Monday, March 14, 2011

Nicholson McQuiston and the Kiski Canal

The former Pennsylvania Main Line Canal connected Philadelphia with Pittsburgh with three canals, a railroad, and the Allegheny Portage Railway, a combination rail road and inclined plane. The Western Division ran from Johnstown down the Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas, and Allegheny Rivers to Pittsburgh. Many traces of the canal can still be found along the trail.

Constructed between 1826 and 1834, the state-owned Main Line of Public Works was the first transportation system to directly link Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the early days, passengers changed back and forth from railroad cars to packet boats. The introduction of sectional packet boats by 1840 made it possible to stay aboard the same accommodations for the entire trip, which took about three and a half days.

The Kiskiminetas River (called the Kiski for short) is a tributary of the Alleghney River, approximately 27 miles (43 km) long, and located in Western Pennsylvania. My sister Sherry McQuiston happens to live nearby. I live on the Upper Allegheny.

The Kiskiminetas Canal was operated by Nicholson McQuiston. Nicholson was most likely related to the Scrubgrass branch (my branch) as a history of Scrubgrass states - "From a comparison of the best evidence it appears that the first settlement of Scrubgrass resulted from the explorations of James Scott, formerly a resident of Westmoreland county. Indian depredations having become frequent in the settlements of the Kiskiminetas, he was sent by the State authorities in company with another scout to ascertain whether the perpetrators were from Cornplanter's people or from the tribes in Ohio. As nearly as can be determined it was in 1793 or 1794 that they were sent on this mission, and nearly a year was occupied in their investigations. On his return to Westmoreland Scott gave his neighbors such a favorable account of the Scrubgrass region that when he removed here ten or twelve of them accompanied him, thus inaugurating the emigration from Westmoreland county which contributed so large an element to the population of the southern townships of Venango county."

Nicholson would possibly have been from a McQuiston branch that stayed behind in Westmoreland County. John and Alexander McQuiston traveled to Scrubgrass in 1802 by paddling up the Allegheny River. They patented their land in 1803. Though I have little to go on for Nicholson, his daughter was married in 1889. Assuming she was about 20, Nicholson was probably about 40-50 years old in 1889 though he may have been older based on the time the canal was in existence – from about 1825-1857.

The canal ceased operation in the 1850s. The State of Pennsylvania sold the entire canal/railroad system in 1857 and received $7.5 million dollars for the $10 million dollar project that brought many Irishmen to America as canal diggers and railroad builders. The buyer only ran the canal for another three months before closing it. In 1866, a flood washed the control dam of the Kiski Canal out.

Today, next to the river is the Roaring Run Trail. It follows the road that was used for a canal towpath from about 1825 to 1850. This site next became the corridor for a railway that carried coal from the Leechburg coal mining station. Pennsylvania Railroad donated the abandoned right-of-way, and the trail opened in 1991.

Once again a McQuiston is found playing an integral role in expanding the frontier of America.

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