The Susquehanna River became the center of canal-building activities at the end of the eighteenth century when Pennsylvanians began to look for means of moving products to markets over water rather than over land. In 1801, Governor Thomas McKean, himself a Philadelphian, commissioned Benjamin Henry Latrobe to survey the river with an eye to making it navigable between Columbia and Baltimore. Until this was undertaken, products were typically brought by raft downriver to Columbia and then transported overland via the Lancaster Pike. The lower river was so dangerous that few tried the trip until the canal was completed. With its completion in the 1820s, towns along the river served as the bases for ferries and as ports of call.
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