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Take ‘Path to the Past’ via canal
Let’s take a step back through time. No, a
little further. Further… perfect. The year is 1831, Nov. 4 to be
precise. This mostly forgotten, though important, date was the day
of the first trip along the entire length of the approximately 109
mile long Morris Canal.
passed through numerous towns all throughout Morris and Essex
counties, and carried industrial materials from Pennsylvania to
eastern New Jersey. The canal was hugely significant at the time, as
it was the main way goods from Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania could
get to the industrial areas in New Jersey and New York. The canal is
largely responsible for the development of the cities and industry.
the railroad, and what was once the most effective way of
transporting goods, quickly became outdated. The canal enjoyed its
most profitable year in 1866, shortly after the inclined planes were
rebuilt and Scotch turbines installed for greater efficiency. The
success was sadly to be short lived.
Commercial traffic ceased in 1915. Then, in
November of 1922, the State of New Jersey took control of the canal.
The canal was drained starting in 1924 and officially abandoned in
1929. It was only fairly recently that historians, archeologists and
canal enthusiasts decided to restore portions of the canal.
in 1976, this half-mile piece is the most striking of the publicly
accessible level sections,” according to canalsociety.org. this is
referring, of course, to a very fine section of the canal and Lock 2
East located in Hugh Force Park in Wharton, which is currently
undergoing some further renovations.
of these renovations is “The Path to the Past” project.
John Manna, long-time
Wharton resident and member of the downtown revitalization project,
heads the project. When complete, the project will have recreated a
10-foot by 90-foot canal boat out of pave stone in what is now a
section of parking area.
to the Past idea came to me as I walked the tow path along the canal
during the archeological investigation in 2006. Each day after work,
I would visit the site and run into people who were curious about
the project. They were local residents that all seemed to have
anecdotal stories about growing up along the canal or a friend or
relative that knew the people who lived in the lock tender's house.
People all had fond memories of the canal. Because of this, I
thought that people may want to express themselves along with
providing additional funding for the restoration,” said
The restoration has undergone many steps from the initial
refilling of the canal in 1976. Late in 2006, thanks in part to a
grant from the Historic Preservation Trust Fund, a Historic Master
Plan and feasibility study was completed. The study found that the
area surrounding the canal was rich in early 1800s artifacts. Even
better, the study concluded that the lock is likely still intact
beneath all those feet of dirt.
these findings, the borough has gained several additional grants.
The New Jersey Historic Preservation Trust has awarded them over
$37,000 to provide interpretive signage along the canal and lock
site to help create a kind of outdoor museum. A grant was also
awarded by the County of Morris Heritage Commission to fund
conservation of iron artifacts uncovered during the archeological
dig. Additionally, a $100,000 award from the Morris County Historic
Preservation Trust will make it possible to complete engineering and
construction documents and unearth one third of the buried
start small, Manna says these are all steps of what will likely be a
long project. By uncovering a third of the lock first, the borough
will get a real sense of what its condition is and then determine
the feasibility of uncovering the whole lock.
Eventually, the borough is hoping to use this
restoration project to revitalize the business district and make
Wharton a tourist destination. If Lock 2 East can be restored to
operable condition, Manna would like to see canal boat rides become
a part of the lock’s charm.
also like to have the mule path continued around the canal basic and
up to the old rail road tracks to form a loop trail.
basin also once played a significant role in Lock 2 East’s history.
Since only one canal boat was capable of passing through the narrow
lock at a time, the other boats would wait here for their turn to
pass into the lock.
the 10-feet by 90-feet pave stone boat, Manna is hoping to, “give
people an idea of the size and proportion of a 90-foot double canal
boat. I thought that children could stand on the path and fantasize
of being a canal boat captain.”
These boats were quite special in history. They
were unique because they were really two boats that had been hinged
together in the middle. This is because had just one boat been 90
feet long, it would have split due to the strain it underwent on a
journey up an incline plane.
visit the canal and covered lock, and see the spot where the tops of
the lock’s walls are peeking through the grass and soil, it gives
you a tremendous sense of history.
it not for these visible stones, when you walk through the area,
there is clearly something special here. The original mule path, the
finely constructed retaining wall opposite the path and the
crumbling old locktender’s house all add to the delightfully old
feeling about the place. You know that you are getting just a taste,
the tiniest of tastes, of what life would have been like over 150
years ago. Through conservation efforts, Manna is hopeful that they
will be able to take that magical feeling and grow it for future
generations to come.
Elizabeth Martin can be contacted at:
Photo 1: A
view of the Morris Canal Lock 2 East in 1904.
Photo courtesy of John Manna
Photo 2: A present day
view of the Morris Canal.
Photo 3: In
this present-day view of the Lock 2 East site, a few stones from the
lock walls are visible in the center of the picture. To the right is
the fenced-in ruin of the locktender’s house.
Photo courtesy of John Manna
Photo 4: Present day view of the Morris Canal. The original
mule path is still visible to the left.
Elizabeth Martin/Neighbor News
Photo 5: In this historic
photo, c. 1900, at the Morris Canal Lock 2 East in Wharton, an east
bound boat is about to enter the lock.
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