Read The Delaware Canal Online

Authors: Marie Murphy Duess

The Delaware Canal

BOOK: The Delaware Canal
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Published by The History Press

Charleston, SC 29403

Copyright © 2008 by Marie Murphy Duess

All rights reserved

Cover design by Marshall Hudson.

Cover image
: Fred Wagner,
Canal at Lumberville
, circa 1910, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches.
James A. Michener Art Museum. Gift of Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest

First published 2008

e-book edition 2012

ISBN 978.1.61423.461.6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Duess, Marie Murphy.

The Delaware Canal : from stone coal highway to historic landmark / Marie Murphy Duess.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

print edition ISBN 978-1-59629-487-5

1. Delaware Canal (Pa.)--History. 2. Canals--Pennsylvania--History. 3. Coal--Transportation--Pennsylvania--History--19th century. 4. National parks and reserves--Pennsylvania. I. Title.

HE396.D33D84 2008



: The information in this book is true and complete to the best of our knowledge. It is offered without guarantee on the part of the author or The History Press. The author and The History Press disclaim all liability in connection with the use of this book.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever without prior written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

To the Americans—born and bred and immigrant alike—who “worked” the Delaware Canal…the laborers who built the canal with nothing more than shovels and picks…the pilots who steered the snappers and stiff boats through all that nature threw at them…the lock tenders who worked from four o'clock in the morning until ten o'clock at night…and the mule drivers (mostly children and often in bare feet) who guided the mules more than sixty miles each way eight months a year. Their stories are inspiring, moving and legendary

And, as always, to Ed, Mai and Buddy—my history and my future—and to Tommy and Christian, my best guys

Genius is present in every age, but the men carrying it within them remain benumbed unless extraordinary events occur to heat up and melt the mass so that it flows forth

—Denis Diderot


Foreword, by James C. Greenwood



Chapter 1       Magic Canals: Past and Future

Chapter 2       From the Bowels of the Earth

Chapter 3       Josiah White's Waterways

Chapter 4       Locks and Their Keepers

Chapter 5       Beside the Busy Canal

Chapter 6       Snappers and Stiff Boats

Chapter 7       The Mules

Chapter 8       The Canallers

Chapter 9       Human Cargo

Chapter 10     The Canal's Worst Enemy

Chapter 11     Beautiful Impressions

Chapter 12     National Historic Landmark


Bibliography and Resources


For a century the Delaware Canal served as a man-made working waterway, floating three thousand flat-bottomed, mule-drawn boats brimming with coal, lumber and manufactured goods along the sixty-mile route from Easton to the river port in Bristol in a rapidly industrializing eastern Pennsylvania.

From 1832 to 1931 men, women and children—Irish and German immigrants, former slaves and others—eked out livings on the hustle-bustle, hardscrabble, but colorful world of the canalboats until that world gave way with the advent of the freight train.

Its working days over, the Delaware Canal has served us still in its retirement for more than three-quarters of another century. Threatened with deteriorating locks and gates, leaks and abandonment; insulted by highway and railroad crossings; paved over with a shopping center's parking lot; and repeatedly battered by a recent series of raging floods, the canal has yet endured, rescued repeatedly by the affection and commitment of its more recent travelers.

Hikers and bikers, handholding lovers, bird watchers and dog walkers, painters and picnickers, locals and visitors, kids toting fishing poles, parents with strollers—we come with cross-country skis, canoes and cameras to rest and to play. And sometimes, when reminded, as we are in Marie Duess's excellent work, we think of our forebears who plied these waters from before dawn until well past dark.

I have been privileged to live and to raise my family beside the canal for thirty years. As an elected official I have worked with the Friends of the Delaware Canal and other dedicated citizens who have refused to surrender our special treasure to apathy, abuse or catastrophe. While some have called to pave it, we have fought to save it. And save it we will.

The Delaware Canal is as central to Bucks County's story as William Penn's home or Washington's Crossing. Uniquely, it is a park, a National Historic Landmark and a charming, natural pathway winding its way through our beloved picturesque and historic villages. We are fortunate to call this treasure our own and to share it with those who come from afar.

And so we have a duty to preserve it for our children so that they may pass it on to theirs.

James C. Greenwood

President and CEO of Biotechnology Industry Organization United States House of Representatives (1993–2005)


While doing the research for this book, I fell in love with Bucks County all over again—just as I did twenty-one years ago when my husband and I moved our family to this lovely place, and again in 2007 when I learned so much more about the county in which I live while writing
Colonial Inns and Taverns of Bucks County: How Pubs, Taprooms and Hostelries Made Revolutionary History
. Bucks County has a fascinating history and is a captivating place to live.

I have also become enamored with mules since writing this book. I had no idea what interesting animals they are. I always thought they were beautiful, but I didn't know they were intelligent, too—gentle when treated kindly and spiteful when wronged—and not stubborn at all, but just smart enough to know when their loads are too heavy and it is time to rest. We humans could take a lesson from them where that is concerned.

There is so much in this book that I relate to. Although this book is about the Lehigh mines and the Delaware Division Canal, my mother's family is from the anthracite coal region of Carbondale, Pennsylvania—the site of the first underground mine in the United States, developed before the Lehigh mines and home to the founders of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. Throughout my life I heard many stories about the mines and miners, and I was always fascinated by stories I was told about the mine fire that burned for years beneath the streets of Carbondale. I didn't know about the breaker boys, however, and wish I didn't have to. Their story breaks my heart.

My Irish-American Catholic father told me about the discrimination his mother and father experienced when they first arrived in New York from the “old country” in the early twentieth century. They were branded as drunks and fighters before they had a chance to prove themselves different; yet both were gentle, loving and kind.

I cried when I wrote about the fleeing slaves who hid in subterranean rooms, living in constant fear of being caught, wondering what danger was just around the next corner. Being claustrophobic myself, I could almost feel the panic they must have experienced when they had to crawl through underground tunnels and hide in windowless chambers. Their courage is inspirational, and their stories remind me that freedom is precious and should never be taken for granted.

When writing this book, I could almost hear the boatmen calling out to the lock tenders as they worked the canal and the bells on the mules' harnesses as they walked the towpath beside their drivers. I have to smile when I think of the barefoot children walking along the canal on beautiful summer days, yet I wince when I remember that they also walked in the rain, cold and snow.

I wish I could go back in time, if just for an hour, to walk the canal as it was then, wave to the boat captains, touch the cheek of a little mule driver, give some tobacco to a mule and peek over the shoulder of Redfield or Coppedge as they capture the canal in a masterpiece.

The canal age was an important era in our country's development. The stories in this book speak to the work ethic of a different day and the cultural differences that have, for the most part, now become our American identity.

As I have with the county in which it is located, I also have fallen in love with the Delaware Division Canal. I hope that after reading this book, you will fall in love with it, too, and will be drawn to Bucks County's beautiful historic treasure as I am.


My most sincere appreciation is extended to:

My wonderful editor, Saunders Robinson, for her confidence in me, and to all the people at The History Press who seem to make things happen almost effortlessly.

Jim Greenwood, for taking the time out of his busy schedule to write the beautiful foreword for this book and for his, and his wife Tina's, gracious hospitality in allowing me to do some research in their lovely historic home and stables along the canal.

Charles Lauble Jr., of the Historic Langhorne Association, for all of his assistance and support—he is extraordinary.

Millard C. Mitchell, who is painstakingly keeping alive the stories of the underground railroad in Lower Bucks County—he is truly a great gentleman and historian.

The New Hope Historical Society, especially Barry Ziff, for his help, his stories and his expertise.

The Grundy Library, for all of their assistance in my research.

The National Canal Museum in Easton, for their assistance in obtaining photographs for this book, especially Ann Bartholomew and Susan E. Francisco—without their help, this book would not be as visually interesting.

Friends of the Delaware Canal, especially Susan Taylor, who shared the Friends' dreams for the canal.

Rosemary Tottoroto, a wonderful artist, for sharing her photographs and experience in designing one of Bucks County's “icon” mules.

Paul and Harriet Gratz of Gratz Gallery in New Hope and Sara Buehler of the Michener Museum—they all went above and beyond in helping me obtain images of the paintings of our American impressionists who so loved the Delaware Canal.

Robin G. Lightly, Mineral Resources program manager of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, for sharing her moving—and sobering—images of the children and men who worked the mines in Pennsylvania.

Frank Lyons of the Continental Tavern, for sharing information about the historic tavern and allowing me to
the secret room that protected the courageous and hopeful Americans who sought freedom before the Civil War.

BOOK: The Delaware Canal
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Trophy Taker by Lee Weeks
Deathless by Scott Prussing
Incarnadine by Mary Szybist
Highland Blessings by Jennifer Hudson Taylor
Release by V. J. Chambers
The Lion of the North by Kathryn le Veque
The Parliament House by Edward Marston