Delaware and Raritan Canal
As canals developed in America settlers were attracted to nearby communities because the canals provided access to markets. They could sell their products at distant markets, and buy products made far away. If an ancestor settled near a canal, you may be able to trace back to a place of origin on a connecting waterway or migration route.
The construction of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in central New Jersey began in 1830 and was completed in 1834. It was dug mostly by Irish immigrants, and mostly by hand. Locks were built to help boats up and down the elevation changes along the canal. The upper gate of each lock was replaced with a dam and outlet gate after the canal closed. Canal spillways, marked by low spots on the towpath, drained excess water into the nearby river in times of flood.
A feeder canal was built starting near Frenchtown to supply water to Trenton, the highest elevation on the canal. From the completion of the feeder canal, it also was used to carry cargo boats. The feeder canal was soon expanded to allow coal barges from Pennsylvania canals into the system.
Barges were drawn by horses on a towpath until around 1843, when steam powered barges were introduced. The peak usage years on the canal were the 1860s and 1870s when 80 percent of the cargo was coal on the way to New York City.
In 1830 construction of a railroad was started in the same area as the canal. To prevent competition of the canal and railroad from driving each other out of business the two concerns were eventually merged. In 1855 tracks also were laid near the feeder canal known as the Belvidere-Delaware Railroad. In time the faster railroads took business from the canal. The last profitable year for the canal was 1892. However, the D&R Canal remained open until 1932. Following its closure to cargo traffic it was turned into one of New Jersey's most beloved parks.
Canal RouteBordentown on the Delaware River to New Brunswick on the Raritan River in central New Jersey. The main canal followed to the east side of the Delaware River from Bordentown to Trenton. At Trenton the canal headed northeast to Princeton. The D&R Canal flowed northward from Princeton just to the east of the Millstone River toward Manville in the Raritan River Valley. At Manville the canal turned eastward following to the south side of the Raritan River on its way toward New Brunswick.
A feeder canal was built to supply water to the highest part of the canal at Trenton. The feeder canal started at Bull's Island, near Frenchtown and followed to the east side of the Delaware River on its way southeast to Trenton.
Boats from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania crossed up the Delaware River to enter the D&R Canal at Bordentown, New Jersey. Barges carrying coal from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania down the Lehigh Canal crossed down the Delaware River to get into the D&R feeder canal near Frenchtown, New Jersey. Vessels that reached New Brunswick, New Jersey could continue east into Arthur Kill, a tidal strait west of Staten Island, to Kill Van Kull north of Staten Island, and into Upper New York Bay to reach New York (Manhattan) County, New York as well as neighboring boroughs.
Counties south to north along the route:
- Burlington, New Jersey on the D&R Canal
- Mercer County, New Jersey on the D&R Canal, and feeder canal
- Hunterdon County, New Jersey on the D&R feeder canal
- Somerset County, New Jersey on the D&R Canal
- Middlesex County, New Jersey on the D&R Canal
Settlers and Records
The Delaware and Raritan Canal was built after most of central New Jersey was already settled. It improved transportation between New York City and Philadelphia and contributed to the development of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. The canal resulted in additional jobs in towns along the route. Because most of the laborers who built the canal were Irish immigrants, a few of these laborers may have settled in the area.
- Delaware and Raritan Canal in Wikipedia discusses the route, abandoned sections, locks and spillways, construction, the state park, associated rivers, National Register of Historic Places, and external links.
- The Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park blog, history, maps, program, camping, nature areas, points of interest.
- The Delaware and Raritan Canal history at the National Canal Museum Internet site.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Delaware and Raritan Canal" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaware_and_Raritan_Canal (accessed 26 November 2011).
- "Delaware and Raritan Canal History" in Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park at http://www.dandrcanal.com/history.html (accessed 1 December 2011).