Oral History

Weissport is on the east side of the Lehigh River, directly across the river from Lehighton. The town was once the site of Fort Allen, a frontier stronghold and sanctuary built by Benjamin Franklin during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763). Its original name of New Gnadenhuetten (“new cabins of peace”) was given to it by Moravian settlers in the 1760s.

In 1783, a Philadelphian named Col. Jacob Weiss purchased 700 acres in the area from the Moravians, including New Gnadenhuetten. Weiss brought his family there in 1785 and renamed the town Weissport in 1792.

Weiss played an important role in the founding of the anthracite coal industry in Carbon County. In 1791, anthracite was accidentally discovered in the area near Summit Hill by a local hunter named Philip Ginder. Thinking it may be the “stone coal” rumored to provide hot fires when burned, Ginder took his find to Col. Weiss for inspection. Weiss promised Ginder 300 acres of land if he showed where the coal was found. Ginder obliged and Weiss took Ginder’s shiny black specimen by horseback to Philadelphia and had it further inspected by several men including his brother-in-law, Charles Cist. Upon authentication, Weiss traveled back home but did not give Ginder the land he promised for his discovery.

Weiss and his Philadelphia friends then formed the Lehigh Coal Mine Company. The mining operations of the company, however, were not successful, and the mine remained neglected for several years until it was purchased by Josiah White and Erskine Hazard, who eventually formed the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. White and Hazard also built and owned the Lehigh Canal and the famous Switchback Railroad that linked Mauch Chunk to the coal mines around Summit Hill.

The Lehigh Canal opened in 1829 and became a vital part of Weissport’s livelihood. By 1832, Lewis Weiss, a son of Col. Weiss, began building boats for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company and the Morris Canal & Banking Company. As long as the canal prospered, so did Weissport. Both sides of the canal became a bustling manufacturing complex. There was a planing mill, blacksmith shop, a covered dry dock, three general stores, two coal yards, and storage sheds for metal and lumber. Literally hundreds of mules crowded nearby stables. There was even a mule-powered railway for hauling canal boats out of the water and into the repair yards. Nearly everyone in Weissport depended on the canal and the canal depended on the town.