Lebanon Valley Celebrates Its History and Heritage in Style
Every May, thousands of visitors flock to Union Canal Tunnel Park to step back in time during Union Canal Days. This weekend celebration of local history is a commemoration of the oldest existing transportation tunnel in the United States.
Horse-drawn wagons, craftsmen, puppeteers and actors portraying characters from the canal’s heyday make the festival more than just a fun event. According to festival organizers, it’s also a lesson in history.
The local section of the Union Canal is the only remaining portion of the original 82-mile structure, which once linked trade on the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers. The 621-foot Lebanon County tunnel section was completed in June 1827 and restored by the Lebanon County Historical Society, which continues to maintain the integrity of the tunnel’s structure. The tunnel was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1970 and a National Historic Landmark in 1994.
In Lebanon Valley, the legendary Coleman family has a mystique similar to the Kennedys or Britain’s Royal Family.
The original patriarch, Robert Coleman, made his fortunes in the iron industry and was responsible for stimulating the area’s economic and industrial growth, according to Elaine Ainsworth, local historian and expert on the Coleman family. In the late 18th century, young Coleman began to acquire vast amounts of land, iron ore deposits, and numerous iron furnaces and forges in Lebanon and Cornwall.
As Coleman’s fortunes grew, he developed “iron plantations” around each furnace to house the workers, and many of the beautiful stone homes are still well preserved in residential areas like Miner’s Village and Bird-Coleman Village.
One of Coleman’s defunct furnaces, Cornwall Iron Furnace, is also still intact and today serves as a museum and is the only surviving charcoal-burning blast furnace in the Western hemisphere.