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Morris Canal

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The stone entrance archway of the Morris Canal is visible on the New Jersey shore directly opposite the Guard Lock of the Delaware Canal. The Morris Canal was the most unique of America's towpath waterways. Designed to carry coal from the Lehigh Valley to New York harbor, it utilized a series of twenty-three water powered inclined planes along with thirty four locks (including tide locks, guard locks and feeder locks) to cross New Jersey.

It was completed in 1831 between Newark and Phillipsburg (where it connected with the Lehigh Navigation and Delaware Canal by means of an outlet lock and cable ferry which crossed the Delaware River). The Morris Canal enjoyed its first full boating season in 1832. In 1836, it was extended to Jersey City. Its total length, including navigable feeders, was 109 miles. During the 1850's and 1860's the original inclined plane water wheels were replaced with more efficient water turbines. The canal locks had been previously enlarged resulting in a 75 ton navigation limit by 1860.

Beginning in the 1840's large amounts of high grade New Jersey iron ore were shipped West on the Morris Canal to the prosperous anthracite iron furnaces of the Lehigh Valley and upper Bucks County. In 1866, traffic on the Morris Canal reached its peak when it carried 899,220 tons of freight. Competition from railroads, however, eroded the canal's role as a coal carrier and in 1871, the Lehigh Valley Railroad secured a long term lease of the Morris Canal.

Primarily concerned with utilizing the Canal's New York waterfront facilities, the Lehigh Valley Railroad never realized a profit from its acquisition. After 1889 the cable ferry to Phillipsburg went out of use. In 1905 a flood destroyed the Easton outlet lock. By 1915 commercial traffic on the Morris Canal ceased. In 1922 the Morris Canal passed into the hands of the State of New Jersey. The decision was made in 1924 to abandon the Canal and within five years the waterway was largely destroyed. In 1929, an abandonment report was issued marking the end of the Morris Canal.

Additional information on the Morris Canal

Morris Canal Fact Sheet (as presented by the Canal Society of New Jersey)

The Morris Canal, connecting Phillipsburg on the Delaware River with Jersey City on the Hudson River, was a unique canal. In its 102 mile length it went through elevation changes that totaled 1,674 feet. To overcome most of these changes the canal boats were moved over 23 "inclined planes". The boats were cradled in "plane cars" that moved up or down the plane on rails with the power supplied by water from the upper level of the canal -- this water flowing through a "Scotch Turbine" located deep underground. This system made the Morris Canal unique. The canal connected the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley with the New York-New Jersey markets and thus significantly aided in the development of industry and the cities in that area. It permitted the revival of the languishing iron industry in North Jersey and generally accelerated the development of the northern part of the state. Farm products, manufactured goods, raw materials and construction materials were also moved. The canal was the primary impetus for these developments because it was the only efficient bulk transportation system in operation in North Jersey in the first half of the nineteenth century. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the development of a more efficient bulk transportation system -- the railroads -- that eventually put the Morris Canal out of business.


General Information

Length of main canal: 102.15 miles Length of Pompton Feeder: 4.26 miles

Elevation changes:
Mean tide at Jersey City to summit at Lake Hopatcong: 914 feet
Summit to low water at Phillipsburg: 760 feet
Total change in elevation: 1,674 feet

Number of inclined planes: 23

Number of locks: 23 lift locks and 11 guard locks

Canal dimensions:

Original canal: Surface: 32 ft wide; Bottom: 20 ft; Depth: 4 ft
Enlarged canal: Surface: 40 ft wide; Bottom: 25 ft; Depth: 5 ft

Time for a one way trip: 5 days

Power source: 2 mules

Important Dates

November 15, 1822An act to investigate the feasibility of the canal
December 31, 1824Morris Canal and Banking Company chartered by the state of New Jersey
July 12, 1825Construction starts near the present town of Ledgewood
November 4, 1831First trip from Newark to Phillipsburg
1832First full boating season
1836Jersey City extension completed -- 11.75 miles
1844Company is reorganized -- banking is dropped
1841 & 1845 Canal enlargements
1847 - 1860Inclined planes rebuilt -- Scotch turbines installed
1871Canal leased by Lehigh Valley Railroad for 99 years
November 29, 1922State of New Jersey takes over the canal
Spring, 1924Canal drained
December 31, 1974Charter ceases

People in the early days

George P. MaccullochMorristown businessman who conceived the idea of the canal
Isaac WilliamsonGovernor of New Jersey
Ephraim BeachChief Engineer
Prof. James RenwickConsultant from Columbia University
John M. RoofAssistant to Ephraim Beach

Planes, Locks and Boats

The inclined planes were first powered by overshot water wheels. Then the Scotch turbines were installed. these are cast iron "pin wheels" approximately 12.5 feet in diameter, powered by water from the canal, and connected through gearing to a drum on which a wire rope cable was wound. This 2 inch diameter cable pulled the plane car up the plane. 

Prior to the use of the steel cables, iron chains and then hemp ropes were used.

The average grade of the planes was 1.11 -- approximately 11 foot rise for a horizontal distance of 100 feet.

Plane 9-West -- Port Warren near Phillipsburg:

Largest plane on the canal -- owned by author Jim Lee
Vertical life: 100 feet
Length: 1,510 feet to summit -- 1,788 feet to end
Double track -- approximate time for transit: 12 minutes

Lock dimensions:
Original locks: 9 ft x 75 ft
Enlarged locks: 11 ft x 90 ft

Boats: Capacities:
First boats: 10 tons of cargo
Second boats: 25 tons of cargo
1845 section boats: 44 tons of cargo
1860 section boats: 70 tons of cargo

Total weight of boat, cargo and cradle: 110 - 125 tons

Dimensions of 1860 boats:
Length: 87.5 ft
Width: 10.5 ft
Depth loaded in water: 4.5 ft

Other Information

Original: $2,104,413
Enlargement: $1,700,000

1845 - 58,259 tons
1866 - 899,220 tons (maximum year)
1856 - 1870 Coal picked up at Washington from DL&W Railroad -- 1867 - 146,359 tons

Only prosperous period was 1860-1870

Large aqueducts:
Little Falls Aqueduct across Passaic River -- 80 ft span
Pompton River Aqueduct between Mountain View and Lincoln Park: 236 ft long, 9 stone piers

Long levels:
Bloomfield to Lincoln Park: 17 miles
Port Murray to Saxton Falls: 11 miles

Notes on Lake Hopatcong:

In about 1750 Garrett Papalje built the Old Forge Dam for a forge

A new dam was built for the canal raising the lake by 5 ft and thus providing water for the canal in both an easterly and westerly direction.

From 1865 to 1881 the Odgen Mine Railroad brought iron ore from the mine to Nolan's Point on Lake Hopatcong where it was loaded into canal boats. In 1880, 108,000 tons were moved in 1,500 boat loads. Then the Central Railroad took over that business.

Towns along the canal: Port Delaware (Phillipsburg), Port Warren, Stewartsville, New Village, Broadway, Port Washington, Port Colden, Port Murray, Rockport, Hackettstown, Waterloo, Stanhope, Port Morris, Landing, Shippingport, Ledgewood, Wharton, Dover, Rockaway, Denville, Boonton, Montville, Beavertown (Lincoln Park), Mountain View, Little Falls, Paterson, Clifton, Bloomfield, Newark, Jersey City

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