Saturday, August 5, 2017
On winter days when she was a child, Jane's grandmother told her, they'd skate on the canal, along twenty miles of it frozen solid near their house. Back in the 1850's, before the railroad finally won out against it, the canal was how you got clean-burning anthracite coal from the mines of central Pennsylvania to big-city markets. It would be loaded on shallow-draft boats, maybe fifteen tons of it at a time, then towed down the canal that ran alongside the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, by mules on the adjacent towpath. A dollar a ton, you could figure, from Wilkes-Barre, in the heart of anthracite country, to Philadelphia. Making the boats, and repairing them, was its own little industry. And since the 1830s a key center of it was Espy, a town of a few hundred drawn out along the north bank of the canal, home to lock tenders and canal maintenance workers, as well as a tannery, a pottery, and a brickyard. From early spring, when the ice melted, until late fall, according to a 1936 memoir, the locals, "set the tempo of their lives to the tireless plodding hoof beats of the mules." Boys in town looked with envy at those their own age driving the mules or else lolling on the decks of passing boats.
-Robert Kanigel, Eyes On The Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs