Construction Begins on the Delaware and Hudson Canal

July 13, 1825

Construction on the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Canal officially began. The groundbreaking for the canal took place near Kingston, New York, located about 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) north of New York City. The new waterway was built as a key transportation link between the coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania and the ports of New York along the Hudson River.

Philadelphia businessman William Wurts and his brother Maurice had vigorously lobbied both the New York and Pennsylvania state legislatures for approval to build the canal. The brothers’ efforts paid off in in 1823 when those states each passed laws chartering the D&H Canal Company as the entity authorized to construct such a waterway. Benjamin Wright, who had been pivotal in the planning and development of the Erie Canal, was hired to serve as the chief engineer for the D&H Canal construction project. Wright was assisted by John B. Jervis. who eventually took over the role of chief engineer for this endeavor.

The building of the D&H Canal involved the work of approximately 2,500 men over three years, and the completion of the project was considered a major engineering feat for that time. The canal ended up spanning 108 miles (174 kilometers) from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, to Kingston, and consisted of 108 locks, 22 aqueducts, 136 bridges, 22 reservoirs, and 16 dams.

Starting on the Hudson River in Kingston, the route of the D& Canal coursed southwest through Ulster, Sullivan, and Orange Counties in New York. This route then made its way to the mouth of the Lackawaxen River, a tributary of the Delaware River, in Pike County in Pennsylvania. The southern terminus for the canal was the west branch of the Lackawaxen at Honesdale in Wayne County.

During its seven decades of service, the D&H Canal hauled millions of tons of anthracite coal that were eventually transported to a variety of furnaces in New York City as well as New England. (The above image of the canal is an 1893 painting created by Vermont-born artist Theodore Robinson.) The canal also proved to be instrumental in encouraging increased settlement in what had been a sparsely populated region of Pennsylvania.

Barges at the section of the D&H Canal in Honesdale, PA

This waterway was further distinguished from many other 19th century American canals by remaining a profitable private operation throughout most of its existence. A large part of that success was guaranteed early on in 1829, when the D&H Canal Company built a railroad that regularly transported coal from the Moosic Mountains near Carbondale, Pennsylvania, to the section of the canal in Honesdale. (That railroad’s first locomotive, the Stourbridge Lion, made history in its own right as the first train to run on rails in the United States.)

The inaugural run of the locomotive Stourbidge Lion in Honesdale, PA, in 1829

The D&H Canal outlived its usefulness by 1898 and was abandoned, with much of it subsequently drained and filled. This canal remains an important part of the nation’s transportation legacy, however, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

For more information on the D&H Canal, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaware_and_Hudson_Canal

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