Public Archaeology Dig Concludes
at Muncy Heritage Park, Nature Trail
Excavation explored history of West Branch Canal
Thousands of individuals and hundreds of families participated in the Public Archaeology Dig at Muncy Heritage Park and Nature Trail, an 11-acre recreational area along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Muncy. Beginning in 2005, visitors and archaeology college students volunteered to investigate history and identify and preserve the natural resources at the park owned and under development by Muncy Historical Society.
While archaeological excavations were held at the Heritage Park, Muncy Historical Society focused on developing the Nature Trail and installing colorful and informative signs along the major trail, a towpath along the West Branch Canal.
Muncy plans to begin building a “green” parking lot with pervious pavers and a native flower bioswale for stormwater runoff. It also will constuct a pavillion for educational workshops and meetings.
“It’s been a long journey but we are finally able to make definite plans for the park,” said Bill Poulton, president of Muncy Historical Society. “It’s been a shared vision for the past five years but now, with the comprehensive Master Plan developed by SEDA-Council of Governments and funding from public and private sources, we are hoping to move earth and create park access. Instead of parking in a soggy pasture, soon visitors to the park will have a handicap-accessible parking lot and marked trails. They’ll be able to meander through the park and learn about the local wildlife, birds and trees, as well as the history of the West Branch Canal and how a canal lock works.”
Because soil and trees have accumulated in the canal basin, it is difficult for visitors – especially children – to visualize what a canal is. All that remains of the busy, industrial site is a partial stone wall, a well and the lockkeeper’s house foundation, revealed through archaeological excavations.
“Now families and schoolchildren can read our interpretive panels and see historic photos of canals and canal boats; they can read how a canal lock works, raising and lowering boats so they can follow the slope of the land,” Poulton said. “…and they can read about the Last Raft tragedy at our river overlook. This special section of the park includes a spectacular view of the river and the Muncy Railroad Bridge that the Last Raft crashed into in 1938. There, seven men perished in the icy river.
“Our visitors will learn that this park is significant because it contains many transportation elements – from the river where Native Americans paddled their canoes and lumbermen rafted logs to the Chesapeake Bay, to the canal where boats hauled freight and passengers, to the railroad that replaced the canal, and finally to the asphalt roadways of modern America. It’s all here at the Muncy Heritage Park and Nature Trail.”
Hands-On the Heritage Park
Archaeology is a hands-on way to introduce individuals and families, including children, to history and the importance of preservation. Artifacts recovered are used for research and in exhibits developed by Muncy Historical Society's Museum of History.
Since 2005, Lycoming College has offered an American Archaeology field school at the site. At the conclusion of the college dig, the public visits the park with families and individuals volunteering thousands of hours.
The public dig has gained in popularity and, in May 2008, Cookie Magazine (Conde Nast publication) named the Muncy Heritage Park dig as one of its top vacation destinations for families wanting a hands-on archaeological experience.
But archaeology isn’t the only academic activity at the park. Lycoming College biology department is curious about the amphibian life at the park, especially Hellbenders.
Pennsylvania College of Technology's students have learned hands-on lessons in forestry management. Other students from a variety of schools, colleges and universities have worked at the park on independent research projects and some youth have become volunteers at the park because of their interest in history and nature.
Funding for the project has been provided, in part, by the Muncy
Historical Society, the Margaret Waldron Memorial Trust Fund, First
Community Foundation, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the Degenstein
Foundation, the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, the Pennsylvania
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Lumber
Heritage Region of Pennsylvania. Master plan development of the
Muncy Heritage Park and Nature Trail has been provided by SEDA-COG.
More information is available by calling Muncy Historical Society
volunteers at 546-5502, e-mailing MuncyHistorical@aol.com.
To become a member of the historical society,
More information about archaeology is available by contacting Robin Van Auken, MuncyHistoricalSociety@gmail.com, 570-546-5917.
PA Canal Boat No. 502 unloads coal at the
Sprout-Waldron Company plant in Muncy in 1891.
Lock No. 17 - Looking South
This picture was taken after the West Branch Canal closed.
The lockkeeper's house on the right is similar to the one
that existed at the Muncy Lock No. 21. The West Branch
Division of the Pennsylvania Canal System was completed from
Northumberland to Muncy on Oct. 2, 1830 and was closed in 1901. Notice how similar it is to the colorful postcard of the lockhouse at top. Quite possibly this is the same structure and the postcard was "enhanced" to make it more appealing to customers.
History of Port Penn, Muncy Cross Cut Canal
In the 19th century, Pennsylvania residents realized the importance
of the area’s waterways, capitalizing on the Susquehanna’s
channels, which had been cleared to Lock Haven. By 1834, the last
section of the West Branch Canal was finished.
John P. Schuyler and Joshua Alder purchased 50 acres of land in
Muncy, speculating that its resale would ultimately be a sound business
investment. This land, known as Port Penn, would first be dissected
by the canal and, later, the railroad -- both important to Muncy’s
Manufacturing flourished and the small business community would
support a large variety of trades, products and businesses. Local
carpenters worked in the Port Penn boat building facility and hotels
and taverns provided housing and food for boatmen, timber raftsmen
and canal travelers. Other occupations were represented here as
well, including a blacksmith, saddler, miller, grocer and butcher,
weaver, boot manufacturer, wagon maker, ice dealer, school teachers,
masons and general merchant.
Port Penn had a dark side as well. Barney McCue stabbed a neighbor
in 1870, and then took his friend’s life in 1874; Ellis Deeter
killed a neighboring man in 1909. Many children drowned in river
and canal accidents, some residents were killed or seriously maimed
in railroad accidents and, in March 1938, seconds after passing
the entrance to the Port Penn canal, the “Last Raft”
hit the railroad bridge, sending its 45 passengers into the river.
The canal in Muncy became a great business thoroughfare. The chief
products exported to points south were hogs, wheat, flour, lumber,
dried and salted meats, leather and whiskey. At the time, there
were 13 distilleries in the area with an estimated output of 1,200
to 1,500 gallons of whiskey a day. There were numerous sawmills,
shingle and gristmills along the canal bed. Imported cargo made
its way into warehouses then moved to downtown Muncy and to non-river
towns, like Hughesville and Picture Rocks.
Port Penn once was described as “a small suburb of Muncy
... a freight depot and the point at which passengers boarded the
packet boats. A great many boats, both packet and cargo, were built
here during the canal days and the village grew to a population
of 300 people. (By 1900) it is now a quiet and secluded outlying
section between Muncy and the Susquehanna ...”
This old postcard is an illustration of a typical canal boat
with passengers both inside and seated on the roof
Traveling to Muncy? Here's how to get here.
View Larger Map
Directions to Muncy Heritage Park & Nature Trail
Traveling on Interstate 80
I-80 to exit 212-W, take I-180 west toward Williamsport approximately
10 miles to exit 10 (Muncy Main Street). Turn left, drive about
1.5 miles to Pepper Street. Turn left and drive about 2 miles
to canal site along river.
Traveling North on U.S. 15
Go east on I-80 approximately 1 mile to exit 212-W, then as above.
Traveling South on U.S. 15
Take I-180 east at Williamsport approximately 15 miles to exit
13-A (Muncy Route 405). Turn right, 1 mile to light. At light,
turn left and travel about 1 mile to Pepper Street. Right turn,
2 miles to canal site along river.
Country Cottages Bed & Breakfast
Creekview Country Cottages B&B is a romantic and interesting
hideaway with a "Green" attitude. Located in eastern Lycoming
County, North Central Pennsylvania, it is the perfect retreat for
nature lovers and couples seeking privacy in a woodsy natural setting.
There is a variety of birds, deer, turkey, fox, hawks and other
wild creatures. Even with all this nature nearby, we are not far
from many local attractions: Walking in the Town of Muncy, Muncy
Historical Society, Ricketts Glen State Park, Lycoming County Fair.
Shulze House Bed & Breakfast
Built by Pennsylvania Governor John A. Shulze in the 1830's, the
Governor Shulze House in Montoursville, PA, has been restored to
its original splendor, and affords guests the beauty and charm of
the Victorian era today.
House Bed & Breakfast
The Bodine House Bed and Breakfast is located on a tree-lined street
in historic Muncy, Pennsylvania in the Susquehanna River Valley,
about 10 minutes drive from Interstate 80 via Interstate 180. Built
in 1805, The Bodine House has been authentically restored and is
listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the
furnishings throughout the house are antiques.
Regular Hours: Mondays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3
March through November ** except holidays **
and by special appointment.
Hours are subject to change
Check schedule by calling (570)546-5917