10 Most Frequently Asked Questions about the Morris Canal
Prepared for the Warren County Canal Committee
1. Why was the canal built?
The plan for building the canal was to transport coal from the anthracite mines in Pennsylvania to New Jersey, where it could be used for fueling the iron industry. Later coal was transferred and shipped to New York City markets for heating.
2. Was coal the only item transported on the canal?
No. The Morris Canal opened in 1831 to carry coal. Later limestone, sand, lumber, whiskey, and agricultural products were shipped locally via the canal.
3. How long was the canal?
The Morris Canal was 90 miles long when it was opened from Phillipsburg to Newark, NJ. When the canal was extended in Jersey City in 1836 it became 102 miles long.
4. What was the source of water?
Lake Hopatcong was enlarged to feed water tot he canal in both directions, east and west. The lake was near the summit of the canal. Streams, reservoirs and feeder canals were also a source of water.
5. How many locks were there?
Locks were used to overcome small changes in elevation – up to 10 feet. There were 23 lift locks on the main canal. It took about 15 minutes for a boat to "lock through".
6. Why were inclined planes used?
Inclined planes were used to overcome changes in elevation over 20 feet, saving water and time. Plane 9 West was the largest inclined plane on the canal - 100 feet in elevation. The Morris Canal was an engineering marvel in its time enabling the canal to overcome more changes in elevation than any other canal or a total change in elevation of 1674 feet.
7. How did boats pass each other?
The tow rope, of the boat nearest the berm side of the canal, was allowed to settle to the bottom. The mules of that boat would wait on the side of the towpath furthest from the water. The team pulling the passing boat would walk on the waterside of the towpath pulling the boat over the rope.
8. How fast did the boats travel?
Mules pulled the boats at 3-4 miles per hour depending on whether the boats were loaded or unloaded. It would take about 5 days to cross the state. Boats did not travel on Sundays.
9. Did the canal operate in winter?
No. Boats only operated on the canal from March or April to about mid-December when the canal would freeze over.
10. What was the size of the boats?
The first boats had capacity of 10 Tons of cargo. By 1860 the boats were comprised of two sections and had a total capacity of 70 Tons. The 1860 boats were 10.5 feet wide and 87.5 feet long.
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