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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Flag-raising at Stone House Museum, 1996
Anna Mae Chicka raises the flag at the Stone House Museum for 1996 Saitsburg Canal Days Photo: June Vatter

Saltsburg Canal Days

Originating in 1981, Saltsburg Canal Days were initiated by a local group, Historic Saltsburg Inc. (HSI) to celebrate their Western Pennsylvania town's canal heritage and its historic role in the development of Pennsylvania's transportation industry. Under the leadership of its first president, George Johnson, Historic Saltsburg sought to raise the public's awareness of the Canal period (1829-1860), develop their appreciation of the town's rich heritage, and halt the destruction of Saltsburg's historic buildings.

The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal linking Philadelphia with Pittsburgh had operated successfully in Saltsburg for thirty years before being supplanted by the railroad in 1882 when tracks were built on the leveled and dried up canal bed. After Conrail abandoned its track through Saltsburg in 1977, the land was acquired by the borough government of Saltsburg. Fearing that the land would eventually be divided and sold, HSI urged the council to place a five-year moratorium on the sale of the canal bed.

As the moratorium period neared its end in 1982, the slide and tape show, "A Trip on the Pennsylvania Canal" was created as public relations device to secure the future of the Canal site; the same year the Saltsburg Canal site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A plea went out to area individuals, organizations, and churches to help determine the fate of the Canal. Sometimes working until midnight with flashlights, volunteers were recruited to remove thick underbrush and small trees, do grading, cutting and installing of fence posts, removal of railroad ties, landscaping, laying of stone walkways, installing of park equipment and historic signs. Several matching funds grants, the use of donated equipment, supplies, and manpower, allowed the borough to participate the canal park development. Visitors to the Saltsburg Canal Park today enjoy a miniature waterfall, scenic walkway, footbridge and picnic tables. In November 1986, the canal site and Saltsburg's architectural district were selected for development by the National Park Service, and on October 2, 1989, the Saltsburg council voted unanimously to approve the site concept plan for the redesign and development of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal Park.

Today, Canal Days is a week-long event that celebrates the community's victory for an authentic restoration of a site that was essential to their town's history and heritage. The 18th Canal Days Festival in 1999 featured a re-enactment camp and battles, tours of the Rebecca B. Hadden Stone House Museum (built in 1830 as a tavern), a parade, a classic car show, entertainment by several rock groups, a quilt show, and the Laurel Highlands pipes and drum band. For the kids, there were a petting zoo, rides, games and a train. And, no Saltsburg Canal Festival weekend is complete without the Saltsburg Public Library's Duck Race!

Project documentation includes a newspaper article entitled "A Chronology of Saltsburg's Canal Project," newspaper articles and promotional materials covering previous festivals, a two-page history of Canal Days, a paperback book from 1988 Canal Days commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Saltsburg Canal, five 5 x 8 black-and-white photographs, and thirteen 8 x 10 color photos of Canal Days festivals.

Originally submitted by: John P. Murtha, Representative (12th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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