used for many years, but was afterwards superseded by another railway, and now the famous " Switchback" is a summer excursion route for tourists who delight in the exhilarating rides down the gravity slopes. At Summit Hill and in the Panther Creek Valley, a large output of coal is mined and sent through a railway tunnel to the Lehigh, and there is at Summit Hill a burning mine which has been smouldering more than a half-century. Asa Packer developed this region, while, farther up the river, branch lines come in from the Mahanoy and Hazleton regions, which were the field of operations of Ario Pardee ; and the two went hand in hand in fostering the prosperity of the Lehigh Valley.
The upper waters of the Lehigh flow through a wild canyon, the river at times almost doubling upon itself as it makes sharp bends around the bold promontories. Enormous hills encompass it about, the stream often flowing through the bottom with the rush and foam of a miniature Niagara rapids. The canal, abandoned above Mauch Chunk, was destroyed by a freshet many years ago, but the amber-colored waters still pour over the dilapidated dams and through the moss-grown sluices. There are log houses for the lumbermen, also an almost obsolete industry, and finally the railways abandon the diminutive Lehigh and climb over the desolate Nescopec Mountain, to go through the Sugar Notch and down the other side into the Vale of Wyoming and to the banks of the Susquehanna. Upon the eastern slopes of the Nescopec the Lehigh has its sources, gathering the tribute of many small streams between this ridge and Broad Mountain.