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Over the Alleghenies

Robert J. Kapsch
November 2013
134 maps & line art images
PB 978-1-933202-69-3


Between 1826 and 1858 the state of Pennsylvania built and operated the largest and most technologically advanced system of canals and railroads in North America – almost one thousand miles of transport that stretched from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and beyond.

The construction of this ambitious transportation system was accompanied by great euphoria. It was widely believed that the revenue created from these canals and railroads would eliminate the need for all taxes on state citizens. Yet with the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis much like the boom and bust cycle that ended in 2008, a deep recession fell across the country. By 1858, Pennsylvania had sold all canals and railroads to private companies, often for pennies-on-the-dollar.

Over the Alleghenies: Early Canals and Railroads of Pennsylvania is the definitive history of the state of Pennsylvania’s incredible canal and railroad system. Although often condemned as a colossal failure, this construction effort remains an innovative, magnificent feat that ushered in modern transportation to Pennsylvania and the entire country. With extensive primary research, over one hundred illustrations, newspapers clippings, and charts and graphs, Over the Alleghenies examines and dissects the infrastructure project that bankrupted the wealthiest state in the Union.


1. Early America and the Coming of the Transportation Revolution

2. The State of Pennsylvania’s Program of Canals and Railroads (1826-1858)                    

3. The Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal                            

4. The Western Division of the Pennsylvania Canal                         

5. The Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Canal                           

6. The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad                                                   

7. The Allegheny Portage Railroad                                                                            

8. The Susquehanna, West Branch, and North Branch Divisions                 

9. The Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal                                               

10. Pittsburgh to Lake Erie — The French Creek Division, the Beaver Division, and the Erie Extension                                       

11. The Gettysburg Extension and the Demise of the State of Pennsylvania’s Canals and Railroads                                                          



About the Author


Robert J. Kapsch, PhD, Hon. AIA, ASCE, holds doctorates in American studies, engineering, and architecture, as well as master’s degrees in historic preservation and management. Kapsch spent fifteen years as the Chief of Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, the U.S. government’s premier documentation program, and has served as project engineer for numerous historic restoration and rehabilitation projects along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and other parks.

Following this successful career as an historic architect and engineer for the National Park Service, Kapsch began a second career as an author, penning several books and articles on historic architecture and engineering, including The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterway West, Historic Canals and Waterways of South Carolina, and CANALS, the Norton/Library of Congress Visual Sourcebook in Architecture, Design and Engineering


Over the Alleghenies: Early Canals and Railroads in Pennsylvania is an insightful book about one of Pennsylvania’s greatest public works efforts. Kapsch weaves together the era’s politics, engineering, financing, and boosterism to reveal the history of nineteenth-century transportation in Pennsylvania. Over the Alleghenies is extremely well researched, crisply written, and richly illustrated, and fits nicely into Kapsch’s “ever-growing” body of work on transportation systems.”

Sam Tamburro, Historian, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

“Robert Kapsch has done it again, with yet another fine book describing and explaining America’s nineteenth century transportation systems. Over the Alleghenies: The Early Canals and Railroads of Pennsylvania is a lavishly illustrated, thoroughly researched, and clearly written essay that tells the complex story of Pennsylvania’s publically-funded response to New York’s Erie Canal. Ultimately deemed a failure, this complex interaction of technology, finance and politics is elegantly explicated by Engineer and Historian Robert Kapsch in a style we have grown to expect.”

Patrick Martin, Professor of Archaeology and Department Chair, Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Technological University

"Robert Kapsch’s achievement cannot be overestimated. He has succeeded where others have failed in creating one of the most imported manuscripts on early American Transportation systems. Over the Alleghenies is a monument to Kapsch’s wide knowledge of early American engineering and his study of the particular ways in which Pennsylvania applied and expanded both civil and mechanical engineering knowledge to create a functioning transportation system."

Lance E. Metz, Emeritus Historian, National Canal Museum