The Lehigh River originates with a series of glacial
bogs and marshes in the area of Pocono Peak Lake (elevation 2,100 feet
above sea level) near the town of Gouldsboro. During the course of
its 103 mile journey to the Delaware River in Easton, the elevation drops
nearly 1,900 feet, a fact that has strongly influenced the history of the
It takes about 24 hours for a drop of Lehigh River
water to travel the 103 miles of its length.
The Lehigh River serves as a geopolitical boundary
between most of the Pennsylvania counties that it travels through, including
Wayne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Luzerne, Carbon, Lehigh, and Northampton.
- During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Lehigh River
was referred to as the "West Branch of the Delaware River", and
the area where it entered the Delaware River was called the "Forks of
the Delaware". The name "Lehigh" is the anglicized version
of the Lenni Lenape word "Lechewuekink" which means "Where
there are forks."
- The area between Freemansburg and Easton is known as
the "dry-lands" because all of the water from rain drainage flows
underground (approx. 6 miles).
Between 1821 and 1966, the Lehigh River was owned by
the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, making it the only privately owned
river in the United States. This private ownership continued until
a local representative, Samuel Frank, promoted a bill to return control
of the river to the state in 1967.
The 72 mile Lehigh Navigation Canal System was developed
between 1827 and 1829 because of the proximity of the Lehigh River to Eastern
Pennsylvania's natural resources and its ability to link the resources
to the marketplaces downstream.
After 1834, the Lehigh Navigation Canal System became
part of a larger system of canals including the Morris Canal, which linked
it to New York Harbor, and the Delaware canal, which linked it to Philadelphia.
In 1855, the peak years of its operation, the Lehigh
Navigation Canal System carried over 1,000,000 tons of anthracite coal
from Carbon County to Easton. The vast white pine forest that lined
the banks of the upper Lehigh River helped to make Pennsylvania the greatest
lumber producing state during the 1860s.
Portland cement was first manufactured in America along the
banks of the Lehigh River at Coplay. Between 1890 and 1920, the Lehigh
Valley was the greatest cement-producing region in the world.
Portions of the bottom and banks of the Lehigh River are
covered by millions of tons of coal silt, which was deposited during the
great anthracite boom of the 19th century. Until the 1950s this
silt was dredged from the river and utilized as an industrial fuel.
The banks of the Lehigh River were once the heart of America's
iron industry. Between 1850 and 1880, approximately one-fourth of
America's annual iron production came from this region. The Bethlehem
Steel Plant Corporation was the birthplace of Americas modern defense
industry. It also produced the steel structural beams and columns
that form the backbone of many of Americas skyscrapers and long-span bridges;
including the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Lehigh Navigation Canal System supported all the industry
along the Lehigh River watershed. The system overcame a greater elevation
change than any other of Americas towpath canals. Its Upper Grand
Section between White Haven and Jim Thorpe used 20 dams and 29 locks to
overcome an elevation change of 600 feet in less than 26 miles. This
drop creates a flow of water that makes the gorge ideal for whitewater
sports. Its Lower Grand Section, between IM Thorpe and Easton, utilized
8 dams and 52 locks to overcome an elevation change of 353 feet in 46 miles.
The Lehigh Navigation Canal System was the longest-lasting
towpath canal in American history. It remained in full operation
The Lehigh River was once the site of several successful
steamboat operations, including an excursion vessel that was based at Bethlehems
Section 8 of the Lehigh Navigation Canal System is the only
fully operational part of the towpath canal remaining in Pennsylvania or
New Jersey. It is located in the City of Eastons Hugh Moore Park,
which is named after the late Hugh Moore, the inventor of the paper cup
and the founder of the Dixie Cup Corporation.
The Lehigh River watershed is 1,360 square miles in size.
This watershed is part of the 12,755 square mile Delaware River watershed.
Numerous manmade ponds and lakes were created in the upper
Lehigh River watershed to control the flow of water through all seasons.
Lehigh Falls was the site of Stoddartsville, a planned industrial
village in the 1820s that today is a national historic site.
The Francis E. Walter Dam was created in 1962 to control
flooding in the Lehigh River valley and to effect a manageable water source
for a variety of needs.
Osprey, great blue heron, beaver, muskrat, killdeer, turkey,
whitetail deer, hawks and even the occasional bald eagle has been sighted
in the Lehigh Mountain reach of the Lehigh River between Allentown and
The Lehigh River creates a "metro-wilderness" as it flows
through the heart of the Lehigh Valley. The river and its banks are
home to a wide variety of plant and animal species that exist in the midst
of an area containing more than 560,000 people.
The Lehigh River has better water quality today than it has
in more than 175 years.