The Morris Canal was an artificial towpath waterway
connecting the Delaware River
with the Hudson River
. Its main purpose was to improve transportation between the coal mines in the Lehigh Valley
of Pennsylvania, the iron forges of Morris County in New Jersey
, and the commerce center that is New York City
The New Jersey state legislature chartered the Morris Canal and Banking Company in 1824 to build the canal. The canal between Newark and Phillipsburg was compleleted in 1831. The first full boating season was in 1832. The canal was finally extended to Jersey City in 1836, and measured 109 miles in length and spanned 1,674 feet in elevation changes. To allow vessels to traverse the disparities in elevation, the canal contained 23 inclined planes and 34 locks.
The company went bankrupt shortly thereafter due to construction cost overruns and the depression of the 1830's. However, it reorganized under new ownership and prospered for a short time as it was the main route for coal transportation. In the 1840's, it became the main route for iron ore transport, from New Jersey to the anthracite furnaces of the Lehigh Valley. During the 1850's and 1860's, the original inclined plane water wheels were replaced by more efficient water turbines, allowing a 75 ton navigation limit. It experienced an increase in hauling, from 58,259 tons in 1845 to a peak in 1866 of 899,220 tons. The canal then started to become obsolete as the railways became its main competition, deeply affecting the canal's profitability. The company then leased the entire canal to the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company (LVRR) in 1871. By the 1880's the canal was antiquated, no longer carrying long-distance traffic. In 1905, a flood destroyed the Easton (on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, opposite Phillipsburg) outlet lock. By 1915, commercial use of the canal ceased completely.
The LVRR, losing money, pushed for the right to abandon the canal. Finally, in 1922, the state transferred all property, stocks, bonds, and rights to the State of New Jersey. However, some valuable property in Phillipsburg and Jersey City was retained by the LVRR. New Jersey sold a large portion of the canal property and dismantled the canal works and the canal mostly disappeared within five years. In 1929, a report was issued, officially marking the end of the canal.
Today, the State adminsters the remaining property at several lakes and resevoirs for park land and water supply resources. Some remnants remain and can be seen. The most notable of these is Lake Hopatcong in Morris County and the Newark City Subway. Walking the canal remains possible, from Phillipsburg through Waterloo, even all the way to Jersey City.
The canal explains much of the development of the area, and is also a reminder of the ever-quickening pace of technology. For the previous two hundred years, walking and horse-powered carriages were the only ways of travelling long distances through New Jersey. The canal came and was superceded by the railroads, and within this century we have seen the US Highways become modern dinosaurs in the face of the US Interstate System. From here we can begin to imagine what the future of transporation will be.