Ithamar A. Beard, an engineer of some prominence in New England, surveyed the mill brook and selected the best site for a storage dam. Contractor Simeon Cobb, knowledgeable of contemporary civil engineering practices, made major changes to the dam's original design, converting the linear dam into a gentle arch.
In an era when roads and canals were the most common means of overland transportation, the Allegheny Portage Railroad provided a novel alternative. The railway carried fully-loaded canal boats over the steep grades of the Allegheny Mountain. The 36-mile system rose almost 2,300 feet above sea level at its summit - the highest level to which canal boats had ever been carried. The project included ten double-tracked inclined planes, powered by steam engines. Its 900-foot Staple Bend Tunnel, cut from solid rock, was the first railroad tunnel constructed in America.