About The Morris Canal
In the early 1800’s canals became an alternative transportation route to the rut-ridden, mud-mired highways. New Jersey’s Morris Canal was different from all the other canals. Unique, this canal defied the terrain, literally climbing mountains by way of inclined planes, as it challenged what seemed like an insurmountable elevation, a total of 1,674 feet of elevation changes. The route contained 23 lift locks and 23 inclined planes; 7 of each were in Warren County.
George P. McCulloch, a businessman from Morristown, envisioned an artificial waterway stretching across northern New Jersey as a means of bringing Pennsylvania coal to the fuel starved furnaces of the east and distributing raw materials to the industrialized areas of the state. The Morris Canal was chartered on December 31, 1824 “to form an artificial navigation between the Passaic and Delaware rivers”.
In 1831, the Morris Canal was opened to through traffic from Phillipsburg to Newark. By 1836 it reached Jersey City for a total of 102 miles. Lake Hopatcong was the main source of water and near the summit of elevation change. The technology used on the Morris Canal was simple but innovative. Flat bottomed canal boats were steered with a tiller while the boat was pulled by two mules guided by a young mule driver. The boats traveled through locks and over inclined planes.
It was the water from the canal entering the powerhouse that set the water powered turbines into motion to raise or lower cradled boats on the inclined plane by means of a cable. This operation was unique to the Morris Canal. With the advent of the faster, more efficient railroads, business on the canal declined. By 1924, despite all efforts, the canal was abandoned, drained, and all but forgotten.
In 1981 the Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders made the Morris Canal a part of the County’s open space plan and established the Morris Canal Committee as a special committee of the County Planning Board. The goals of the Committee are preserving and protecting the remains of the Morris Canal and increasing the awareness of its great historical significance. Since that time the Canal Committee has worked with the County Board of Recreation Commissioners, Land Preservation Office, and the Planning Board staff toward those goals.
To date, over ten miles of the historic Morris Canal Greenway have been preserved throughout Warren County. In addition, the County has developed six parks along the greenway, including: Lock Street Park, Port Warren Park, Bread Lock Park, Port Murray Park, Florence Kuipers Park, and Mount Rascal Park. Along this corridor, the County also works with local nonprofit groups and volunteers to operate two museums: The Jim and Mary Lee Museum at Port Warren Park and the Historic Learning Center at Bread Lock Park.
Warren County has become a leader in the protecting the treasured artifacts of the early 19th century Morris Canal. Known as the Morris Canal Greenway, the county’s ongoing efforts aim to preserve and enhance this historic canal, as well as the cultural landscape through which it passes. This unique Greenway not only highlights distinctive characteristics of the famed “Mountain Climbing” canal and the ingenuity used in its construction, but it also tells the story of life along the canal, its influence on past events, and its continued relevance today.
By connecting points of interest throughout local communities and serving as a corridor of open space across the county, the Greenway also provides convenient access for both residents and visitors to enjoy a unique educational, travel, and recreational experience along the historic towpath trail. This stimulates the local economy through heritage tourism, implements sound land use practices, and increases public and private involvement in critical canal preservation efforts.
When completed, the Morris Canal Greenway will not only be a living reminder of Warren County’s rich heritage, but will also assist the local economy by inviting visitors to enjoy both outdoor recreation and heritage tourism in beautiful Warren County. In working with the North Jersey Transportation Association and numerous other counties, Warren County is also collaborating towards the development of a regional Greenway across northern New Jersey.
Additional Greenway Sites
Links and Resources
The Warren County Morris Canal Audio/Visual Tour (Coming Soon!)