D & H Canal Days on the Delaware River

NPS gives students glimpse of a bygone era

By SANDY LONG

LACKAWAXEN, PA/MINISINK FORD, NY — Most days, you’ll find biologist Jamie Myers analyzing water samples from the Delaware River. Chief of interpretation Loren Goering might be handling public relations, while park ranger Kevin Reish could be out patrolling the river corridor. Preservation specialist John Hart is likely to be planning the protection of historic structures and landscapes. But in the perception of the hundred or so fourth graders assembled near the Roebling Bridge on May 10, these National Park Service (NPS) employees are characters from bygone days when the Delaware and Hudson Canal was the chief transport system for anthracite coal.

Built between 1825 and 1829 to move anthracite coal from mines in Northeastern PA to markets on the Hudson River, the D&H Canal featured 16 miles of gravity railway and 108 locks over a 108-mile canal. Though the canal system closed in 1898 due to competition from railroads, its 70 years of operation helped to shape the existence of many individuals and businesses along the transportation corridor.

Today, the D&H Canal is under the jurisdiction of the NPS as part of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. To bring this significant piece of regional history to life, NPS Education Specialist Ingrid Peterec has developed the two-part program, D&H Canal Days, for students from both New York and Pennsylvania elementary schools. The program is part of the fourth-grade curriculum in Social Studies.

During the first part, Peterec visits participating schools to deliver a presentation about the D&H Canal and its history. The second part involves a visit to the Roebling Bridge, one of four suspension aqueducts built on the canal, and the only one remaining. Students tour the structure, which served to transport canal boats from the Pennsylvania to the New York side of the Delaware River, and participate in four programs that go into more detail on various aspects of the canal and canal life.

At the site, students are greeted by NPS professionals dressed in period costume. Each has developed a unique program addressing some historical, technical or sociological aspect of canal history. The programs serve to awaken the imagination of the children to a sense of what life was like during the D&H Canal days.

According to Peterec, the program draws upon and brings together each division—Interpretation, Law Enforcement, Administration, Maintenance and Natural Resources—within the National Park Service.

D&H Canal Days has been conducted since 1998. New this year was the woodworking program developed by Hart, who demonstrated the use of various hand tools and techniques for practices like making wooden shingles and notching beams.

To learn more about the D&H Canal, visit the D&H Transportation Heritage Council’s website at www.dhthc.com. For additional information regarding the NPS and Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, visit nps.gov/upde or call 570/685-4871.

TRR photo by Sandy Long
Playing the role of wife and mother in a canal boat family, Jamie Myers re-creates life on the boat for students from Damascus and Wallenpaupack South Elementary schools, who are seated on the imaginary deck of the boat peering into its kitchen and cramped sleeping quarters. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
Loren Goering describes the operation of the D&H Canal and its system of locks. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
Dressed like a “mule skinner,” (children who walked the mules along the canal), Kevin Reish leads students in a sing-a-long as he relates the history of canal songs that developed. Mule skinners often worked past nightfall and were asked to keep singing so that their parents on the boat knew that no harm had come to them. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
John Hart demonstrates the grueling techniques and tools involved in construction activities related to the canal (Click for larger version)