Union Canal Tunnel

The Lebanon County Historical Society owns and maintains the Union Canal Tunnel, the oldest existing transportation tunnel in the United States. The Union Canal once linked the commercial centers of Harrisburg and Reading and, by extension, the port of Philadelphia. The tunnel and canal are located within the confines of Union Canal Tunnel Park, an open recreational area located at 25th and Union Canal Drive, Lebanon, Pennsylvania. [Directions »] A recent survey in the Lebanon Daily News named the Union Canal Tunnel as the #1 Historical Attraction in Lebanon County.

Union Canal Tunnel

  • photoDesignated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1970, this tunnel is the oldest existing transportation tunnel in the United States. At the time of its construction, it was considered a work almost unknown in this country.
  • Dug through the ridge dividing the waters of the Quittapahilla Creek and Clark’s Run, the tunnel was originally 729 feet long. Drilling was done by hand and blasting with gunpowder through argillaceous slate rock with veins of hard flinty limestone 80 feet below the summit of the ridge. Progress of the work was 5 yards lineal per week.
  • Work began May 1825 and was completed in June 1827, at a total cost of $30,404.29. The tunnel’s length was reduced to 600 feet during the canal enlargement in 1858 at a cost of $8,280.00.
  • Simeon Guilford was the engineer in charge, with John B. Ives as contractor.
  • The first boat to pass through the tunnel was The Alpha of Tulpehocken on the morning of June 12, 1827. Boats were poled through the tunnel against the ceiling, while the mules were led over the top of the ridge.
  • photoIn the early 1930s, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) worked on restoring the Tunnel, and the stone marker was dedicated. The boulder was brought by a sled with horses from the South Mountain near Colebrook. [Detail »]
  • On December 29, 1933, upon request of the Lebanon County Historical Society, the Eastern Real Estate Company, successor in title to the Union Canal Company, granted the Lebanon County Historical Society the right to enter upon the property and take steps to preserve the engineering monument.
  • In April, 1950, the Historical Society completed the purchase of the Tunnel and adjacent property.
  • The North Side was purchased in 1992, and renovation took place from 1998 to 2000, which included dredging of the canal to Clark’s Run and the restoration of the North Portal.  The rest of the North Side was developed in 2005 and 2006, which included the building of the bridge and the dam, the dredging of the canal from Clark’s Run to Minnich Lane and planting of the trees.
  • The Tunnel was opened for the first trip in September 2000.
  • The formal dedication of the North Side took place in 2006.