The D&L Blog

Delaware & Lehigh - A Story From Freemansburg: A Canal Town

Gues Blog Post By: Laura Rohrbach

My family has been in Freemansburg for generations. I grew up along the Lehigh Canal, looking for salamanders in the silt-laden water and listening to stories of mules and canal boats. Both my parents and grandparents were involved in the Old Freemansburg Association. I spent my childhood at the lock, playing in the canal bed, eating handfuls of mulberries from the tree next to the old bridge supports, and planting flowers in the gardens at the locktender’s house. It wasn’t unusual to be allowed to participate in an excavation of the Grist Mill site across the canal bed. One of my prized possessions was a cobalt blue glass bottle I uncovered there. My mother displayed it for me in our kitchen. The fondest memory I have, though, is watching the reconstruction of the mule barn.


“Ei du schöne, ei du schöne, ei du schöne schnitzelbank,” my Pennsylvania German grandmother crooned over my nine-year-old shoulder as I watched the curls of wood fall to the leaves covering the ground. One of the men was shaping a wooden peg on the schnitzelbank, or shaving horse, for the new mule barn at Lock #44 in Freemansburg. My siblings and I made ourselves useful by gathering up those curls, when we weren’t running coffee and doughnuts to the work site, a job bestowed on us by the adults who wanted us to feel included but also stay occupied. The mule barn project was ambitious and fascinating, erected using only hand tools and handmade timber framing and pegs. Each beam and joist was hewn by hand, each hole was hand drilled with a spiral bit auger, each peg carefully whittled for a proper fit. I got to experience how difficult it is to drill a hole and secure a beam without the aid of power tools. I watched my grandfather nimbly walk the beams, helping to fit the joists in place and witnessed my parents participating in the cooperative effort of heaving timber framed walls into place with nothing but ropes and manpower.


These days, my parents take my nephew and daughter for walks down the tow path to the lock. The continued efforts to preserve and restore the site, and the commitment to education made by the D&L National Heritage Corridor, ensure this next generation will also be able to experience some of the magic that made history real to a nine-year-old Pennsylvania girl.