There has been a dam at this location for nearly 200 years since the earliest settlers arrived in New Bethlehem and built the area’s first grist mill. The existing Redbank Dam, constructed of concrete and timber in 1847, replaced an earlier dam destroyed during a torrential flood.
The Redbank Dam provided essential water power to grind the grains and saw the lumber necessary to sustain the region’s economy. Redbank Creek served as a vital transportation route for Northern Pennsylvania’s vast lumber industry. Before the Civil War, craftsmen in New Bethlehem made boats for shipping lumber.
Washington Craig purchased the valuable grain and sawmills in New Bethlehem in 1873, the same year as the Allegheny Valley Railroad steamed through town to connect communities in the north with Pittsburgh. Craig furnished his mills with new equipment shipped from New York City and his fine grade of flour became well known as one of Western Pennsylvania’s best. Across the creek in South Bethlehem, Redbank Milling Company also used the dam for its waterpower system.
Flatboats manpowered by long steering oars waited for high water to float their craft over the dam and continue the voyage downstream to markets on the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. Four men and a woman made up the crew on this boat.