Suvarna Garge (Editor)

Morris Canal

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Maximum boat length
87 ft 6 in (26.67 m)

Maximum height above sea level
914 ft (279 m)

172,200 m

Date closed

End point

Maximum boat beam
10 ft 6 in (3.20 m)


Date completed
20 May 1832

Construction began

Start point
Jersey City

Morris Canal wwwroxburynewjerseycomimagesledgecanlgjpg

23 locks + 23 inclined planes

Original owner
Morris Canal and Banking Company

Waterloo Village, Central Railroad of New Jers, Black River County Park, Black River Wildlife Manage, Lake Hopatcong

The Morris Canal was a 107-mile (172-km) canal across northern New Jersey in the United States that connected the Delaware River to the New York City markets via a total elevation change of more than 900 feet (270 m) using the first inclined-plane canals in the United States. Primarily, it was an anthracite coal canal built in response to widespread deforestation near eastern cities and energy needs in the early industrial revolution. In use from the late 1820s to the 1920s, it stretched from Phillipsburg on the Delaware River eastward to Jersey City on the Hudson River. It was considered an ingenious technological marvel for its use of water-driven inclined planes to cross the northern New Jersey hills. (The canal was sometimes called the Morris and Essex Canal, in error, due to confusion with the nearby and unrelated Morris and Essex Railroad.)


Map of Morris Canal, New Jersey, USA

Completed to Newark in 1831, the canal was extended eastward to Jersey City between 1834 and 1836. It eased the transportation of anthracite from Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley to northern New Jersey's growing iron industry and other developing industries in New Jersey and the New York City area. It also carried iron ore westward to iron furnaces in western New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania until the development of Great Lakes iron ore caused them to decline.

By mid-century, railroads had begun to eclipse canals in the United States, although the Morris Canal remained in heavy use through the 1860s. It was leased to the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1871, taken over by the state of New Jersey late in 1922, and formally abandoned in 1924. This was a common fate in the era for many enterprises formerly reliant on anthracite volume to make a buck—by the 1920s, oil fuels had been steadily eroding the market share of anthracite in heating, and the automobiles were becoming common, whilst World War I had given a boost to motor truck (Lorry) development.

Although it was largely dismantled in the following five years, portions of the canal and its accompanying feeders and ponds are preserved. A statewide greenway for cyclists and pedestrians is planned, beginning in Phillipsburg, traversing Warren, Sussex, Morris, Passaic, Essex and Hudson Counties and including the old route through Jersey City.


On the canal's western end, at Phillipsburg, a cable ferry allowed Morris Canal boats to cross the Delaware River westward to Easton, Pennsylvania, and travel up the Lehigh Canal to Mauch Chunk, in the anthracite coal regions, to receive their cargoes from the mines. From Phillipsburg, the Morris Canal ran eastward through the valley of the Musconetcong River, which it roughly paralleled upstream to its source at Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey's largest lake. From the lake the canal descended through the valley of the Rockaway River to Boonton, eventually around the northern end of Paterson's Garret Mountain, and south to its 1831 terminus at Newark on the Passaic River. From there it continued eastward across Kearny Point and through Jersey City to the Hudson River. The extension through Jersey City was at sea level and was supplied with water from the lower Hackensack River.

With its two navigable feeders, the canal was 107 mi (172 km) long. Its ascent eastward from Phillipsburg to its feeder from Lake Hopatcong was 760 ft (232 m), and the descent from there to tidewater was 914 ft (279 m). The surmounting of the height difference was considered a major engineering feat of its day, accomplished through 23 locks and 23 inclined planes — essentially, short railways that carried canal boats in open cars uphill and downhill using water-powered winches. Inclined planes required less time and water than locks, although they were more expensive to build and maintain.


The idea for constructing the canal is credited to Morristown businessman George P. MacCulloch, who reportedly conceived the idea while visiting Lake Hopatcong. In 1822, MacCulloch brought together a group of interested citizens at Morristown to discuss the idea.

The Palladium of Liberty, a Morristown newspaper of the day, reported on August 29, 1822: "...Membership of a committee which studied the practicality of a canal from Pennsylvania to Newark, New Jersey, consisted of two prominent citizens from each county (NJ) concerned: Hunterdon County, Nathaniel Saxton, Henry Dusenberry; Sussex County, Morris Robinson, Gamaliel Bartlett; Morris County, Lewis Condict, Mahlon Dickerson; Essex County, Gerald Rutgers, Charles Kinsey; Bergen County, John Rutherford, William Colefax...".

On November 15, 1822, the New Jersey Legislature passed an act appointing three commissioners, one of whom was Macculloch, to explore the feasibility of the project and determine the canal's possible route and an estimate of its costs. Macculloch initially greatly underestimated the height difference between the Passaic and Lake Hopatcong, pegging it at only 185 ft (56 m).

On December 31, 1824, the New Jersey Legislature chartered the Morris Canal and Banking Company, a private corporation charged with the construction of the canal. The corporation issued 20,000 shares of stock at $100 a share, providing $2 million of capital, divided evenly between funds for building the canal and funds for banking privileges. The charter provided that New Jersey could take over the canal at the end of 99 years. In the event that the state did not take over the canal, the charter would remain in effect for 50 years more, after which the canal would become the property of the state without cost.


In 1823, the Canal Company hired Ephraim Beach, who was originally an assistant engineer on the Erie Canal, as their chief engineer, to survey the routes for the Morris Canal. Construction started in 1824 in Newark, with a channel 31 feet wide and 4 feet deep. The Canal went from Upper Newark Bay, followed the Passaic River and crossed it at Little Falls, then went on to Boonton, Dover, then the southern tip of Lake Hopatcong, whereupon it went to Phillipsburg.

On 15 October 1825, ground was broken at the summit level at the "Great Pond" (i.e. lake Hopatcong). By 1828, 82 of the 97 eastern sections, and 43 of the 74 western sections were finished. By 1829, some sections were completed and opened for traffic, and in 1830, the 38 mile section from Newark to Rockaway was opened.

Because the locks could only handle boats of 25 tons, that meant that through traffic from the Lehigh Canal was impossible, requiring reloading coal at Easton.

Design and building of the Inclined PlanesEdit

The vertical movement on the Morris Canal (1,672 feet) was 18 feet per mile, in comparison with less than 1 foot per mile on the Erie Canal, and would have required a lock every 2 miles, which would have made the costs prohibitive. Professor James Renwick, of Columbia University devised the idea of using inclined planes to get the boats up 1,600 feet in 90 miles, instead of using about 300 lift locks, since a lift lock of that time typically lifted about 6 feet. In the end, Renwick used only 23 inclined planes and 23 locks. Lock dimensions were originally 9 feet wide and 75 feet long

Renwick's original design seems to have been to have double tracks on all inclined planes, with the descending caisson holding more water, thus, the system would not have needed (theoretically) external power. Nevertheless, the inclined planes were built with overshot water wheels to supply power.

The early planes were done by different contractors, and differed greatly. In 1829, the Canal hired David Bates Douglass from West Point, who became the chief engineer of the planes. He supervised the construction of the remaining planes to be built, and also altered the already built planes.

The inclined planes had a set of tracks, gauge 12½ feet, running from the lower level up the incline, over the crest of the hill at the top, and down into the next level. Tracks were submerged at both ends. A large cradle, holding the boat, ran on the tracks. Iron overshot waterwheels originally powered the planes.

The Scotch (reaction) turbines, which later replaced the overshot water wheels, were 12½ feet in diameter, were made of cast iron, and could pull the boats up an 11% grade (11 foot rise over 100 feet). The longest plane was the double-tracked Plane 9 West which was 1,510 feet long and lifted boats 100 feet up (i.e. 6% grade) in 12 minutes. The total weight of the boat, cargo, and cradle was about 110-125 tons.

The scotch turbines produced (for example, on Plane 2 West) 235 horsepower using a 45-foot head of water and had a discharge rate of 1,000 cubic feet per minute. The winding drum was 12 feet in diameter, and had a spiral grove of 3 inch pitch. The rope was fastened on both ends to the drum, and there was a clutch which allowed reversing the direction of the wheel. The plane had 2 lines of steel rails, with a "gauge" of 12 foot 4½ inches from center of rail to center. Rails were 3⅛ inches wide at top, 3½ inches high, and weighed 76 lbs/yard. Also, the cradles had a brake, if things went downhill too fast, as well as the plane-man who would put about ½ the amount of full power through the turbine, so that the boat would not go down too fast. The water was fed into the turbines from below, thus relieving friction on the bearings and balancing them. Some turbines were also reported to develop 704 horsepower.

A comparison with the Plane 2 West (Stanhope) which had a 72-foot lift with a flight of 12 locks yields the following: the plane took 5 minutes 30 seconds, and consumed 3,180 cubic feet of water lifting a loaded boat. Locks (at 95 x 11 x 6 feet, means 6,270 cubic feet of water per lock) consume 72,240 cubic feet for 12 locks (about 23 times more water) and would take 96 minutes.

The Elbląg Canal, one of Seven Wonders of Poland, used the Morris Canal's technology as inspiration for its inclined planes; for that reason, the inclined planes on that canal strongly resemble those on the Morris canal.

The Newark Eagle reported in 1830:

The machinery was set in motion under the direction of Major Douglass, the enterprising Engineer. The boat, with two hundred persons on board, rose majestically out of the water; in one minute it was upon the summit, which it passed apparently with all the ease that a ship would cross a wave of the sea. As the forward wheels of the car commenced their descent, the boat seemed gently to bow to the spectators and the town below, then glided quickly down the wooden way. In six minutes and thirty seconds it descended from the summit and re-entered the canal, thus passing a plane one thousand and forty feet long, with a descent of seventy feet, in six and one half minutes.

Orange Street Inclined PlaneEdit

In 1902, after a fatal crash between the Delaware and Lackawanna railroad and a car, the railroad grade was lowered (and it is at that level today) and the Morris Canal had to make an electric driven incline plane to bring boats up and over the railroad and Orange street, and then back down into the canal, with a pipe to carry the water across the break.


Several aqueducts were built for the canal: the 80-foot Little Falls Aqueduct over the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey, and the 236-foot Pompton River Aqueduct, as well as aqueducts over the Second and Third river

The longest level was 17 miles, from Bloomfield to Lincoln Park; the second-longest, 11 miles from Port Murray to Saxon Falls.

Opening of the CanalEdit

On 1 November 1830, before the whole canal was finished, the eastern side of the canal between Dover and Newark was tested with several boats loaded with iron ore and iron, and went through the planes without incident. On 20 May 1832, the canal was officially opened, the first boat passing entirely through the canal was the Walk-on-Water, followed by 2 coal laden boats went from Phillipsburg all the way to Newark. This initial section (the Jersey City to be done later) was 98.62 miles, and cost $2,104,413.

Operating YearsEdit

Soon after opening, it became apparent that the canal had to be widened and had to be extended across to the New York Bay across Bayonne. Early boats, called "flickers" could only carry 18 tons. By 1840 the company had finished enlarging the locks, canal, planes, and finished building the extension to Jersey City. Boats were divided in two, hitched with a pin, as well as the trucks (cradles) on the inclined planes. The enlarged locks' dimensions were now 11 feet wide and 90 feet long.

The original company failed in 1841 amid banking scandals, and the canal was leased to private bidders for 3 years. The canal company was reorganized in 1844, with a capitalization of $1,000,000. The canal bed was inspected, and improvements were made. First, the places where seepage occurred were lined with clay, and two feeders were dug, to Lake Hopatcong and to Pompton. The inclined planes were rebuilt with wire cabling. Banking privileges were removed in 1849, leaving the company as a canal-operating business only.

By 1860, the canal had been progressively enlarged to allow for boats of 70 tons. Traffic reached a peak in 1866, when the canal carried 889,220 tons of freight (equivalent to nearly 13,000 boat loads). Between 1848 and 1860, the original overshot water wheels that powered the inclined planes were replaced with more powerful water turbines. The locks and inclines planes were also renumbered, since some had been combined/eliminated.

Boats drawing 70 tons were now 87½ feet long, 10½ feet wide, and drew 4½ feet of water.

Tonnage figures are as follows:


The Morris canal carried coal, malleable pig iron, as well as iron ore (as mentioned above). It also carried grain, wood, cider, vinegar, beer, whiskey, bricks, hay, hides, sugar, lumber, manure, lime, and ice. Although it is said that the Morris Canal was mainly a freight canal and not a passenger canal, some boats on the Morris Canal did offer "Cool summer rides accompanied by a shipment of ice" Additional things shipped include scrap metal, zinc, sand, clay, and farm products.

Iron ore from the Ogden mile was brought to Nolan's Point (Lake Hoptcong). In 1880 the canal transported 1,700 boatloads (about 108,000 tons) of iron ore.

Working hoursEdit

The plane tender of Plane 11 East reported that during the operating days, boats would tie up at night up to a mile above the plane, down another mile to Lock 15 East (Lock 14 East in the old 1836 numbering), and then about a mile below Lock 14 East. They would start putting boats through starting around 4 a.m. (dawn), and go all day long until 10 p.m., often consisting of boatmen who had gone through that morning, unloaded in Newark, and were returning.


The canal's profitability was undermined by railroads, which could deliver in five hours cargo that took four days by boat.

In 1871, the canal was leased by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which sought the valuable terminal properties at Phillipsburg and Jersey City. The railroad never realized a profit from the operation of the canal.

By the early 20th century, commercial traffic on the canal had become negligible. Two committees, in 1903 and 1912, recommended abandoning the canal. The 1912 survey wrote, "...from Jersey City to Paterson, [the canal] was little more than an open sewer ... but its value beyond Paterson was of great importance, no longer as a freight transit line but as a parkway." Many of the existing photographs of the working canal were shot as part of these surveys, as well as by other people who wanted photographs of the canal before its demise.

In 1918, the canal company filed a lawsuit to block the construction of the Wanaque Reservoir in Passic County, asserting that the reservoir would divert water needed for the Pompton feeder. The company won the suit in 1922, but the victory was Pyrrhic; the canal was now viewed as an impediment to the development of the area's water supply. On March 1, 1923, the state of New Jersey took possession of the canal and shut it down the following year. Over the next five years, the state largely dismantled the canal: the water was drained out, banks were cut, and canal works destroyed, including needlessly dynamiting the Little Falls aqueduct.

The Newark City Subway, now Newark Light Rail, was built along its route.

Canal todayEdit

Portions of the canal are preserved. Waterloo Village, a restored canal town in Sussex County, has the remains of an inclined plane, a guard lock, a watered section of the canal, a canal store, and other period buildings. The Canal Society of New Jersey maintains a museum in the village.

Other remnants and artifacts of the canal can be seen along its former course. For example, on the South Kearny, New Jersey, peninsula, where the canal ran just south of and parallel to the Lincoln Highway, now U.S. Route 1/9 Truck, the cross-highway bridges for Central Avenue and the rail spur immediately to its east were built to span the highway and the canal, resulting in spans that today seem unnecessarily long.

The inlet where the canal connected to the Hudson River is now the north edge of Liberty State Park.

Morris Canal GreenwayEdit

The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority is developing the Morris Canal Greenway, a group of passive recreation parks and preserves along parts of the former canal route.

Parks along the greenway include:

  • Peckman Preserve
  • Pompton Aquatic Park
  • Wayne Township Riverside Park
  • References

    Morris Canal Wikipedia