History Along the Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania
Many historic resources of national and state significance found along the planned route of the Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania illustrate how humans have settled the region over the past 12,000 years.
Pennsylvania Highlands history revolves around the four major rivers in the region: The Delaware River and its two largest tributaries: the Lehigh and Schuylkill Rivers; and the Susquehanna River. In the past, these rivers supported transpotration and industry, and were essential to the establishment of the historic towns and cites, or Highlands Hubs, along the Highlands Trail.
The Delaware: A Wild and Scenic River
The eastern end of the trail begins at the Delaware River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River, in Riegelsville Borough, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Highlands Trail follows the D&L Trail, a National Heritage Corridor, through Delaware Canal State Park, a National Landmark. Following the trail north from Riegelsville leads to the historic cities of Easton and Bethlehem. In this area, the D&L Trail is adjacent to the Lehigh River and Canal. Both cities feature numerous historic structures and sites. In particular, the Central Bethlehem National Historic District is significant for its Moravian cultural heritage and the south side of Bethlehem was the site of iron and steel making operations that were the heart of the American Industrial Revolution.
The D&L Trail: A National Heritage Corridor
The significant historic feature in this part of the Pennsylvania Highlands is the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. The D&L Trail follows the towpath of the Delaware Canal and the Lehigh Canal for most of its 165 mile length. The importance of this and other early canal systems is beautifully interpreted at the National Canal Museum, which is located in Hugh Moore Park in the City of Easton.
Highlands Trail Connections to Other National Historic Sites
The Highlands Trail is envisioned to connect the historic Highlands Hubs and forests of Bucks and Montgomery Counties and includes the Perkiomen Trail, a rail-trail which passes by Mill Grove, the former home of John James Audubon. As the Highlands Trail crosses the Schuylkill River near Valley Forge, it follows the river upstream for 25 miles on the Schuylkill River Trail and National Heritage Area, another rail-trail, before climbing out of the valley to the Hopewell Big Woods region near the boundary of Berks and Chester Counties. The proposed trail route connects with the Horse-Shoe Trail near Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, an early American Iron Plantation. Continuing with an iron theme that expands across the entire 13-county region, the Highlands Trail is planned to co-align with the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail, which passes near Cornwall Iron Furnace National Historic District. The Highlands Trail passes through the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area with its numerous historic towns along the big river and co-aligns with the Mason Dixon Trail at Wrightsville. Further south, the Highlands Trail runs through the South Mountain Conservation Landscape, passing through Pine Grove Furnace State Park, site of another historic iron making community.