TwHP Lessons

Allegheny Portage Railroad: Developing Transportation Technology

[Cover photo] Lemon Inn on the Portage Railroad
(The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)


magine riding on horseback or hiking through the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania in the summer of 1835. A dusty road climbs through an ever narrowing ravine. You are surrounded by steep hillsides covered with towering hemlocks, many reaching over 100 feet high. A small stream, barely four feet across, tumbles down its shallow and rocky course alongside the road. Here, high in the mountains, the air is cool, despite the season, and a feeling of wilderness pervades.

As you round a bend in the road you notice the sound of heavy machinery--wheels turning, engines cranking, ropes straining. You see a cloud of dark smoke belching from an unseen smokestack somewhere on the hillside to your right. Then, through a break in the trees, you glimpse the front section of a boat slowly moving up the steep slope of the mountain! There cannot possibly be a river or canal in such a location. What is more, the boat appears to be moving up a steep grade under its own power. Clearly, an unusual event in America’s transportation history is under way.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Map
 1. The Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Riding on the Inclined Plane
 2. Innovation on the Portage
 3. Impressions of the Portage Railroad

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Inclined planes on the Allegheny Portage
 2. Stone sleepers
 3. A Sectional Canal Boat in the Hitching Shed
 4. Inclined Plane No. 8
 5. Artifact found at Inclined Plane No. 6

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Innovation and Industrialization
 2. Canals and Railroads
 3. Transportation Technology: Past,
 Present, & Future

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Allegheny Portage Railroad
National Historic Site

This lesson is based on the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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