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Delaware & Lehigh - Freemansburg Canal Education Center
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The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, the Borough of Freemansburg, and the Bethlehem Area School District have partnered to create the Freemansburg Canal Education Center (FCEC) at the Lock 44 canal complex in Freemansburg. A public tour of the site is being offered on Saturday, October 13 at 12 noon. Parking is available behind the Willow Grove Hotel on Main if the Freemansburg Trailhead lot is full. Here is the link for directions to the trailhead: http://delawareandlehigh.org/index.php/towns/freemansburg/.

The FCEC is being developed as a field trip site for fourth-grade students learning the D&L’s “Tales of the Towpath” social studies curriculum, which is being taught in more than 70 elementary schools in the D&L Corridor. (“Tales of the Towpath” received the 2011 Outstanding Social Studies Program Award from the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies.)

Field trips initially will be offered on a pilot basis to five Bethlehem elementaries in October 2013, along with some public programs. The FCEC offers an outstanding variety of historic structures that will allow students to gain a better understanding of the importance of canals and their role in the rise of industry in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1850s. BASD teachers will develop standardized lessons and activities that will bring the “Tales of the Towpath” curriculum to life. The curriculum is based on a popular children’s book of the same name authored by D&L Outreach Coordinator, Dennis Scholl. (Click here to buy a copy.)

The noon tour on October 13 will include stops at historic Lock 44, the Lock 44 locktender’s house, the restored 1829 mule barn, the Geissinger Grist Mill ruins, and other site features.

Work at the site began in August and will continue through the rest of 2012 and much of next year. D&L Trail Tenders have been involved along with youths from Lehigh County Dept. of Juvenile Probation and Scouts from Troop 302 in Bethlehem. Archeologist Judson Kratzer worked with the Scouts to get accurate measurements of the Geissinger Grist Mill ruins and is in the process of making a scale map of the site. Architect Christine Ussler of Bethlehem is donating her services to provide an architectural blueprint of the locktender’s house as it appeared when it was constructed in 1828-1829. Our hope is to have the house restored to its original appearance by 2015.

Fritch Fuel Company of Bethlehem has provided funding for a full-size fiberglass mule – the “Fritch Fuel Mule” – and harness set that will be used in lessons inside the restored mule barn, which will be classroom space for other lessons as well. Other businesses in the Bethlehem/Lehigh Valley area have committed to replacing the locktender’s house roof, removing dead and fallen trees from the site, and providing cement for repair of some sections of the lock.

The field trips will take advantage of the October timing by incorporating lessons based on fall harvests. The presence of the Geissinger Grist Mill enhances that option. Food preservation techniques will be demonstrated and children will have an opportunity to sample butter, apple butter, and other 1850s fare made on-site.

The entire project is volunteer-based. The D&L will be recruiting and training volunteers to serve as costumed field trip hosts and docents. There is also a need for people to demonstrate the food aspects of the trip: making apple butter, cream butter, sauerkraut, chow-chow, chicken pot-pie, and other food children in the 1850s would have eaten.

The site itself is far from ready and there are several major improvements that have to be made before field trips can be offered. The biggest need is a set of retaining walls at the entrance area, which right now is not suitable for groups of children to use. We are hoping that local companies offer help through the donation of materials and services. The D&L is a 501 c3 non-profit organization and all services and materials for the FCEC project are tax-deductible.

The same situation occurs with some of our other goals: a concrete floor in the mule barn; a wooden walkway in the chamber of Lock 44; split-rail fencing near the parking lot and mule barn; canopies to protect students from inclement weather; the removal of several large piles of soil and rock; the building of steps for children to walk down to the shoreline of the Lehigh River, where ecology will be discussed.

The FCEC offers a wealth of educational opportunities, but a tremendous amount of support and work is needed to keep the project moving. So far, so good, but we are now entering a stage where equipment and materials and yes, cash, become important to the project’s success. If you or someone you know can offer support, please get in touch with Dennis Scholl at 610-923-3548 x225 or [email protected]. Volunteers also should contact Dennis or talk to him at the October 13 tour. We hope to see you there, and we’d love to hear your comments and questions on this blog.

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