The history of the anthracite railroads operating through the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania is inexorably intertwined and connected with the history of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company. This pioneer corporation, one of Pennsylvania's earliest and most enduring, had established an economy and transportation system in an otherwise inaccessible, remote, coal rich area of Pennsylvania. Their accomplishments led to the early development of modern industry along the banks of the lower Lehigh River and contributed greatly to what would later become known as the Industrial Revolution. To fully appreciate the history of the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Lehigh & New England Railroad it is helpful to view their growth and development against the historical panorama of the both the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company and the hard coal industry.

Major anthracite deposits in the United States were only found in Utah and eastern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania deposits geologically occurred in 4 major fields within an area of 484 square miles. These miles include the counties of Wayne, Columbia, Dauphin, Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Carbon, Luzerne, Northumberland, and Schuylkill. The latter five have historically produced the vast majority of anthracite mined in the United States since 1820, the first year that coal production records had been kept.

Southern Coal Field Originally First Coal Field Served by the L&NE, CNJ, LV, RDG, PRR
Eastern Middle Coal Field Originally part of Second Coal Field Served by the CNJ, LV, RDG, PRR
Western Middle Coal Field Originally part of Second Coal Field Served by the LV, PRR, RDG
Northern Coal Field Originally Third or Great Wyoming Coal Field Served by the CNJ, LV, DL&W, ERIE, NYO&W, D&H, PRR

The fields were further divided for trade purposes into 3 regions: the Wyoming Region - encompassing the entire Northern Coal Field, the Lehigh Region - encompassing the entire Eastern Middle Coal Field and the eastern tip of the Southern Coal Field, and the Schuylkill Region - encompassing the entire Western Middle Coal Field and the bulk of the Southern Coal Field.

Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company

The trademark of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, a red bulls eye within a white circle emblazoned with the inscription Old Company's Lehigh, graphically symbolizes the historic relationship that the LC&N once had with the Lehigh River, mining, and the shipment of Pennsylvania anthracite. Coal had first been discovered  in the Wyoming Valley during the mid-1700s. Back then it had been referred to as stone coal because of certain geological characteristics it shared with rock, including the seeming inability to burn. Following the discovery, no commercial use of stone coal had been made until 1769 when a blacksmith1 successfully burned it in his forge near Wilkes-Barre. Use of the new fuel was, however, slow to gain acceptance.

Although deposits of stone coal had also been discovered in the Shamokin and Mauch Chunk areas, its inherent inability to easily ignite discouraged its general acceptance until February 1808 when a Wilkes-Barre manufacturer2 proved that stone coal could be burned in an open grate without a forced draft. Once this technology was known, domestic consumer demand for the new fuel became widespread - first throughout eastern Pennsylvania and later the Northeast. Its major attribute as a fuel was an intense, clean, slow burning fire, and its major attribute as a commercial product was its abundance. Venture capital poured into the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.

The roots of the designation Old Company's Lehigh began with the legendary 1791 discovery3 of stone coal under the roots of a tree fallen near Summit Hill (approximately 9 miles west of Mauch Chunk). This discovery led to the 1792 formation of the Philadelphia based The Lehigh Coal Mines Company4 whose expressed purpose was to mine stone coal from deposits on Sharp Mountain. The fledgling company acquired approximately 10,000 acres of coal lands from the State of Pennsylvania plus the right to navigate the Lehigh River. Their earliest shipments of coal were floated downriver on wooden rafts known as arks. These arks were designed to be dismantled and sold for their lumber value after reaching port. In its natural state the wild and twisting Lehigh River had not been a desirable transportation route. Arks were lost going through the rapids, smashed against the rocks lining the river's many turns, or simply grounded in inaccessible areas. During different seasons the river often flooded turning passive waters into raging torrents and at other times was too shallow in areas to permit navigation. The current of the river at all times was too swift to allow vessels a return trip upstream. These transportation shortcomings eventually led to financial hardships for the mining company. Marketing hard coal from Sharp Mountain was too costly to compete with bituminous coal shipped to Philadelphia from Virginia and even as far away as England.

The War of 1812 interrupted bituminous coal shipments and the vacuum was temporarily filled with coal from the Lehigh Mines. It was during this period that Philadelphia industrialists and entrepreneurs Josiah White and Erskine Hazard first became acquainted with anthracite. They needed an uninterrupted supply of coal to fire their iron smelters at their Schuylkill Falls nail and wire drawing plants. Rumors of a vast abundance of hard coal in the mountains surrounding the Lehigh and Panther Creek river valleys compelled Josiah White's attention and ambitions into the Lehigh Valley. The problems of controlling the Lehigh River, which had discouraged the owners of the Lehigh Mines into complacency, had challenged Josiah White. Despite the popular opinions of some Pennsylvania State Legislators of the era, this was no scenario of fools rushing in as Josiah White was already familiar with the design and construction of canal locks and dams on the Schuylkill River. White leased the failed Lehigh Mines property for a 20 year period and immediately petitioned the state for permission to improve the river. Conditional5 authority to improve navigation on the Lehigh was granted in March 1818 along with the exclusive rights to use the river in any way compatible with navigation including the right to levy tolls upon river craft. In July 1818 Josiah White, Erskine Hazard, George Frederick August Hauto, and other investors formed the Lehigh Navigation Company -  which was immediately deeded the river rights that had been granted by the state legislature - and The Lehigh Coal Company - which was granted the use and benefit of the coal properties. (Note: Although later outlawed as being in restraint of trade, this was America's first instance of interlocking companies and boards of directors.)

In 1819 a rough stone surfaced road was completed from the mines on Sharp Mountain down to the river. This road's percent of grade was determined by dividing the distance of the road into its total descent - a method that would later be used in railroad construction.

The navigation company's initial attempts to tame the wild and turbulent Lehigh River enjoyed limited success. Commencing in August 1818 obstacles in the river bed between the mouth of Nesquehoning Creek and the Delaware River were removed and a series of timber dams with ingenious gated sluice locks called Bear Traps (US Patent Office 1819 - Josiah White) constructed. The gate of the Bear Trap was hinged to the floor and opened by the pressure of water delivered from a reservoir via a flume. In the raised position the gate formed part of the dam. When water was rapidly discharged into the Bear Trap, the raft was raised 3 to 6 feet and hydrostatically propelled out of the Bear Trap on surge that swept the craft over the rapids. After the gate was re-closed, the Bear Trap was again part of the dam. Although the Bear Traps enabled a raft to ride on a rush of water from one slack-water pool to the next, they worked in only one direction. As the great timber stands on The Lehigh Coal Company property were reduced, the construction of the one-way rafts became increasingly more expensive, which - in turn - made Lehigh coal less competitive in the marketplace. Only a conventional canal could facilitate ascending navigation.

In 1820 The Lehigh Coal Company united with the Lehigh Navigation Company forming the Lehigh Navigation and Coal Company. In 1821 the name was changed to Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company (LC&N). To attract investment capital, in February 18226 the LC&N incorporated. With the assistance of a former engineer7 of the Erie Canal, a system of slack water pools joined by canal segments was designed and constructed between Mauch Chunk and Easton (1827 to 1829). A total of 44 lift locks, 5 guard locks, 3 guard lifts, 9 dams, and several aqueducts were ultimately required to facilitate the 46 miles of upstream navigation. The expensive, forest-depleting8, one-way arks were replaced by conventional canal boats.

During 1832 the Pennsylvania Canal System completed the Delaware Canal between Easton and Bristol (a city on the Delaware River 17 miles upstream from Philadelphia). Although LC&N shipments and marketing benefited from the all slack-water route to Philadelphia, the specifications of the Delaware Canal were not complementary9 in size with the Lehigh Navigation, which necessitated that some LC&N boats transship at Easton. In similar fashion, the subsequent development of the Morris Canal between Phillipsburg and Newark, New Jersey, opened New York markets to Lehigh coal.

Desirous of even further expansion of their market for Lehigh coal, in 1835 the LC&N extended their navigation westward into the upper Lehigh region to White Haven. Their ultimate goal was to connect their navigation with the state-owned North Branch Canal on the Susquehanna River at Wilkes-Barre. Construction of the navigation continued northeast of White Haven as far as Stoddardsville where it was determined that further construction was futile. Three mountain peaks blocked water entry into Wilkes-Barre. The only way the LC&N could overcome the mountains was by rail.

Gravity Railroads of the LC&N

The earliest railroad constructed by the LC&N was the Mauch Chunk Railroad, a line complete in 1827 between LC&N mines at Summit Hill (previously Sharp Mountain) and loading chutes on the Lehigh River at Mauch Chunk. This railroad made it possible for loaded coal jimmies to descend 9 miles into the river valley by gravity. After being emptied, mules returned the cars back to the mines. As the output of mined coal increased, this system grew inadequate to satisfy the demand for empty cars. The freewheeling downhill trip took 30 minutes while the return trip by mule consumed over 3 hours. To expedite the return of empty cars, an incline was erected in 1845 from the foot of the loading chutes to the top of Mount Pisgah. Cars were hoisted up the plane with a stationary steam engine and released to descend a distance of 6 miles by gravity to the foot of Mount Jefferson where jimmies were again hoisted up an incline and released for the final descent into the Summit Hill area.

In 1846 the LC&N began mining operations in the Panther Creek Valley. The Mauch Chunk Railroad was extended into the new area by a clever arrangement of switchbacks and spring-loaded turnouts that enabled empty cars to seesaw their way back to the mines. The expanded system was renamed the Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill & Switchback Railroad.

The LC&N opened a second gravity line, the Rhume Run Railroad, in 1833 between LC&N mines at Rhume Run (also spelled Room Run, later the town of Nesquehoning) and landings on Rhume Run Creek at its mouth on the Lehigh.  This system employed a self-actuating incline to lower coal to the canal and later disappeared with the completion of the Nesquehoning Valley Railroad in 1870.

The Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey

In 1837 the LC&N was granted a charter to construct the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad between White Haven and Wilkes-Barre. Originally conceived as a portage, it is doubtful that canal boats ever used the railroad. The route required a 1,743 foot bore through Blue Mountain, a short distance north of White Haven, and a series of  3 inclines between Solomon's Gap and Ashley. Severe flooding of the Lehigh River in 184110 delayed completion of the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad (L&S) until 1843. 

Flood waters again ravaged the Lehigh Valley in 1862. The improvements made to the river above Mauch Chunk were obliterated and extensive destruction was inflicted to life and property in the Lehigh Valley. The damage suffered on the lower system was attributed to the failure of canal feeder dams in the upper region. The state legislature blocked the LC&N from rebuilding north of Mauch Chunk by passing laws against damming the upper Lehigh River. The legislature recommended that a conventional railroad replace this navigation. By this period slack-water navigation was rapidly being outmoded by rail transportation, which offered all-weather reliability. But more critical to the solvency of the LC&N was the Lehigh Valley Railroad (LV) who had operated alongside the navigation from Mauch Chunk to Easton since 1855 and had already taken away the lion's share of coal tonnage generated from independent mining operators. Now the LV planned to extend their railroad to White Haven through the acquisition of trackage rights on the Beaver Meadow Railroad (a feeder line of the LV between Mauch Chunk and Penn Haven) and the construction of the Penn Haven & White Haven Railroad to White Haven. In view of this new threat to both navigation and railroad, the LC&N pushed plans to build the L&S all of the way to Easton.

The combined cost of rebuilding the navigation system and constructing the L&S left the LC&N financially unsound.  Fate intervened on March 23, 1871, when the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey (CNJ) leased the majority of LC&N railroad properties. These properties included:

Lehigh & Lackawanna Railroad - Bath to Wind Gap and Bath to Lawrenceville

Wind Gap & Delaware Railroad - Bangor to Lake Poponoming

Nesquehoning Valley Railroad - Nesquehoning Junction to Tanamend

Tresckow Railroad - Silver Book to Audenreid

Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad - Phillipsburg, New Jersey, to Union Junction, Pennsylvania
and branch lines including:
North Pennsylvania Connection
Coplay Branch
Nescopec Branch
Lee Mine Branch
Canal Branch
Everhart Branch
Ashley Planes
Nanticoke Branch

These railroads and branches combined became the CNJ's Lehigh & Susquehanna Division, which effectively transformed the New Jersey company from a terminal conduit to an originating, on-line, anthracite carrier. Prior to this agreement with the LC&N, the CNJ had enjoyed prosperous arrangements with the LV, L&S, and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W) whereby the bulk of their respective coal traffic fed the CNJ  mainline in New Jersey (LV and L&S at Phillipsburg and the DL&W at Hampton Junction). Times were, however, changing. In 1868 the DL&W leased the Morris & Essex Railroad, a tidewater line that ran between Phillipsburg and Hoboken, New Jersey. And even prior to this the LV's founder and president, Asa Packer, had involved11 his own fortune and time piecing together a tidewater route through New Jersey utilizing an obscure New Jersey railroad charter and many additional supplements.

The DL&W's lease of the Morris & Essex Railroad acted as a catalyst that set in motion a chain of events that forever changed the nature of coexistence between the anthracite-hauling railroad in the northeast. The curtailment of substantial Lackawanna coal traffic over Central Company rails threatened the financial stability of the CNJ. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, good fortune arose from mutual calamity - the lease of LC&N railroad properties resolved both companies' plight. It also accelerated the demise of old corporate affiliations and aligned the destiny of the LC&N with the that of the CNJ. Within a few years both LV and DL&W black diamonds would find their own way to tidewater.

The opening years of the 1870s were prosperous for the CNJ despite the loss of LV and DL&W tonnage. Although the tons of coal hauled had increased only slightly, the longer haulage distance increased profits threefold. The financial Panic of 1873 that had slowed the nation's economy had no immediate affect on CNJ operations or plans for expansion. The demand for anthracite reached historic heights. With business growing and  revenues soaring, the directors of the CNJ took measures to insure that the flow of coal over Central Company's rails would continue indefinitely by forming their own mining empire.

The Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company

The Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company (L&WB) was incorporated in the State of Pennsylvania during 1874. It was formed by the consolidation of two existing companies: the Wilkes-Barre Coal and Iron Company and the Honey Brook Coal Company. The CNJ owned a controlling interest in the new corporation through the acquisition of a two-thirds majority of its capital stock.

On March 28, 1874, the L&WB entered into long term lease of the LC&N's Carbon County Lehigh Mines. These properties, along with other controlled properties in Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill Counties made the L&WB one of the largest corporations in Pennsylvania. During this period the L&WB controlled over 34,000 acres of coal lands having on them 37 slopes and 30 shafts, totaling 50 mine openings, that supplied 29 breakers. The LC&N lease required that an annual rent be paid equal to the sum of 21 percent of all coal mined from LC&N premises - based on Mauch Chunk prices - with a minimum rental of $500,000 paid in monthly installments. Tied to this lease was the stipulation that the CNJ had to operate and maintain the Lehigh Navigation for a rental of $50,000 per quarter ($200,000 per annum). If the CNJ fell in arrears for a period of 60 days, the LC&N could rescind its agreement with the L&WB. Having leased their mining interest to a railroad backed coal company, the navigation system would have otherwise been of no value to the LC&N. By tying the CNJ to the L&WB lease they had effectively insured the navigation system's continued use and upkeep. Also stipulated was the CNJ's lease of the Delaware Division Canal at $138,714 per annum.

Still riding on the crest of prosperity, in 1874 the CNJ purchased the Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill & Switchback Railroad and leased it to a Theodore L. Mumford who operated it as a tourist scenic line well into the 1930s.

The demand for anthracite began to decrease during 1874 starting a trend that would continue into 1877. In that year the CNJ petitioned the court to place the L&WB into receivership12. The CNJ, already in receivership since the preceding year, and their court-appointed Trustee, the Honorable Francis S. Lathrop, refused to pay the rent for an obsolete but competing canal. This refusal had prompted the LC&N to rescind their lease agreement and retake possession of their mining properties leased to the L&WB. The L&WB had suffered a series of mining mishaps and the economic environment had worsened for anthracite consumption. From about 1850 onward anthracite had been largely used for the manufacture of pig iron but by 1875 its use in blast furnaces had been rapidly superseded by coke (a product of bituminous coal). The anthracite sold to the iron industry had been lump coal (as it came out of the mine) - the most profitable size to market. Smaller domestic sizes such as grate, egg, stove, chestnut, pea, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 buckwheat incurred great waste undergoing processing in the form of fine coal, coal dust, and culm. The smaller sizes had often cost more to manufacture and market than Mauch Chunk prices would bring.

The L&WB had expanded its operations beyond its ability to finance its debt. The downturn in business had pushed them over the edge of insolvency. If the LC&N forced a foreclosure it could start an avalanche of similar foreclosures. The CNJ owned the vast majority of L&WB capital stock, which they had pledged as collateral to finance their own expansion. If the L&WB crumbled, the CNJ would surely follow. Forcing the L&WB into receivership placed their many assets under the protection of the court. The court accepted the CNJ's plea and 3 Receivers13 were appointed on February 13, 1877, to administrate the financial affairs of the L&WB until such time that the company was again solvent. On June 23, 1877, the L&WB surrendered back LC&N properties. In what must have been heroic negotiations, the Receivers settled all accounts with the L&WB's creditors, and the company came out of receivership 22 months later. 

Many decades later, in April 1920, the CNJ, along with other railroads who owned coal companies, was ordered by the United States Supreme Court to divest itself of the L&WB. This mandate from the nation's highest court was the direct result of earlier anti-trust action taken against the Reading Company, another Pennsylvania coal carrier/operator, for infringements of the Sherman Anti-/Trust Act and the Commodities Clause of the Hepburn Act. The CNJ complied with the court order and by 1921 was out of the coal mining business forever.



1Obadiah Gore, 1744-1821, blacksmith, miller, Continental Army officer, defender of Forty Fort in 1778 when assailed by the British and their Indian allies, and associate judge of the Luzerne County Court, Pennsylvania.

2Judge Jesse Fell, 1751-1832, innkeeper, sheriff, and judge, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

3Phillip Ginder or Phillip Ginter (history has not documented the correct spelling).

4The Lehigh Coal Mine Company (unincorporated) was formed by Colonel Jacob Weiss (Quartermaster - US Continental Army), Michael Hillegas (Treasurer of the United States 1776 to 1789), Charles Cist (Styner & Cist, printers of Thomas Paine's Common Sense and other pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary War pamphlets), Robert Morris (banker and financier of the American Revolution), John Nicholson, J. Anthony Morris, et al. It was the first company organized to mine anthracite in the United States.

5The state's grant was conditioned upon satisfying a time-frame of Lehigh improvements including prescribed dates for commencing downriver navigation, upriver navigation, and other transportation improvements that would benefit the State of Pennsylvania.

6On April 1, 1820, The Lehigh Coal Company and the Lehigh Navigation Company merged, forming the Lehigh Navigation and Coal Company. On May 21, 1821, the name of the company was changed to The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company. The following February 1922 the company was chartered (incorporated) by an act of the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

7Canvas White, 1790-1834, soldier, inventor of hydraulic cement (patented 1820), surveyor, canal engineer Erie, New York, Lehigh, Delaware, Raritan, and Union Canals.

8The arks were rectangular boxes approximately 25 feet in length and between 16 and 18 feet wide. Arks were joined in squadrons that at the peak of their use reached 180 feet in length. The manufacture of every squadron of arks required the devastation of a 400 acres of timberland.

9The design and construction of the Delaware Canal had been a political fiasco. Although the LC&N had been acknowledged the principle user, the Delaware Canal was constructed with narrow 11 foot wide locks that did not permit passage of all types of craft used on the Lehigh Navigation, which had 22 foot wide locks, and insufficient reservoirs to supply water. When initially opened in 1832 the Delaware Canal leaked so badly that it had to be immediately closed. The Pennsylvania Canal Commission subsequently called upon Josiah White to redesign and rebuild the canal, which he completed in 1834. The LC&N would ultimately gain control of the Delaware Canal and operate it as the Delaware Division Canal.

10The Great Flood of 1841 swept away navigation improvements on the Lehigh River - diverting funds, equipment, and manpower from construction of the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad.

11During the 1860's Asa Packer quietly obtained interest in the 1865 charter of the Passaic Valley & Peapack Railroad, a proposed line chartered to construct a route in central New Jersey between Union or Essex County and Peapack. By supplement (1867) its western terminus was extended to a point between Milford and Frenchtown, New Jersey, on the Delaware River. Then early in 1869 another supplement authorized a connection with any other existing or proposed New Jersey railroad desirous of such connection. Curiously, the connecting railroad was also offered the right to guarantee the interest and principal of the bondholders, as well as dividend payments to stockholders. Within the same month, yet another supplement was forthcoming permitting a crossing of the Delaware River (at or near their terminus but not south of Milford) and a connection with any Pennsylvania Railroad authorized to connect with them. Another supplement came early in 1870 when their chartered name was changed to the New Jersey West Line Railroad. Subsequent supplements extended the line eastward to the Hudson River and authorized a branch from Clinton westward to Phillipsburg. The LV's announced a financial interest in the New Jersey West Line Railroad in their 1871 Report to the Stockholders. In May 1871 the Morris Canal properties were leased and the LV had an administratively convoluted paper route to tidewater that would soon prove impossible from both an engineering and legal standpoint.

12The Central Railroad Co. of New Jersey vs. the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company - In Equity - May Term 1877, No. 62, in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

13Receivers Edward W. Clark (President Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company), the Honorable Benjamin Williamson (Director of the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey - 1847 to 1882), and. Joseph A. Clay, Esquire, Master of the Court.