Allegheny Portage Railroad is a result of Pennsylvania’s desire to stay relevant in trade and an ingenious way to cross the Allegheny mountains before steam engines were powerful enough to make it through. With the rise of Canal trade after the completion of the Erie Canal, Pennsylvania scrambled to compete and shorten the 23 day wagon trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The Portage is a series of 10 inclines that that carry canal boats up and over the mountains, porting them all the way down to the to the other side so they could float their way to Pittsburgh shortening the trip from Philly to 4 days. Here is a diagram from the exhibit:
The visit begins with a movie, and a pretty good one. It is told in the first person and has great canal footage of boats actually utilizing a canal including the use of tow mules. It was great because my kids hadn’t been able to quite picture it. The Ranger on duty told us that the canal scenes were filmed in Cuyahoga, though I have since wondered if they were actually filmed on the C & O canal which still has active mules and boats. The visitor center activities are well done, with a moving model of inclines and a large train engine replica. Throughout the exhibit there are barrels and crates to be opened and inside there are raw goods that travel from the interior of the country and finished goods that travel from port cities to interior. It’s a great tactile experience that kept Wild Thing mostly under control. The fur barrel was a particularly big hit, though we had to flee the center when he discovered the barrel of plastic potatoes. The ranger was less than pleased as he chucked them about.
We headed out to walk up to Engine house 6 which is preserved with a larger building built around the original remaining structure. The walk is easy and on a delightful shaded boardwalk. At the end you can see the Engine house building. It’s pretty neat. You can see the original blockhouse that housed the steam engine and there is a fantastic exhibit about hemp cordage vs. Roebling’s wire rope and how much safer and stronger it made the inclines. I thought I took more pictures but I had to chase Wild Thing down as he furiously chased the tracks which he thought must lead to a train. You can see he is still sporting his Cuyahoga train cap and his love it has still not dulled. Just past the Engine house is the Lemon House, a hospitable rest stop for weary travelers.
Lemon house is a beautiful stone home that contained a large dining rooms and a bar with family living quarters upstairs. The Lemons had run a wagon waystation and managed to build this beautiful building ahead of the completion of the Portage to continue serving travelers. It is furnished complete with plastic food on the tables and a shelf of period childrens toys. There is also a Ranger there to answer questions and more traditional museum exhibits in the back. I really enjoyed this park because it really helped the children, with tactile exhibits, to understand just how important moving goods was to the success of our nation. Also I had not known about this usage of inclines before our trip. In Pittsburgh there were 10 functioning inclines to get workers from habitable neighborhoods down to the mills. Currently we still have 2 functioning inclines that are still used as transit and for tourism, so if you ever want to feel what it was like to be portaged you can swing by Pittsburgh!