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   Josiah White - founder of White Haven   Chamber of Commerce

PO Box 363
White Haven,
PA 18661
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The History of Josiah White
Josiah White, born 1781, was one of the founding fathers of early America’s industry; and the man White Haven was named in honor of.

He was a man many people called visionary; although he considered himself only a man able to see into the future. And that future included making the Lehigh river navigable to boats hauling coal not only to major cities such as Philadelphia and New York, but to neighboring states, as well! This was unheard of in his time. Although disasters plagued the entire life of the Lehigh River Navigation System, Josiah White saw his dreams come true. The impact that Josiah White had on White Haven and the surrounding area is still prevalent today.

When Josiah White entered the Lehigh valley, he realized what great potential the area had with its abundant supply of coal and the Lehigh River to transport it. He envisioned taming the river to carry stone to the cities where it was greatly needed. His dream was to create a one way descending navigation system by 1824, and the return passage, or ascending, in twenty years, or 1848. It was his contention that the river should be made the heart of a royal web of waterways, leading to New York, Ohio, and the south.



Although Josiah had difficulty finding backers he managed to generate enough sums to see his idea to fruition. On August 8, 1818, The Lehigh Navigation system was created. A second company, the Lehigh Coal Company was formed to mine the coal.

Josiah White became known for his invention of the "Bear trap lock" system. This system was designed exclusively for use on the Lehigh River because of the 1818 drought in the Lehigh Valley. He had previously designed a system where the stone river bed itself created the necessary force not only move the boats, but create deep enough water for a loaded boat to pass. This method worked, until the drought of 1818. With time and money running short, Josiah White and his faithful workers secretly created the "bear trap" lock system, named such, because work on bear traps in Bear Mountain (now known as Mauch Chunk) was a common occurrence in the early history of this area. This brilliant idea kept his competition at bay, leaving him with sole ownership of said locks.

Until the creation of these locks, all other canals had worked by opening up and shutting doors to let the ships through. Immense effort was demanded to close the doors. With Mr. White’s invention, the gates were opened by a single man, and in only a few moments. Because of this ingenious invention, from that time on, rivers could be navigated at all levels of water!

The "great master lock" so named because of its size, was located in White Haven. It was 1-1/4 miles long and was also the last great lock created.

The Great Flood
On January 8, 1818 The Lehigh valley was engulfed in a great flood, with most of the destruction between Mach Chunk and White Haven. What once was described as "the mightiest navigation system in the world", was left in ruins. There was "nothing left, not even discernible…" Josiah wrote home. A report sent to a newspaper within a few days of the flood said briefly "The Lehigh is a clear path, from source to mouth again." With devastation to life and business, Josiah was once again faced with the impossible duty of finding funds to rebuild. Not only did the flood cause a setback, but on January 15th, a country-wide depression brought desolation with it. In light of this Josiah and his partners had no choice, after repeatedly attempting to obtain funds, but to mortgage their entire worldly possessions - and succeeded!!

Unfortunately, another flood- this one in 1862 again destroyed the navigation system. Faced not only with the financial crash of after-war prosperity; but the changing times - from river to railroad - aided in the failure of the Lehigh River Navigation system.

Josiah White- Prince of Pioneers by Eleanor Morton (copyright 1946.)

You can still see parts of the mighty locks and dams that Josiah White and his men created when you walk down the railroad bed from White Haven to Jim Thorpe. Visit us and catch a glimpse of the past!


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