Walking The Morris Canal

Ledgewood, Byram, Stanhope, Waterloo, Saxton Falls

The Morris Canal Greenway encompasses part of the historic Morris Canal's alignment and is a cooperative effort of the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, the Canal Society of New Jersey, Waterloo Village and Friends of the Morris Canal. The Greenway's purpose is to preserve the remains of the Morris Canal and its associated natural environment, to interpret canal sites to the public, and to offer recreational opportunities. As you walk the Greenway you will see the remains of canal features, including inclined planes, locks, canal bed, and historic industries and communities directly related to the Morris Canal's operations.

The Morris Canal always was a good place for a stroll. The canal's 102-mile meander across northern New Jersey, from Phillipsburg to Jersey City, was walked by every mule driver for every team that pulled a canal boat from 1831 to 1924.

However, the canal's towpath also served as a route for recreational rambles during its years of operation. I was fortunate to visit the noted Morris Canal historian, James Lee, before he passed away a few years ago. "People did a lot of walking on that canal. I've got pictures of ladies walking along the canal with their white dresses on,'' he told me, describing how they carried umbrellas for shade as their long dresses trailed down to their ankles in the fashion of the day.

View along the historic towpath trail at Starport, a former industrial commercial post on the Morris Canal. The canal is to the left and frequently is filled with water. Photo by Bob Barth.

The canal's role as a place for pleasure jaunts continues to this day, with a number of partners involved in turning portions of the canal into recreational paths. One such effort is the Morris Canal Greenway project, a joint endeavor by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, the Canal Society of New Jersey, Friends of the Morris Canal and Waterloo Village. The County of Warren and many municipalities along the canal's route also have been involved in preserving remaining sections of the canal, turning them into linear parks so people can learn about the canal and enjoy spending time along its route.

We'll start with a look at the canal from Ledgewood in Morris County's Roxbury Township, through the corner of Sussex County where the canal traveled in Byram and Stanhope, and on to Saxton Falls in Warren County.

First, a bit of history. The Morris Canal was the brainchild of Morristown businessman George Macculloch, who envisioned a commerce route that could surmount North Jersey's rugged terrain to ship coal, iron ore, farm produce and other products across the state. To conquer an unprecedented 1,674-foot change in elevation - 760 feet from the Delaware River at Phillipsburg up to Lake Hopatcong, the summit level, and 914 feet back down to tidewater at Newark Bay - the Morris Canal used a series of locks and a new innovation, the inclined plane. Operated from 1831 to 1924, the Morris Canal was considered an engineering marvel of its time, but, by the end of its life, it had been surpassed by railroads as a shipping route.

Plane 3 West was located in Mt. Olive between Waterloo and Stanhope. The lever at the end of the flume controlled water to the penstock. October 17, 1905.

Although employed on a smaller scale on English canals, the inclined plane was adapted for the Morris Canal and used to conquer changes of elevation

anywhere from 35 feet to 100 feet. The canal boats were floated onto a cradle car, which was pulled out of the water, then up or down on iron rails to the next section of canal. Those iron rails were supported by heavy stone sleepers, which on several of the planes can still be seen, often with a groove worn into them by the thick cable that raised and lowered the cradle car.

Brian Morrell, vice president of the Canal Society of New Jersey, is one of the many volunteers who has helped to clear the towpath of brush and identify historic features that remain in order to create a walking path on the Morris Canal Greenway. "We have grandiose dreams. The ideal would be the whole 102 miles of the canal,'' Morrell says of the Canal Society's efforts.

However, the initial focus of the society, a 1,300-member organization, has been in the Ledgewood to Saxton Falls area, where large sections of the canal remain intact and where much of it is publicly owned. By establishing a public path along the canal route in that area, the canal society hopes to build an advocacy group of people who use the towpath for recreation, and spread the preservation project both eastward and westward.

Lee, whose often reprinted 1973 book The Morris Canal, A Photographic History and his 1977 history, Tales the Boatmen Told have done much over the years to draw attention to the canal, endorsed the Morris Canal Greenway concept. "I think that's a good idea,'' Lee said, noting it will get people interested in the canal and its history.

While volunteers have spent hundreds of hours in the past several years clearing debris from the canal towpath to create a continuous recreational and historical trail, the state has been buying property to expand the sections of the canal in public ownership. Moreover, State Parks and Forestry staff constructed a timber footbridge to carry the path over a former canal waste gate, a short distance west of Waterloo Village, and interpretive signage is to be erected this spring along the canal near Waterloo. Funded through a grant from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the signs include historic photographs, stories, and information about the canal, how it operated, and the lives of the canal workers and businessmen who helped in its creation and success.

A good spot to see features that remain from the canal is in Ledgewood, at Roxbury Township's municipal Canal Park. Located just off Main Street, near the intersection of Routes 46 and 10 at the former Ledgewood Circle, the park includes the remnants of Inclined Planes 2 and 3 East, a long stretch of dry canal prism and a canal basin that still contains water. The canal boats waited in this basin to go up or down the planes.

The Roxbury Township Rotary Club has been restoring the planes, as well as King's Store, which was built in 1815 and served for many years as a canal store. Also located there is the Silas Riggs Salt Box House, which is the headquarters of Roxbury's historical society and operated as a museum.

Heading west, the next major area of interest is Hopatcong State Park at the outlet of Lake Hopatcong. This impoundment, New Jersey's largest, was created from two smaller lakes to be the major water supply for the Morris Canal at its summit level. The dam now in existence was built at the closing of the canal to replace the former dam, and it includes part of the wall of a lock. "You can see the old stonework below,'' Morrell notes.

The towpath is open for walks along a section of the feeder canal that led from the lake to the Morris Canal's Eastern Division, which headed for Newark and Jersey City, and its Western Division, toward Phillipsburg.

Also located at Hopatcong State Park is the Scotch reaction turbine that powered Plane 3 East at Ledgewood, which was moved there for display after the canal closed. "It's the most intact one you can see anywhere,'' according to Morrell, who explains the massive turbine "operated on the same principal as a giant revolving lawn sprinkler.''

At each plane, water from the canal's upper level flowed into the headrace flume to the powerhouse, where it dropped 40 to 50 feet to the turbine. The force of a five-foot diameter column of water dropping that distance, flowing up through the turbine and shooting out of its curved arms, made the turbine spin, powering the cable that pulled the cradle car holding the canal boat on the plane. "This one is so big, you can walk inside the bottom of it,'' Morrell says of the turbine.

Hopatcong State Park includes the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum in a former lock tender's house. Started by the Hopatcong Historical Society, the museum contains information on the canal as well as the resort hotels that used to line the lakeshore and the famous people who used to summer there, including movie stars and presidents. Beginning in early spring, the museum is open 12-4 p.m. Sundays through mid-June, and again from mid-September through November. More information about the museum is available by calling 973-398-2616.

Historic view of the Morris Canal in Stanhope looking east from the basin at head of Plane 2 West toward the Route 183 bridge and Lake Musconetcong. Courtesy NJ Canal Society.

Stanhope, located in the southern end Sussex County on the Morris County border, is full of features from the Morris Canal. Lake Musconetcong was built as a canal reservoir and the canal crossed the lake with the towpath located on a raised earthen causeway, which is now only visible when the lake is periodically lowered. A stroll through Stanhope starts at Lakeside Park at the lake's dam near Route 183 and Main Street, where the top of the walls of Lock 1 West are visible although the lock has long since been filled in. "It gives an excellent opportunity to see the size of a canal lock,'' Morrell explains, and consequently to get an idea for the size of a canal boat.

Proceeding across Route 183, there is a short section of canal with water in it, leading to a series of buildings that were canal stores and depots. The Stanhope House at the corner of Main and High streets was a stagecoach and canal stop. Canalers would tie up their boats in a basin nearby "and you could walk right across the street into the bar. I imagine it was a pretty hopping place, and it's still a hopping place,'' Morrell remarks, noting the Stanhope House - where Babe Ruth was a visitor - is now a well-known blues club.

While some who worked on the canal were rough and tumble types who would frequent taverns along the way, other boats contained whole families. "It was a mix,'' Morrell notes. On those family boats, the parents would steer while the children would guide the mules on the towpath.

Stanhope was the location of the Musconetcong Ironworks, which used the canal to bring in coal and ore and ship out the finished product. Inclined Plane 2 West ran between Plane Street and Plane View Street, where the stone block sleepers that supported the plane's rails are visible. Morrell notes that a walk along Plane Street gives a good idea of the height and slope of the canal plane. Near the foot of the plane is the foundation of a mule stable where canal mules were housed at night.

According to Lee, the condition of his team of mules reflected on a canal boat captain. When the team was in poor condition, the boat would not make good time in its journey between Phillipsburg and Jersey City, which took an average of five days. Lee said the mules - or horses, which also were used - would walk and tow the boat sometimes until 9 or 10 at night, often until reaching a lock or inclined plane where the captain would tie up for the night. The team would be brought to a barn and given fresh hay. While most teams consisted of two animals, Lee noted that occasionally three mules were used.

"You'd make better time. Maybe you could make the trip in four days'' instead of five, he says, and more trips meant more pay. Also, a larger team could pull a heavier load, increasing the captain's pay per trip.

At the foot of plane, the towpath crossed the Musconetcong River on a concrete bridge, where a half-mile stretch of the towpath is open for walks along a section of canal that has water in it. Morrell says this section of canal, owned by the state and located in Mount Olive, is "one of the best preserved in the state.'' The only major difference from when the canal was in operation is that a row of trees and brush has grown between the towpath and the canal. But Morrell notes canal restoration proponents are hoping to someday remove that vegetation and return the area to what it looked like a century or more ago.

"Because so much of the Morris Canal has been destroyed or radically altered, it's a pretty special experience if you're interested in the Morris Canal'' to walk along that section, Morrell enthuses. Unlike strolling a dry section of the canal prism, "it gives a whole different impression of what it was like.''

Not far from Stanhope is Waterloo Village, an historic hamlet that dates to Colonial days but saw its heyday during the canal era. Now part of Allamuchy Mountain State Park, Waterloo Village provides occasional access to a number of canal features and the Canal Society of New Jersey's museum.

Waterloo Village in the days of the active canal.

"It's about as picturesque as you can get,'' Morrell says of the village, noting the canal lock, inclined plane site, canal store and other buildings give a real sense of Waterloo's role as a canal port. At Smith's Canal Store, built in 1831 along the canal, boats could dock and unload goods directly into the building. The store is open and food is served in the lower level, giving visitors a chance to dine along the canal.

In his 1996 Guide to the Morris Canal in Morris County, author Joseph J. Macasek includes a section on Waterloo Village and notes that a "serene atmosphere is preserved'' in the village's restoration. "But to envision its days as a busy canal town you must see in your mind's eye a canal crowded with boats waiting to pass the lock and ascend the inclined plane, trains of ore cars from the mines dumping their loads at the ore dock and boatmen, trainmen and farmers gathering at Smith's Store for food and conversation.''

The Canal Society's museum includes artifacts, diagrams, models of a canal boat, lock and inclined plane, photos and a video on the Morris Canal, according to Morrell and Dave Detrick. The museum also contains displays on the Delaware & Raritan Canal in central New Jersey.


Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Wooden Duck Bed & Breakfast
  • Secluded ten-acre mini-estate adjacent to Kittatinny Valley State Park offers ten spacious guest rooms with private baths, some with fireplace, 2-person tub, and balcony. In-ground pool, country breakfast, free wireless Internet, bike/horse/walking trails. Corporate meetings are also welcome!

    140 Goodale Rd., Newton 07860, 973/300-0395

  • High Point Mountain Motel
  • Pet friendly, AAA-rated motel offers all the comforts of home on seven country acres on a spectacular hillside location minutes from High Point State Park and Appalachian Trail. Cozy, warmly decorated rooms with up-to-your-door parking offer free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus microwaves and minifridges. Kids age 12 and under stay for no extra charge.

    1328 Route 23, Wantage 07461, 973/702-1860

  • Lafayette Mill Antiques Center
  • 55 antique dealers in a rambling 1800's gristmill featuring furniture (traditional to mid-century modern), art, antique advertising, lighting, tools, dolls, china, jewelry - the old, the odd, the unusual. Open daily 10-5, closed Tues. and Wed. Cafe on premises.

    12 Morris Farm Rd., Just off Rt 15, Lafayette 07848, 973/383-0065

  • Alice's Restaurant
  • Good food and comfortable drink overlooking Lake Hopatcong featuring innovative and seasonal specials. Join us for happy hour Thursday & Friday from 5-8pm downstairs at The Big Fish Lounge.

    24 Nolan?s Point Park Rd, Lake Hopatcong 07849, 973/663-9600

  • Morris County Tourism Bureau
  • Provides information about what's happening in the county, including events, historical sites, museums, hotels, restaurants. Open Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm; Saturdays in summer. Historic Morristown walking tours available as well as group tours and packages.

    6 Court St, Morristown 07960, 973-631-5151


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patrice norell
30 Aug 2015, 22:48
I live at 21 Pomona Ave in Towaco.
I am hoping that someone would be able to tell me about a strange rock structure that is circular and obviously allowed water to run through it when it rained heavy or snowed melted.
It is falling apart.
Thank you.
Also, does anyone have pictures of the interior of this house in its heyday?
patrice norell
11 Sep 2014, 16:24
I recently purchased a house in Towaco that I found is on the historicl registy for being in a bungalow community along the Morris Canal. This house is not a bungalow and is has a circle of rocks where the mules were watered. Can anyone tell me more about this particular residence?
patrice norell
05 Sep 2014, 17:22
I recently purchased a house in Towaco that is on Pomona Ave.
It had paperwork that said it was on the Federal and State historic registry for the Morris Canal. The front door has become just a fixture and is not the main entrance anymore, even though it looks like a former grand entrance with stone steps and panels of glass that are lovely.
The yard has a circle of rocks that I was told the mules would come up to to walk around and drink water from a stream that could be blocked off to fill the dug out circle.
Does anyone have more information about this house? Any pictures?

Thank you!
16 Aug 2012, 09:41
Can you ride dirt bikes on this trail?
28 Jun 2012, 14:51
Hi Darren, I have a vintage framed under glass color drawing of coal boat going up canal with man in period garb watching. Caption is 'MORRIS CANAL 1832."
28 Jun 2012, 14:49
Hi Darren, I have a vintage framed under glass colored print/drawing of an observer in period clothing watching a boat filled with coal being maneuvering along the canal. The caption reads, "MORRIS CANAL 1832." Let me know if you have any interest in it. (essex07081@comcast.net) I can email photos. I also have a matching "CAMDEN AND AMBOY R.R. 1845" print showing a steam powered train.
Tom Palmer
03 Jun 2012, 13:06
Do you have an "overlay" for Google maps - or something similar? \r\n\r\nHas anyone done GPS waypoints for sections of the canal? \r\n\r\nThank you. \r\n\r\n-Tom Palmer\r\ntapwestport@aol.com \r\n
10 May 2012, 22:10
Interested in any records concerning the Morris Canal. My ancestor's worked/owned boats on the canal, and lived along its path. One owned a hotel in Ledgewood.\r\n
21 Feb 2012, 15:56
This is interesting. I'm approaching 80 and just now learning what that turbine was for that I used to play next to at the fountain at Lake Hopatcong.\r\n\r\nI've walked past that portion of the Morris Canal Near Lake Hopatcong many times walking From River Styx Bridge to Netcong way back in the 1938 to 1949 period. I've seen steam locomotives start up several times right on the main street in Netcong. On one of them the locomotive wheels kept slipping and the engineer had to drop sand on the track to get some friction that was needed in pulling his long train of cars.
Thomas N Molloy
28 Jan 2012, 19:37
Hi,\r\n\r\nI am looking for a copy of the original drawings for the bridge in Stanhope built about 1920.\r\n\r\nthanks.\r\n\r\ntm.\r\n\r\n
31 Aug 2011, 11:45
Was there at anytime recreational boat traffic on the canal into Lake Hopatcong (circa 1900)?
Jim Alden
16 Oct 2009, 08:28
Mead's Basin was located in the Wayne area, where Passaic County and Morris County meet. Morris is across the river. The basin was at the junction of the Morris Canal and the Pompton Feeder, which was built to bring water to the main line of the Morris Canal from the Pompton River. \r\nMead's Basin existed because of the canal, so it most certainly was not destroyed by the building of the canal. Prior to the canal, there was no water and thus no basin. Once the canal was drained, the basin was gone.
Ted Neson
11 Sep 2009, 18:29
I heard severa times on WRNJ of a\r\n walking tour of the canal,\r\n but no contact information\r\n was given on any occasion. \r\n Can you help?\r\n\r\nBest, TN\r\n
John Manna
09 Jul 2009, 17:37
Come to Canal Day. The Canal Day Festival is an old time country fair that celebrates the Morris Canal and its contributions to the development of the communities along its banks. The festival is now in its 34th year. Come to a day of free family fun featuring a juried craft show, food, educational events and musical performances from 13 of New Jersey's best artists. Hand picked crafters from around the region will be there to display their beautiful offerings. There will be something of interest for everyone to enjoy! Learn about local history by taking a guided Morris Canal walking tour provided by the Canal Society of NJ. Experience life on the Morris Canal first hand by traveling down the canal on a free mule drawn boat ride or prove your prowess by paddling a kayak. The Wallaby Tails Traveling Zoo’s demonstration of exotic animals will delight children of all ages. Many, many, more activities for fun and learning are planned. Come spend the day with us at Hugh Force Canal Park located at 170 West Central Ave., Wharton, NJ, on August 22nd from 10am -7pm. Fireworks display at Robert Street Park at 8:00 PM. Please visit http://www.canalday.org/canalday.html for further information.\r\n\r\n\r\n
Mike Jones
23 Mar 2009, 16:02
My Great Grandfather William Carey lived in Denville and was possibly renting from Ira Peer on Diamond Spring Road in 1870. He may have been working on the Canal. I was wondering if anyone had information about Canal Employees or the where abouts of employee records(if any exist) at that time.\r\n\r\nThanks \r\n\r\nMike
Fred Dufford
10 Mar 2009, 11:50
Is there a record of births on the Morris Canal? If so, where would they be. My Grandmother was supposed to have been born on the Morris Canal in 1887. Can you be of any help?
18 Dec 2008, 21:59
Does anyone have information regarding Meads Basin? It has been located in Warren, Sussex, & Morris Counties due to county lines being remade. Might it have been destroyed by the building of the Morris Canal? I am having difficulty tracing ancestors from there. Thanks for any information. Toby
dave mcinnis
15 Nov 2008, 08:53
I would like to know where I could buy a modern day map of the morris canal Dave
Jim Alden
10 Nov 2008, 09:57
The western terminus of the Morris Canal in Phillipsburg is still there! At the edge of the Delaware River, the stone arch that the boats passed under is still in existence. The boats then immediately climbed the first of the 23 inclined planes. The land has been rearranged, and the route of the plane is now cut off by the Railroad, but you can still see it. It is in P'burg, but south of the free bridge. From the Pennsy side, if standing at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware you can see the arch on the Jersey side.\r\nAs far as Saxton Falls go, I too have friends who used to swim there. I think the most likely reason it has now stopped is the liability risk from injury, pollution etc. Shame, isn't it?
Donald Hummer
27 Oct 2008, 19:20
This is very interesting to me. I've read parts of "tales the boatman told." My Grandfather Charles Matlock Hummer worked on the canal. Some of his Poetry was used in the book and one of his poems was put to music and used on a PBS special about the Morris Canal. Do You know where the Morris canal met the Delaware? Was it south of P'burb, or did it not go to the Delaware, and were there cable ferry's there to transport canal boats to the Pensy side to the Delaware Canal.\r\n\r\nDon Hummer, Lake Shore Minnesota
08 Oct 2008, 23:30
Ms. Jones, \r\nYou seem quite adept when it comes to asking stupid questions.
P Craig
03 Sep 2008, 16:58
My dad used to fish @ Saxton Falls by one of the canal locks that was used for swimming. My family and I have many happy memories of days spent there swimming and picnicing. My "ex" and I visited there today with the knowledge that water no longer fed into the canal lock. We wondered why it closed as a place to swim. Does anyone know? The lock is not far from the entrance to Stephens State Park
25 Aug 2008, 17:31
I was wondering if you would know of anyone who was selling copies or originals of the canal pictures as i am very interested in collecting and helping the society , through waterloo, hackettstown, ledgewood, ect...\r\nthanks if you can help me'\r\nDarren
Jane Castner, Esq
05 May 2008, 08:24
where can I get a copy of the settlement of the litigation approximately 10 years ago between the homeowners in Stewarts Crossing, greenwich tp, warren co and Warren co And The Friends of the Canal.
Ms. Jones
31 Jan 2008, 11:47
where is the morris canal located
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