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D&H Canal Museum

The D&H Canal Museum chronicles and celebrates the first million dollar commercial enterprise in America. In the hamlet of High Falls, where a flight of five locks compensated for a drop of 70 feet in elevation, the museum and the remnants of these old locks tell the story of the waterway, built largely by pick and shovel wielded by immigrants. With maps, colorful dioramas, enlarged photographs, artifacts, and working models, the Museum of the D&H Canal Historical Society, housed in the former St. John's Episcopal Church, depicts life along the canal and its related industries.

The Delaware and Hudson Canal was a 108-mile, man-made waterway, an engineering feat of pre-industrial America that brought a new form of energy from the hills of Pennsylvania out to the Hudson River. From 1828 to 1898, mules pulled barges laden with anthracite coal along river valleys from Honesdale in northeastern Pennsylvania to Eddyville on the Rondout Creek near the villages of Kingston and Rondout. From here, it was shipped on barges down the Hudson to New York City and up the river to Canada.

The canal was conceived in 1823 by William and Maurice Wurts, two Philadelphia dry goods merchants who had purchased large tracts of land in northeastern Pennsylvania rich in anthracite coal deposits. Though the British had been supplying America's fledgling industries on the eastern seaboard with bituminous coal, the War of 1812 caused America's supply to be cut off, creating a crisis. The Wurts brothers recognized New York City's need for a new source of cheap energy and believed that their anthracite coal was the answer to the problem. However, a reliable method of transportation had to be found and a market created, for anthracite had not previously been taken seriously and many doubted its ability to burn efficiently.

They hired Benjamin Wright, Chief Engineer of the newly created 350-mile Erie Canal, to survey and design a canal out to the Hudson. The canal proposed would be four feet deep, 32 feet wide, contain 108 locks, 137 bridges, 26 basins, dams, and reservoirs, and cost an estimated 1.2 million dollars. In contrast to the state-financed Erie Canal, the D & H Canal was begun with private money.

To raise money and interest in the project, the Wurts brothers arranged for a demonstration. On January 7, 1825, the business leaders of New York City gathered at the Tontine Coffee House on Wall Street to witness for the first time the glow of anthracite fire that was to shape the industrial and domestic development of the city. The stock offered for sale that day was oversubscribed within a few hours, and the newly-formed Delaware & Hudson Canal Company became America's first million-dollar private enterprise.

The Canal operated successfully until the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company made a unique transition in 1898 into a railroad company, becoming America's oldest continously operating transportation company.

The musem houses an impressive collection of artifacts of about 4,000 individual items relation to the D&H Canal and its economic impact on New York:

  • Maps, 1826-1973, D & H Canal and villages along its route.
  • The Wakefield Collection, 1846-1993, Manville Wakefield’s research for his book, "Coal Boats to Tidewater", including original scratch board illustrations, bills, blueprints, permits, contracts, broadsides, postcards, notes, typescripts, published articles.
  • Phillipsport Lock Collection, 1855-1911, contracts, time records, school tax statements, boat permits, docking orders, receipts, inventories, bills, agreements, letters, blueprints of canal activities at Lock 48 in Phillipsport, NY.
  • Photograph Collection, 1878-1968, gelatin silver prints of locks, boats, creeks, bridges and villages along the canal.
  • Miscellaneous Document Collection, 1815-1982, broadsides, agreements, reports, bills, blueprints, permits, charts, programs, pamphlets, circulars, advertisements, legal papers, docking orders, surveyor’s field books, inventories, leases, letters, logs, patents, prints, receipts, stock certificates, timesheets pertaining to D & H land, boats, roads, workers, and the related industries of cement and lumber.
  • Research Collection, 1853-1973, clippings, articles and reports pertaining to the history of the D & H Canal and canals in general.
  • Artifacts Collection, hardware, snubbing posts, bow lamps, boatman’s horn, cane, telegraph desk, field lap desk, tools, bilge pumps and boat tillers.
  • Dioramas and Models, two boats passing, mules & hoggee boy, gravity railroad, working lock 16, 20 ton "Flicker" boat, 150 ton and 140 ton boats
  • Paintings and Prints, reproductions of E.L. Henry’s, "Days Before Rapid Transit" and a gouache on paper dated 1865 by William Rickarby Miller depicting Lock 13 and Lock 14, the Rondout Creek and environs.

Visitors can trace the canal on a wall map from its beginning in Honesdale, 967 feet in elevation, and along its course parallel to four bodies of water - the Lackawaxen, the Delaware, the Neversink River, and the Rondout Creek - to its terminus at Kingston at sea level.

HOURS: May through October, Monday & Thursday - Saturday 11 AM - 5 PM & Sunday 1 PM - 5 PM.

Five Locks Walk

The Five Locks Walk is a trail maintained by the D&H Canal Historical Society. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1969, Locks 16-20 are a legacy to the determination and skill of the engineers, stone workers and laborers who build the D&H, without the aid of machinery, in just two and a half years.

These locks were part of a new route created in 1847 when the canal was enlarged to accomodate 140 ton boats. On the way to the Roebling aqueduct, the locks lowered the canal over 70 feet, each dropping an average of 12.61 feet.

Specifics on visiting the D&H Canal Museum were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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