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July 23, 2014
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On the path of history; Touring along the D&H Canal

The drive along New York State Rte. 97 between Pond Eddy and Port Jervis, NY offers spectacular scenery such as this view at Hawks Nest.
Photo courtesy Derek Ramsey via Wikimedia Commons

By Jane E. Castelli

Whether you’re looking for scenic beauty, or perhaps you want to learn more about how our region was developed in times gone by, why not take a weekend and follow the trail of the old Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Canal? You’ll be exploring the remnants of our country’s early industrial and transportation history—the story of how, early in the 19th century, two clever entrepreneurs, the Wurts brothers, were able to bring Pennsylvania’s black gold—anthracite coal—to New York City. What they did was critical in our country’s development and would power the young nation’s industrial revolution, providing the fuel that gave an industrial North its edge over the agrarian South in the Civil War.

The canal, built by William and Maurice Wurts between 1825 and 1828, was connected to PA coal country via John B. Jervis’s “gravity” engine railroad over Northeast Pennsylvania’s Moosic Mountains. Starting in Honesdale, PA, the canal followed the Lackawaxen River in Wayne and Pike counties, crossed the Delaware River at Lackawaxen, and followed in the shadow of the Delaware River to Port Jervis, NY. Here, it turned northward along the Neversink River, reaching the mighty Hudson at Roundout, NY near Kingston, where the coal was put on barges chained together and, powered by steam tugs, floated downriver.

Two interesting Pennsylvania towns grew up around the canal—Honesdale and Hawley. The gravity railroad brought coal from Carbondale to Honesdale, where canal boats loaded up before proceeding east to the Hudson River. Today, the Wayne County Historical Society (WCHS) is housed in the old canal company’s office building in Honesdale. The town is named after Philip Hone, the first president of the D&H Canal Company (1825-1826), who soon became the mayor of New York City (1826-1827).

Between Honesdale and Hawley, a series of locks allowed canal boats to navigate around rough waters and raised areas of the river. The boats were pulled by mules led by young children, some only seven or eight years old, trudging along the raised canal towpath that ran along the water’s edge. The WCHS is currently restoring parts of the old towpath and a historic farmhouse, circa 1820, located at Lock 31 between White Mills and Hawley. (The lockkeeper’s house no longer stands.)