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D & H Canal towpath: trail through time

A living history museum, public trail and recreational access at Lock 31 House

By SANDY LONG

HAWLEY, PA — Weed whackers and chain saws were a few of the tools wielded in a recent cleanup of a section of the former Delaware and Hudson Canal at the Lock 31 House, one mile west of Hawley on Route 6. Built originally with tools like picks, axes and shovels, the canal and its adjacent “wasteweir,” which allowed water to flow around the lock, also received attention on June 6 from hand tools, such as rakes and pruners, as volunteers from the Wayne County Historical Society (WCHS), the Lackawaxen River Conservancy and Trout Unlimited set to work.

The WCHS is sponsoring the project to preserve an important aspect of local history and provide the public with a recreational trail being created from the former canal towpath. The mile-long towpath, including Lock 31 House and its adjoining 16 acres, will constitute the first Pennsylvania public greenway along the former canal.

The D & H Canal was constructed from 1825 to 1829, with 16 miles of gravity railway and 108 locks over a 108-mile canal, to transport anthracite coal from Northeast Pennsylvania to markets on the Hudson River. Although later expanded, the canal was originally 32 feet across at the top, 20 feet at the bottom, with a depth of four feet. Its 76-foot by 10-foot locks could accommodate 20- to 30-ton-capacity boats. Following expansions, boats of up to 140-ton-capacity transported coal on the canal.

The Lock 31 House started life as a frame house called “New Castle” early in the 1800s. It became the Daniels Farm when Moses Killam sold the house and about 260 acres to Russell Daniels in 1821. The D & H Canal with Lock 31 was built directly behind the house in 1827. Daniels died in 1863 and his third son, Ira, bought the property from the other heirs.

In 1878, Ira Daniels lost the property in a sheriff’s sale to Thomas V. Taft, who sold it to Ernst A. Hintze, a grocer from Brooklyn. Hintze extensively remodeled the house, received a liquor license and opened for business as a hotel fronting on the canal. After Hintze’s death and several different owners, Mrs. John Selberg of Queens, NY, bought the property in 1910. Selberg’s children lived there until their deaths. In 1996, Robert Olsen, a cousin, and his wife, Debbie, inherited the property. In 2001, the WCHS purchased the house and 10 acres from Debbie Olsen to add to the mile of canal already owned by the organization.

Tom Colbert, a WCHS board member, has been involved with the project for approximately five years. Colbert said that extensive cleanup of the house was recently completed and they are about to begin restoring the building. “We want to bring the canal days back to life. Everything will be oriented to the 19th century,” said Colbert.

“It’s the only publicly owned piece of the canal in Pennsylvania,” he added. The towpath will become a trail that stretches almost to the Settlers Inn in Hawley.

In addition to its historical qualities, the project has recreational features as well. The PA Fish and Boat Commission has provided a grant, for which matching funds of $50,000 must be raised, to establish a boat launch and fishing access area on the Lackawaxen River.

Visit www.WayneHistoryPA.org or call 570/253-3240 for more information. Volunteers are welcome to assist with the ongoing project.

TRR photo by Sandy Long
A section of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and towpath that runs behind the Lock 31 House on Route 6 in Palmyra Township, PA receives the attention of volunteers who removed debris and vegetation in preparation for converting the historic towpath to a public trail. The project is sponsored by the Wayne County Historical Society. (Click for larger version)