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. Whites 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
" 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
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!