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Minisink Valley Historical Society
D&H Canal and Gravity Railroad
John Hull on the canal
John Hull, "The Hook" D & H Canal, Sparrowbush, New York
boy with mules on the canal
Courtesy of Minisink Valley Historical Society - Boy with Mules, D & H Canal
Barges, Railroads and Bridges
A Short History of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company
by Paula Valentine
Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River
National Park Service
United States Department of Interior
Why Build a Canal?

Canals have been built for thousands of years for irrigation, drainage, and later, transportation. Goods could be moved more efficiently on water than on horseback or in wagons. Where no suitable water existed for navigation, early engineers designed canals.

The Industrial Revolution required an even more efficient system to transport raw materials to factories and markets. Early European settlers recognized the need for canals in the United States, even before it became an independent nation in 1776.

The young country could not afford to build canals until the early 1800s, and then most were financed by the states. The Delaware and Hudson (D & H) Canal was the first canal in this nation built as a private enterprise.

The Delaware & Hudson Canal System

The D & H Canal and Gravity Railroad was a system of transportation between northeastern Pennsylvania coal fields — owned by Philadelphia businessmen William and Maurice Wurts — and ports of New York and New England. From its opening in 1828 to its demise in 1898, the canal system transported millions of tons of anthracite coal.

The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company relied on engineering experience and technology from other canals — the Erie (NY), Morris (NJ), PA state canals — and financial backing from wealthy investors and stockholders, including Philip Hone. The successful D & H was among the few privately-owned canals of that era.

Construction of the canal lasted from 1825 to 1828, and employed thousands of laborers. The work — done by hand with pick, shovel and blasting powder — was difficult and often dangerous.

canal and gravity railroad near Scranton, PA
Courtesy of Minisink Valley Historical Society
D & H Canal Company Gravity Railroad, Near Scranton, Pennsylvania
Carbondale to Honesdale - 16 Mile Gravity Railroad

The D & H Canal Company planned to transport their coal from the mines in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, to the Hudson River entirely by canal. However, the availability of water at the summit and the number of locks needed to scale the Moosic Mountains between Carbondale and Honesdale precluded this plan.

A "gravity railroad" was the solution, and construction began in 1827. The "gravity," designed by D & H Chief Engineer John B. Jervis, utilized a series of inclined planes and steam engines to pull carloads of coal up and over the Moosic Mountains, a rise of almost 1,000 feet. In his effort to use the latest transportation technology in England, Jervis's young assistant engineer Horatio Allen brought to Honesdale America's first steam locomotive, the Stourbridge Lion.

Completion of the "gravity" in 1829 enabled the canal to transport a great percent of its tonnage in coal. While built primarily for coal, cargo also included wood, stone, brick, Rosendale cement, and provisions.

Honesdale to Rondout - 108 Miles, 108 Locks

Navigation on the canal began at the boat basin in Honesdale, where the coal was transferred from gravity railroad cars to canal boats. The canal's route followed the banks of the Lackawaxen River until it met the Delaware River.

Boats crossed the Delaware at Lackawaxen, where the canal then paralleled the New York shore of the Delaware to Port Jervis. There the canal turned eastward, following the Neversink and Rondout Creeks to the Hudson River, where the coal was unloaded at Rondout (near Kingston, New York) and sent by steamship to market.

The D & H Canal was originally 32 feet across at the top, 20 feet at the bottom, with a depth of four feet; its 76' x 10' locks could accommodate 20- to 30-ton- capacity boats.

At 1-3 mph, the canal boats pulled by mules made the round trip in 7 to 10 days.

Growth and Expansion

In its early years, the D & H Canal was buffeted by a wide variety of troubles: seepage and settling of the banks, a regional cholera epidemic, opposition by Delaware River raftsmen, fluctuations in the national economy, and resistance to the use of anthracite. The Stourbridge Lion, the first steam locomotive used in America, was too heavy for the gravity railroad. In addition, the D & H competed with other canals (Delaware & Raritan, Morris) for the same markets in New York City.

Stock prices fluctuated during the early years, but by 1848 the D & H Canal was probably the nation's largest private corporation. The formation of the Pennsylvania Coal Company, which brought coal by gravity railroad to Hawley, Pennsylvania, encouraged the enlargement of the D & H Canal.

In the late 1840s and 1850s, the canal's trunk was deepened to 5, then 6, feet. Its locks were enlarged to 90' x 15', increasing its capacity from 200,000 tons to one million tons annually. Forty- ton capacity boats were gradually replaced by boats of up to 140 tons, which could go directly from the canal to markets up and down the Hudson.

During this period of expansion, John A. Roebling was brought in to work on four suspension aqueducts, one of the distinguishing features of the D & H Canal.

canal at Ellenville, NY
Courtesy of Minisink Valley Historical Society
D & H Canal, Ellenville, New York
Life Along the Canal

Life on a canal boat was a "family business." Wives and children worked 15- to 20- hour days along-side boatmen, eking out a meager existence with "the company."

The D & H Canal affected life throughout the region. Irish and German immigrants who built and enlarged the canal increased the cultural diversity, bringing new customs to an area populated mainly by Dutch and English settlers and a few remaining Native Americans.

New towns and industries (boat builders, glass works, foundries) sprang up along the canal. Previous industries — lumber mills, paper mills, tanneries, stone quarries — prospered with improved transportation. Others, like the Rosendale natural cement industry, took advantage of the proximity of the D & H Canal.

Onwood Lake on the abandoned canal, Port Jervis, NY
Courtesy of Minisink Valley Historical Society
Onwood Lake, Port Jervis, New York, Abandoned D & H Canal, 1908
Demise of An Era

In the latter part of the 1800s, railroads grew while canals declined. Transportation by canal was limited by winter weather conditions, droughts and floods. Railroads were better able to reach new markets. By the turn of the 20th century in the Upper Delaware River Valley, the Erie Railroad was thriving and the D & H Canal was abandoned.

Today, little survives of the D & H Canal and its associated industries. However, remnants of the canal may be seen along its former route. Where these features are preserved and protected, you may glimpse into the life of a by-gone era.


D & H Transportation Heritage Corridor
Port Jervis Branch Trail Guide

The History of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and Gravity Railroad

The long and colorful history and financial success of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and Gravity Railroad, which ran 171 miles from Carbondale, Pennsylvania, to Kingston, New York, is one of the great success stories of the 19th century. That success can be attributed to the dedication and service of the management, stockholders, engineers, supervisors, boatmen, locktenders and laborers. Some of these men and women spent their entire working lives employed on the canal. At its greatest moment, in the middle of the 19th century, hundreds of boats were on the canal at any given time, each carrying 140 tons of coal.

The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company holds a special place in American corporate history, as the country's first corporation capitalized at one million dollars. It was a great developer of new technology, not unlike the space program of this century. The company employed John Roebling to build four aqueducts, forerunners to the Brooklyn Bridge. It utilized the first telegraph system in the nation. Its total operations may have been the first vertically integrated company in the nation, long before the rise of the colossus Standard Oil.

Today, the canal is just a memory and the famed D & H Railroad Company, successor to the canal company, is bankrupt and now part of the Canadian Pacific railroad system. It is a far cry from when the D & H was one of the country's great transportation institutions.

The Winding Waterway

Before the canal construction began, the areas it would traverse, particularly along the Delaware and Lackawaxen rivers, was a virtual wilderness with few inhabitants. Many small communities, now nearly forgotten, were created by and thrived because of the canal. Substantial population growth, communication and commercial development occurred as a result of the availability of transportation, energy and the flow of products to new markets along the route of the canal.

Places like Honesdale, Port Jervis, Wurtsboro and Bolton were named after company officials and in some cases the company's engineers laid out plans for towns through which the canal would pass.

John B. Jervis

Port Jervis, a major port on the canal, was named after John B. Jervis, the canal's chief engineer who later became the chief engineer of the Erie Canal. He invented the "Jervis" truck, or the swivel truck used on the front of steam locomotives. It was this device that allowed steam locomotives to negotiate the sharp curves required in a rugged American landscape. He stayed in Port Jervis at the St. John Canal Hotel (now called Fort Decker), just one block from where you are now, for about 2 years during the canal's construction; his home was in Rome, New York.

Jervis was one of the great 19th century engineers. He designed and oversaw the construction of the Croton Aqueduct and water system built to serve New York City. He was involved in several major railroad projects and the iron industry. When the proposed route of the Erie Railroad was being considered in this region, Jervis, then its consulting engineer, suggested two routes, one through Monticello and the other through Port Jervis. It is said that because of his fondness for the town that had named itself after him that he chose the more southern route. Upon his death he donated his home to the community of Rome and it became the Rome Public Library which remains to this day.

Port Jervis Branch
The Delaware & Hudson Canal and Gravity Railroad Heritage Trail
Eastern Section

The section of the canal walkway that continues east from the parking lot at the West End bridge proceeds to the northern boundary of the city at the burning pit on Canal Street and is a little less than one and a half miles long. It was filled in about 100 years ago when Canal Street was constructed on top of the old canal bed.

Aside from the section behind the former Great American store, the canal walkway is entirely on publically owned land or byways. The canal bed behind the Great American was obliterated years ago and what is left of the bank is privately owned and not accessible. As such, the walkway from here was rerouted onto West Main Street until it turns northward onto Canal Street.

Because the trail is on city sidewalks visitors should be prepared to encounter uneven sidewalks and street crossings that are not ADA compliant. In some cases the trail runs along side of roadways with no sidewalks. The trail is marked with 4" x 4" metal signs with the letters "D&H" embossed in burgundy on a white background.

Please watch for traffic when traveling on city streets and enjoy your time in Port Jervis.

Western Section

As you proceed from here westward you will see on the right hand side of the canal trail the berme bank. That is the part of the canal that is carved out of a bank. You will be walking on the former towing path, or towpath where two mules pulled boats between Kingston and Honesdale. Just imagine having literally moved the whole bank about 30 feet to the west and you get a sense of what the laborers did in 1826 to build this waterway.

Two-thirds of the way down the trail you will see a high stone wall on the berme side. This is the abutment for a former bridge that crossed over the canal to make it easier for residents to get from Sparrowbush into Port Jervis. On the tow path side you will just see a pile of dirt, the stone was removed long ago probably for construction purposes.

At the far end of the trail you will come upon a culvert that reroutes the water out of the canal and into the Erie flats. At one time the water in the canal would have been to a depth of six feet.

Efforts to preserve the history of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and Gravity Railroad system are ongoing and there are many organizations in the region dedicated to the preservation of its history, either through their collections or land holdings. The City of Port Jervis is the latest community to save a portion of the canal and turn it into a greenway for use by residents and visitors alike. The section of the canal from the parking lot at the West End Bridge (at Grandview Avenue) to the western boundary of the city, which is approximately one mile long, has recently been cleared and opened for hiking and biking.

Additional work will be done in the future including more clearing of trees and debris in the canal.

2000-2004 Projects On The Trail

The City created the Port Jervis Branch of the D & H Canal and Gravity Railroad Heritage Trail in 2000 when it was discovered that a one-mile long section of the former canal between the West End Bridge and the corporate boundary line at Sparrowbush had come up for taxes. The city took the property and began work on the trail under the direction of the Department of Public Works and City Historian.

Approximately $10,000 of grant funding was spent repairing five major washouts and for the installation of culvert pipes. The city also cleared the towpath which had been overgrown with brush and trees.

In 2001, the canal was marked with the special white and burgundy blazes and a survey of the canal was begun so that the newest city park could be monumented. In 2002, three major sections of the trail where stone walls could be clearly seen were cleared of trees in the canal, along the towpath and along the berme bank. In addition, the survey work was completed, a new information board was installed at the trail head and the trail was blacktopped. The work was undertaken by the city's Department of Public Works and the City Historian. If you would like to volunteer to help maintain the trail please contact Stan Siegel at 845-856-6150.

Americans With Disabilities Act Compliance

Although not required by law, this trail is the only section along the entire former 108-mile canal route that is completely compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The western section of the trail is level and blacktopped to a width of 40" with turnarounds every 200 feet. While every effort is made to keep the trail clear of debris, it passes through a heavily wooded area so there may be branches or twigs across the trail. The trail is marked with 4" x 4" metal signs with the letters "D&H" embossed in burgundy on a white background.

Leave Only Footprints

Skateboarding, cycling and walking are all permitted uses on the trail and visitors are reminded that this is a shared trail. Motorized vehicles are not allowed. Please help us keep the trail clear of garbage and debris. If you see someone damaging this park please call the Port Jervis Police at 845-856-5101.

Exhibit Credits

The trail's exhibit have been made possible by the generosity of the Office of Governor of New York State, George Pataki, The County of Orange through the offices of Orange County Executive Edward Diana and Orange County Legislator Melissa Bonacic; The National Park Service and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River; Mayor Ross Decker, the City of Port Jervis, New York; Vince Lopez, the city's Department of Public Works; John Faggione, Port Jervis Recreation Department, Tom Burrow, Action Toward Independence, Frank Day, Tri-States Disabilities Awareness Council, Janis Osborne, Nancy Conod, Brian Lewis; William Clark; Ambassador Glass, the Delaware and Hudson Transportation Heritage Council and the Minisink Valley Historical Society.

To learn more about the D & H Canal and Gravity Railroad go to
D & H Canal and Gravity Railroad Museums, Organizations and Sites Open to the Public
Steamtown National Historic Site Lackawana Avenue and Bridge St. Scranton, PA 18503

Carbondale Historical Society and Museum
P.O. Box 151
Carbondale, PA 18407

Rail-Trail Council of NE Pennsylvania
P.O. Box 123
Forest City, PA 18421

Waymart Area Historical Society
P.O. Box 255 South St.
Waymart, PA 18472

Wayne County Historical Society
810 Main St., P.O. Box 446
Honesdale, PA 18431

Upper Delaware Scenic and
Recreational River
RR 2 Box 2428
Beach Lake, PA 18405-9737

Minisink Valley Historical Society
Fort Decker-St. John's Canal Hotel
125-133 West Main St.
Port Jervis, NY 12771

Neversink Valley Area Museum
D & H Canal Park
O.C. Dept. of Parks, Recreation and
Hoag Rd. off Rt. 209
Cuddebackville, NY 12729

Basha Kill Area Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 333
Westbrookville, NY 12785

Delaware and Hudson Canal Linear Park
Town of Mamakating
Sullivan County Division of Public Works
P.O. Box 5012
Monticello, NY 12701
845-794-3000 ext. 5002

Sullivan County Historical Society
P.O. Box 247
Hurleyville, NY 12747

Ellenville Public Library and Museum
40 Center St.
Ellenville, NY 12428

D & H Canal Historical Society and Museum
Mohonk Rd.
High Falls, NY 12440-0023

D & H Canal Heritage Corridor Alliance
P.O. Box 176
Rosendale, NY 12472

Bridge Line Historical Society (Delaware & Hudson Railroad)
P.O. Box 13324
Albany, New York 12212
Other Related Industries:
Dorflinger Glass Museum
Long Ridge Road
P. O. Box 356
White Mills, PA 18473

Rosendale Natural Cement Historic District
Century House Historical Society/Snyder Estate
Rt. 213
Rosendale, NY

Hudson River Maritime Museum
One Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401

Kingston Urban Cultural Park
Other Regional Canal Museums or Sites:
National Canal Museum
Hugh Moore Historical Park & Museums
30 Centre Square
Easton, PA 18042-7743
(Mule-powered canal boat rides)

American Canal Society

Delaware Canal

Friends of the Delaware Canal
145 South Main St.
New Hope, PA 18938

(Mule-powered canal boat rides)

Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park
643 Canal Road
Somerset, NJ 08873

Morris Canal
Waterloo Village
Stanhope, NJ

Ohio's Historic Canals
Canal Society of Ohio

New York State Canal System
P. O. Box 189
Albany, NY 12201-0189
1-800-4CANAL-4 (1-800-422-6254)
Includes additional Erie Canal links

Erie Canal Museum
Syracuse, NY 13202
See University of Rochester's History of the Erie Canal
Canal-Related National Park Service Sites:
Allegheny Portage National Historic Site
(Pennsylvania Main Line Canal)
Cresson, PA

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor
(Blackstone Canal — 1828-1848)
Worcester, MA to Providence, RI

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National
Historical Park
(Chesapeake and Ohio Canal —
Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, MD

Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area
(Ohio and Erie Canal — 1832-)
Between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio

Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor
(Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania
Canal — 1832-1931)
(Lehigh Navigation System — 1817-1942)
Eastern Pennsylvania

Great Falls Park within George Washington Memorial Parkway
(Patowmack Canal — 1786-1830)
Washington, DC area

Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor
(Illinois and Michigan Canal —
Chicago to LaSalle/Peru, IL

Lowell National Historical Park
(Pawtucket Canal — 1796-)
Lowell, MA

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
(4 locks and dams)
Dayton to Hastings, MN

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River
(Delaware and Hudson Canal — 1828-1898)
Pennsylvania/New York
Upper Delaware/Erie Railroad Museums:
Cochecton Preservation Society
(Cochecton Station under reconstruction)
Tri States Railway Preservation Society:
PO Box 4611
Port Jervis, New York
Shohola Caboose on Rt.434
Shohola, PA 18458

Minisink Valley Historical Society
Port Jervis, NY 12771
Nearby Coal/Railroad Museums:
Honesdale, PA:
Stourbridge Rail Excursions
570-253-1960, 1-800-433-900
Ashland, PA:
Museum of Anthracite Mining

Pioneer Tunnel & Coal Mine
570-875-3850 or 570-875-3301
Freeland, PA:
Eckley Miners' Village
2 Eckley Main Street
Weatherly, PA 18255
(570) 636-2070
Scranton, PA:
Steamtown National Historic Site

Anthracite Heritage Museum

Lackawanna Coal Mine

Historic Scranton Iron Furnaces
159 Cedar Avenue
Scranton, PA 18504
Delaware and Hudson Canal & Gravity Railroad Bibliography
Coal Boats to Tidewater: The Story of the Delaware and Hudson Canal by Manville Wakefield, Wakefair Press, 1971

The Delaware and Hudson Canal: A History by Edwin LeRoy, Honesdale, Wayne County Historical Society, 1950

The Delaware and Hudson Canalway: Carrying Coals to Rondout by Dorothy Sanderson, Rondout Valley Publishing Company, 1974

From the Coalfields to the Hudson: A History of the Delaware and Hudson Canal by Larry Lowenthal, Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, New York, 1997
Prepared by Peter Osborne
Former Executive Director
Minisink Valley Historical Society
Office of the City Historian
City of Port Jervis, New York
A Short Delaware and Hudson Canal Bibliography
Coal Boats to Tidewater: The Story of the Delaware and Hudson Canal by Manville Wakefield, Wakefair Press, 1971
A Century of Progress: History of the Delaware and Hudson Company, 1823-1923, Albany, J.B. Lyon, 1925
history The Delaware and Hudson Canal: A History by Edwin LeRoy, Honesdale, Wayne County Historical Society, 1950
The Reminiscences of John B. Jervis: Engineer of the Old Croton, edited by Neal Fitzsimmons, Syracuse University Press, 1971
Delaware and Hudson by Jim Shaughnessy, Berkeley, California, Howell-North Books, 1967
>history Roebling's Delaware and Hudson Canal Aqueducts by Robert Vogel, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, No. 10, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971
The Delaware and Hudson Canalway: Carrying Coals to Rondout by Dorothy Sanderson, Rondout Valley Publishing Company, 1974
>history Canal Town: Honesdale 1850-1875 by Vernon Leslie, Wayne County Historical Society, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 1983
Honesdale and the Stourbridge Lion by Vernon Leslie, Stourbridge Lion Sesquicentennial Corporation, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 1979
Old Towpaths: The Story of the American Canal Era by Alvin Harlow, Appleton, 1929
history From the Coalfields to the Hudson: A History of the Delaware and Hudson Canal by Larry Lowenthal, Purple Mountain Press, 1997
history Of Pulleys and Ropes and Gear, The Gravity Railroads of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company and the Pennsylvania Coal Company by Philip Roth, Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc., Kutztown Publishing Company, 1996
history Denotes that the book is available for sale in regional historical societies.
Copyright © 2015 The Minisink Valley Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Revised December 31, 2013