In operation between 1831 and 1924, the Morris Canal stretched 102 miles across New Jersey connecting the coalfields of northeastern Pennsylvania with northern New Jersey’s iron industry, major industrial cities, and the New York City markets. The Morris Canal terminated in Newark at the Passaic River in 1831, but was extended through Jersey City in 1836. This brought goods from Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey to the Hudson River Waterfront. It also brought new business and industries to Jersey City. The Morris Canal was an engineering marvel of its time. Although flat through Jersey City, a system of 23 lift locks and 23 inclined planes enabled the Canal to overcome 1,674 feet of elevation change, more than any other transportation canal in the world. Its inclined planes served as a model for engineers from around the world.
The canal facilitated the transport of anthracite coal from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to northern New Jersey’s growing iron industry and other developing industries in New Jersey and the New York City area. It also carried iron ore westward through New Jersey to iron furnaces in western New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania until the development of Great Lakes iron ore caused them to decline. By the 1850s, the canal began to be eclipsed by competition from newly-constructed railroads, although it remained in heavy use throughout the 1860s. It was leased to the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1871, taken over by the state of New Jersey late in 1922, and formally abandoned in 1924.
The Canal’s historic engineering artifacts have been captured in the Historic American Engineering Record, a program of the National Parks Service to document historic mechanical and engineering artifacts. Competition from faster, more efficient railroads at the end of the 19th century led to the Canal’s decline and eventually to its closing in the 1920s. The Morris Canal was crucial to the economy and development of northern New Jersey and is a significant historic feature of the State. Some sections of the Canal are listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
For more information on the Morris Canal, visit the following websites: