Delaware Raritan Canal Commission

Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission

Canal Chronology

Sources: The Canal Society of New Jersey
McKelvey, William J. (1975). The Delaware & Raritan Canal: A Pictorial History. (1st ed.). York, PA. Canal Press Incorporated.


William Penn signs a document authorizing surveyors to examine the feasibility of constructing a canal across central New Jersey, thus linking the Delaware River with New York Bay.


Legislation enacted on the same day to two competing interests for the right to construct two different forms of transportation through central New Jersey: the Delaware & Raritan Canal Company and the Camden and Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company.

On February 4, 1830, ground is broken on the Delaware and Raritan Canal under the direction of chief engineer Canvass White, who served as engineer to a number of canals throughout the northeastern United States.


Legislation known as the “Marriage Act” was passed by the New Jersey Legislature. The legislation enabled the Delaware & Raritan Canal Company and the Camden & Amboy Railroad, which subsequently became the “Joint Companies” to pool their revenues and expenses, consolidate their stock and complete both the canal and railroad.  The legislation creates a powerful monopoly.  In return, the State of New Jersey received 2,000 shares of company stock and a guaranteed source of annual revenue for the State Government.


The impacts of a cholera epidemic are felt throughout the United States.  Hundreds of canal workers, mostly Irish immigrants, die and are buried in local cemeteries, along the banks of the canal and in unmarked mass graves at Bull’s Island and Ten Mile Run.


Completed at a cost of $2.8 million dollars, the Delaware and Raritan Canal opens for through navigation in May of 1834.


A connection is established between the Delaware and Raritan Canal and the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal.  Outlet locks were constructed at Lambertville, New Jersey and New Hope, Pennsylvania, which in turn were connected by means of a cable ferry across the Delaware River.


Construction begins on Belvidere & Delaware Railroad along the original feeder canal towpath, which is subsequently moved to the opposite (berm) side of the canal.


The main portion of the canal is dredged to a uniform depth of eight feet.


Locks on main canal are lengthened to 220 feet, and the banks “rip-rapped” with stone to prevent erosion from steam-powered canal boats.


At the outbreak of the American Civil War, 14 Delaware and Raritan Canal steam transports carry 3,000 New Jersey troops and equipment south to assist in the defense of Washington, D.C.


The Delaware and Raritan Canal experiences peak year for freight; 2,857,233 tons of freight shipped through waterway (83% of which was anthracite coal) -- more tonnage than was carried in any single year on the longer and more famous Erie Canal.


A system of steam-powered winches and steam-activated valves and gates for all locks is installed to speed the passage of vessels.


The properties of the Joint Companies are leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad for a period of 999 years.  A steady decline in freight traffic due to competition with the railroads begins.


Toll rates are reduced in order to combat competition from the railroads.


The main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad in New Jersey is expended to four tracks.  The Delaware and Raritan Canal posts a net operating loss for the first time; it never operates profitably again.


The Pennsylvania Railroad stone arch bridge is constructed over the canal and the Raritan River in New Brunswick.  The construction of this first non-opening bridge over the canal limits the mast height of vessels operating in the canal to 50 feet.


The cable ferry connection between Pennsylvania’s Delaware Canal and the Delaware and Raritan Canal at Lambertville is abandoned.  The transportation of anthracite coal from Pennsylvania through the Delaware and Raritan Canal effectively ends.


The canal experiences its greatest annual dollar loss of $383,471.


The canal experiences its peak year for pleasure boating, with 941 non-commercial vessels using the canal.


Only 41,801 tons of freight traffic is transported through the Delaware and Raritan Canal.


The canal closes in winter of 1932 but does not reopen in spring of 1933, and is officially abandoned by the Pennsylvania Railroad.


The main canal in Trenton south of the juncture with the feeder was deeded to city and filled as part of a Works Progress Administration project.  Part of filled area is eventually used for the construction of State Highway Route No. 129. 


After failing to operate for three consecutive years, the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad forfeit the Delaware and Raritan Canal to State of New Jersey pursuant to the terms of the original charter of the Joint Companies.


Construction begins to convert the Delaware and Raritan Canal to a water supply system.  The canal’s wooden locks and gates are removed, and the movable swing and lift bridges are replaced by fixed-span bridges.


The Delaware and Raritan Canal and 17 related structures are placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Senator Raymond Bateman (R-Somerset) and Senator John A. Lynch (D-Middlesex) is enacted to create both the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park and the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission.


The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission and New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA) sign lease agreement transferring responsibility for operation and maintenance of the “prism” of the canal to NJWSA. 


A joint DEP and New Jersey Department of Transportation project to construct a pedestrian bridge over U.S. Route 1 in Lawrence Township is completed.  The completed bridge allows canal park users a safe and uninterrupted passage over a heavily-used portion of the highway that spans the canal.


The final 1.5-mile “missing link” of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park trail in Trenton is completed, creating a 70-mile trail that runs continuously from Frenchtown to New Brunswick.

Last Updated: 05/28/2020

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