The discovery of the anthracite coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania; the opening of eastern markets to this coal by the building of a canal through private enterprise, under charters from New York and Pennsylvania; the growth of this company into a great railroad corporation, and the final abandonment of its canal.


No history of the canals of New York State would be complete without including that of the Delaware and Hudson canal. Though it was no part of the State-owned system of artificial waterways, the story of its inception, its construction, its progress and its final elimination is inseparably interwoven with the history of the State – with its commercial development, its resources and its civilization.

During the earlier years of the last century, the southern portion of the state, lying between the route of the Erie canal and the Pennsylvania boundary, was still a comparative wilderness. Between these limits was a vast territory of forested mountains and valley, almost untouched by the advancing tide of emigration which had begun to sweep by, through the Mohawk valley, to the west.

Not indeed until 1814 did the census of the state show a population beyond the million mark, and from sixty to seventy per cent of this number were practically concentrated along the borders of the Hudson, the Mohawk and the other great waterways of the state.

Lumbering was the principal occupation of the people of this district, the products being rafted down the Delaware and Susquehanna to market. The surplus earnings of the inhabitants were mostly absorbed in clearing the forests, draining the land and in the erection of houses, mills and other improvements required by the settlers of a new country. Turnpikes, or toll roads, were constructed between principal points and the stage coach was the only available means of communication by public conveyance. As far as possible the inhabitants were accustomed to use, for transportation facilities, the waterways upon which they had settled, as steam railways were not yet in existence.

As problems of markets and of commerce began to engage their attention, it was but natural that in seeking to better the means of transportation they should turn first to the improvement of the natural channels of the streams, and later to the construction of other and artificial waterways. So came the period of canals – a form of transportation soon to attain a great ascendancy. The construction of the Erie canal a few years later, the discussion of which was even then becoming prominent in State affairs, gave a powerful impetus to many schemes of canal communication. Scores of projects of this character were, within a brief period, authorized by statutory enactment, but most of them never passed beyond this stage. Financial difficulties precluded their construction. A few were partially or wholly completed, only to be absorbed later, by purchase or agreement, into the great system of State canals which solved for a time, the question of interior transportation.

The history of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, reaching back, as it does, for nearly a century from the present time, and embracing the period of greatest commercial development of the State of New York, is unique in one respect. With the one exception of the shorter and comparatively less important Junction canal elsewhere described, it is the only enterprise of its kind within the state that remained in the hands of its original projectors in spite of financial difficulties, doubts of its ultimate success and the active opposition of competitors, developing in later years into a great transportation and mining corporation which is to-day a power to be considered among similar interests. And yet this same company, in the early days of its precarious existence, was twice compelled to seek the powerful aid and financial backing of the State’s credit, without which it may well be doubted whether it would have survived to attain its present success.

The initiative of this enterprise, we are told, was largely due to the powers of observation, the foresight, energy and persistence of William Wurts, who, with his brothers Charles and Maurice, were businessmen of Philadelphia. Without being a professional geologist, or even a hunter or trapper, he was fond of talking long tramps and excursions through the valleys and along the streams of northeastern Pennsylvania, sleeping in the forest wherever overtaken by night, and subsisting on provisions from the knapsack of a chance hunter or upon the trout which he lured from the cool streams of the Lackawaxen and Lackawanna. As far back as 1812, while on one of these periods of wandering, he was attracted by the black stones which he noticed cropping out of the ground here and there. He became interested and, believing they had value, week by week and month after month, he followed and examined these outcroppings, noting their location, until he had practically traced the outlines of the great northern and eastern anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania.

On his return he carried specimens to Philadelphia. Submitting them to his brothers, he finally induced them to go back with him and look over the ground. Convinced by repeated trials of its value as fuel, they began the tedious struggle to convince others, and to establish it as a marketable commodity. They labored under adverse circumstances, often defeated, but never giving up. Their frail rafts upon which they attempted to embark a few tons of coal were driven by the currents against projecting rocks and sunk and, when, with a few tons, they finally reached Philadelphia, their hard-won cargo was condemned as being of little or no value. But lands were then also of little value in this almost inaccessible wilderness where the deposits of coal were found. Extensive purchases of lands, whose value afterwards rose to hundreds and thousands, were made by the brothers at prices averaging from fifty cents to three dollars per acre.

The almost incalculable value of this discovery may be shown by reference to Colange (1900), who limits the anthracite area of Pennsylvania to about five hundred square miles, embraced in three great regions: the Schuylkill, or southern; the Lehigh, or middle; and the northern, covering the Lackawanna, Scranton and Wilkesbarre regions. The production is now very largely controlled by great mining and carrying corporations. From the commencement of the industry in 1820, with the shipment of three hundred and sixty-five tons, it is estimated that more than as many million tons have been marketed. With the area of this variety of coal in the United States so limited, and the absorption of territory so rapid and wasteful, it is thought that within a very few years anthracite coal will become a luxury and command its price as such.

After more than ten years of adverse fortune and embarrassments, the day of success began to dawn upon the efforts of the Wurts brothers. While the collieries of the Lehigh and Schuylkill could readily supply, with the coal which those regions furnished, the markets at Philadelphia and the south, the Lackawanna coal-fields reached out east of the Susquehanna to within a hundred miles of the Hudson, and methods of reaching an eastern market were sought.

The General Assembly of Pennsylvania, at the session of 1822-3, passed an act "To Improve the Navigation of the Lackawaxen River," which was in effect a charter to empower Maurice Wurts to clear out and improve the channel, to establish dams, locks or canals, to make good descending navigation at least once a week, or to complete a system of slack-water navigation at his discretion and to establish tolls, with various limitations and restrictions, for a period of thirty years, with a clause providing for resumption by the State thereafter, this latter clause being repealed in 1852. This was closely followed by the passage of the original act of incorporation of "The President, Managers and Company of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company," by the Legislature of New York State on April 23, 1823, (chapter 238) under which the company claimed its full corporate powers and existence. The preamble recited the desirability of introducing "stone" coal to New York State, the existence of extensive beds of this coal owned by Maurice Wurts, the Pennsylvania act authorizing the improvement of the Lackawaxen and the petition of certain citizens of New York for water communication between the Hudson and the Delaware rivers.

The charter authorized eleven commissioners, namely: G. B. Vroom, Philip Hone, Lynde Catlin, Jonathan Thompson, Garret B. Abeel, George Janeway and Elisha Tibbits of New York, George D. Wickham and Hector Craig of Orange county, Abram Hasbrouck and John C. Broadhead of Ulster county to receive subscriptions to the capital stock of the enterprise, in shares of one hundred dollars each. Upon the subscription of two thousand shares, the commissioners were to become a "body politic and corporate" under the name of "The President, Managers and Company of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company," capable of perpetual succession, with full powers of management, subject only to the laws of the State. They were authorized to construct a canal of suitable dimensions, with all necessary appurtenances, including river feeders, from a point on the Delaware river, through Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties, to a point on the Hudson river, to maintain the canal and collect tolls, not to exceed eight cents per ton-mile for coal and half that rate for other merchandise. Broad powers of increase in capital stock, at the discretion of the managers, appear to have been likewise given them. They were further empowered to purchase from Maurice Wurts his rights under the Pennsylvania act, to improve the navigation of the Lackawaxen river and to purchase his or other coal lands lying adjacent.

In the spring of 1823, Maurice and William Wurts secured the services of Judge Benjamin Wright, chief engineer of the Erie canal, and in May of that year instructed him "to have a proper survey or running level carried over the country from tide-water of the Hudson river, at the mouth of the Walkill, up the valley of the Rondout, and thence over to the Delaware river, and thence up the same to the confluence of the Lackawaxen, and thence up the Lackawaxen to a point as near to the coal mines as possible," also to ascertain the practicability and expense of a canal over that route. Other engagements interfering with his plan to personally conduct the survey, in June, Judge Wright directed Mr. John B. Mills, a young engineer of promise, who had been one of his assistants on the Erie canal, to make the reconnaissance. Mr. Mills completed his work in September. The exact line was not located, but approximate estimates were made, which included the cost of nine dams that were located on the Delaware river, below the mouth of the Lackawaxen.

In order, as he says, to obtain all possible knowledge of the ground and of the feasibility of the project, Judge Wright later engaged the services of Col. John L. Sullivan, a man of practical knowledge acquired in the superintendence of the Middlesex canal, Massachusetts, and of canals and works along the Merrimac river. In December, Col. Sullivan, in company with Mr. Mills, again went over the route, following the valley of the Rondout from tide-water at Eddy’s dam southwest between the Catskill and Shawangunk ranges to its head waters in a swamp at the summit, from which same swamp the waters of the Neversink found their way through Sullivan and Orange counties to the Delaware, to which point the survey continued. After reaching the mouth of the Lackawaxen, the survey proceeded up that stream, on which the positions for seventeen dams were located, and thence to Keen’s pond by the West Branch, seven miles further.

Col. Sullivan’s report, "To Benjamin Wright, Esq., Civil Engineer of the Erie canal, now at Philadelphia," is dated January 7, 1824, from which it appears that his estimates amounted to $1,208,632.95, not including a railway from the mines to Keen’s, which would cost from $1,500 to $2,000 per mile. Composite locks, constructed with stone backing, lined with successive layers of plank, tree-nailed to each other, each layer to be laid across the grain of the previous one and embedded in pitch, were advocated for economical reasons. Inclined planes and perpendicular lifts, which are elsewhere sufficiently described, were discussed, as was also the water-supply.

Judge Wright promptly transmitted the estimates of Messrs. Sullivan and Mills to Maurice and William Wurts on January 19, 1824, with his approval. The construction of composite locks would result in a saving of fifty per cent of the capital employed, and the perishable portions could be easily replaced without interrupting navigation. At the estimate given, the expense of the one hundred and seventeen miles would be $10,330 per mile. On such portions of the line as were distinct from the canalization of river, the prism was computed at sixteen feet on the bottom, four feet of water, and thirty-two feet at water-surface. Locks were to be nine and one-half feet wide by seventy-five feet between gates, admitting boats of nine feet beam and seventy feet in length, with a draught of three feet, loaded with thirty tons of coal. On more solid ground the prism might be reduced to eighteen feet at bottom and thirty feet at surface, giving a similar slope to that of the Erie canal. In this case the locks might be reduced to nine feet in width, for twenty-five-ton boats, which was said to be as much as one horse ought to draw in the canal.

These reports were subsequently transmitted to the commissioners named under the New York act of incorporation, together with certain "prefatory remarks of the proprietors of the coal mines" in question, descriptive of the location and value of the mines of Maurice Wurts and of the "Lackawanna Company," the latter term being thereafter frequently used in the documents. Whether the term refers to the coal lands of the Wurts brothers, or to adjacent lands of other owners, or to a combination including both, the material at hand fails to disclose.

On the seventh of February, the ubiquitous Col. Sullivan presented a letter to the commissioners, stating that he had seen a letter addressed by Mr. Hone to one of the mine proprietors, expressing a disposition on the part of the commissioners to receive any communication relative to the canal, and that he was induced to lay before them further considerations that could not, with perfect propriety, be brought into his report of the preliminary survey. The primary object of the canal, he said, was conceded to be the introduction of coal into the State of New York. The New Jersey canal commissioners had already broached the subject of the Morris and Essex canal, for distributing purposes. By the further improvement of fourteen miles of the Delaware river, above the Lackawaxen, the Delaware and Hudson company could extend navigation for a hundred miles westward, and still better results could be obtained by connecting with the Susquehanna river. As to the probable success of a coal canal, he stated that England at that time possessed twenty-six such canals, all financially successful.

"The proprietors of the coal mines having represented to the Legislature that it would be expedient that the whole line of improvement should be made by one company, to be organized under this act," on April 7 of this year, an amendment to the act of incorporation in New York was passed, increasing the capital stock to fifteen hundred thousand dollars, it being evident from the surveys that much more than the original half million would be required to build the canal. The powers granted by the original corporate act, over the line between the Hudson and Delaware rivers, were extended by this amendment along the latter river within the limits of the State from Carpenter’s Point to the mouth of the Lackawaxen.

At the third meeting of the New York Legislature in 1824, a further amendment to the charter of the company was passed, under date of November 16, allowing them to use five hundred thousand dollars of paid-in capital in the business of banking, to establish a banking house in the City of New York, and to issue notes to the amount of fifteen hundred thousand dollars; on condition, however, that the canal should be commenced within six months after electing a board of managers, and that they should expend at least one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year on construction, and should complete the canal from the Hudson to the Lackawaxen within seven years; the banking privilege to continue for twenty years only.

Reading between the lines, it may be plainly seen, however, that these preliminary stages of the enterprise were not passed without encountering opposition. Capital was not only scarce, but the support of the people at large had not yet been gained. Many were of the opinion that the scheme was impracticable, and the engineering difficulties of surmounting the necessary elevation of several hundred feet between the Hudson and the Delaware were regarded as insuperable.

Spafford, in his Gazetteer of New York, writing in 1824, reflects this popular attitude, saying in substance: "A good deal has been said among some very enterprising and intelligent individuals, about a canal across Ulster or Orange and Sullivan counties, making an artificial navigation between the Hudson and Delaware rivers. A prominent object in view, ostensibly, is to bring the coal of the Lackawaxen, a river of Pennsylvania, which puts into the Delaware opposite Lumberland, of Sullivan county, to the New York and Hudson river market. If practicable, I hope the plan will succeed, and the sooner the better, as coal, in plenty, is a grand desideratum, of immense importance to the people of this State. Without having any information, accurate, to be relied on, people generally doubt the practicability of making a canal on the proposed route, from vague ideas of the mountain character of the intermediate country."

The first board of managers was organized by the commissioners under provisions of the charter act, on March 8, 1825, by the selection of Philip Hone as President, and John Bolton, Treasurer. The managers were John Bolton, Philip Hone, Garret B. Abeel, Samuel Whittemore, Hezekiah B. Pierpont, Rufus L. Lord, Wm. H. Ireland, Benjamin W. Rogers, John Hunter, Thomas Tileston, Wm. W. Russell, Wm. Calder and Henry Thomas.

Their first act was to engage the services of Benjamin Wright as engineer, and as his assistant, John B. Jervis, who had been trained to the profession under Judge Wright, and whose ample knowledge of its duties were said to do equal credit to his tutor and to his own talents. To these engineers the managers submitted the reports of Col. Sullivan and Mr. Mills, requesting a critical examination of the several lines proposed for a canal from the Hudson to the coal mines, so as to furnish revised and accurate estimates in order that the question of prosecution or abandonment of the project might be decided.

Another statutory act was secured on April 1, 1825, from the State of Pennsylvania, permitting the company, with the consent of Maurice Wurts, to improve the Lackawaxen and to operate the canal thereon and charge tolls, as provided in his concession, on filing with the Governor their acceptance of the act before July 1, 1825. The banking privilege, however, permitted within this State, was forbidden to be exercised in Pennsylvania. An amendment to the charter was at once secured on April 20 from the New York Legislature, giving the company the right to contract with Maurice Wurts or the owners of the Lackawaxen concession, and later, on June 21, the formal acceptance, signed by Philip Hone, President, and John Bolton, Treasurer, was duly filed with the Governor of Pennsylvania.

The engineers completed their surveys and estimates and reported to the managers. They recommended the construction of an independent canal throughout, instead of a canal simply between the great rivers and a slack-water navigation in the Rondout, Delaware and Lackawaxen rivers. They advised that the locks should be constructed of stone instead of wood. As the result of explorations on the line by an expert geologist, specially employed for the purpose, water-lime stone had been discovered in abundance, equal to that used for constructing the Erie locks; hence the change from wood to stone. Even in those days a trust or combination was formed by the owners of the limestone quarries, which was said to "somewhat enhance the price." This more perfect system of navigation, affording greater facilities and less liability to interruption, together with the expense of the more permanent locks, was estimated to cost about $1,600,000.

The managers examined the coal mines and the several routes proposed, and after deliberating upon the whole matter, decided to prosecute the work as recommended by the engineers, formally adopting the valley of the Rondout, in which to locate the canal from the Hudson to the Delaware river. They then concluded a bargain with the members of the Lackawaxen Company, as we are told, for the purchase of their coal mines and their rights and privileges in Pennsylvania for $40,000, in cash, and deferred stock to the amount of $200,000, which was to bear dividends only after two semi-annual dividends of three per cent each upon the original stock should have been declared and a clear surplus of $12,000 should remain.

The line was divided into sections of a half mile each. Much time was spent in deciding upon routes and in preparing estimates, but seventeen miles were advertised to be let on July 13, 1825. On that date the ceremony of breaking ground upon the summit level, forty miles from the Hudson, was performed, the address being delivered to a large concourse of people by Philip Hone. Contracts were at once made and others followed, as the engineers completed the work of location, and on December 6, the last contract was signed for the line between Eddy’s Factory, on Hudson tide-water, and Montgaup, on the Delaware, a distance of sixty-five miles. This portion of the work, passing through a valley by which at some remote period the Delaware is said to have poured its waters into the Hudson, was believed to include the most formidable and to many people apparently insurmountable, difficulties on the whole projected line.

The sum of thirty thousand dollars was added to the estimates, to bring the Neversink river into the feeder system by a three-fourths-mile cut at the summit, affording increased water-supply and other advantages. The original estimate for the sixty-four miles from Hudson tide-water to Saw Mill Rift, on the Delaware, on the line first projected, was $792,000. From the termination of the line under contract to the mouth of the Lackawaxen was a distance of about fifteen miles.

The managers determined to abandon the plan of a slack-water navigation in the Delaware in favor of an independent canal on the New York shore, but contracts on this section were deferred for fear of delaying work on that portion already under construction, and of thus preventing the completion of the link between the two rivers within the year 1826.

It would seem that the managers of that period, not satisfied with the work in hand, were already turning their attention toward a western extension of the enterprise – beyond the mouth of the Lackawaxen, up through the valley of the Delaware to where that river approaches to within twelve miles of the Susquehanna at the great bend of the latter river. As this locality was within the State of New York, a charter had been secured from the previous Legislature, giving authority to improve the navigation of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers within certain counties in New York and to connect them by a canal or railway. Although this project was placed in the hands of a different set of commissioners, who, by the terms of the act, were to organize the "President, Managers and Company of the Delaware and Susquehannah Navigation Company," {see errata.} it is not to be doubted that the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was in full control of the enterprise. It was expected that the work would be undertaken when the canal should have been completed to the Lackawaxen.

Most of the contractors of the portion let were at work by September, 1825, and operations were pushed with vigor until the heavy frosts of December compelled cessation of all except deep cutting and rock blasting, which continued through the winter. At the close of the year the estimates for work done were $68,006. Five hundred men were engaged on the line during the winter. Contracts were let for sixty locks of hammered stone, with cut hollow-quoins and coping. By February 28, 1826, $123,000 had been expended.

In Pennsylvania surveys had been made, but no decision as to route had been announced. It was considered that secrecy regarding the exact plans of the company was necessary to their success. Even the stockholders were not informed concerning details at the annual meeting on March 7, 1826. By this time John Bolton had replaced Philip Hone as President, the latter having resigned to accept the position of Mayor of New York City.

It was intimated that for economical reasons an inclined plane and railway would be substituted for a canal from the mines to the Lackawaxen. A certain statement of that period seems strange now; it was said that the coal produced was "of such a fine quality, so easy of ignition, and supported combustion so well, that a fire made of it could actually be graduated to the temperature of the weather."

As to the banking department of the company, although the directors had, by resolution, set aside half a million dollars for the purpose, it was not until January 25, 1826, that the treasurer had sufficient funds to authorize the entry of this appropriation on the books. Twenty-nine thousand dollars had been paid for a banking house in Wall street, New York.

On February 9, 1826, the Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized the company to construct the locks on the Lackawaxen "of such dimensions as they should deem expedient, provided they were of sufficient capacity to pass boats, arks and crafts at twenty-five tons burthen," and also provided that if the size should be reduced below that required by section fifteen of the original charter to Wurts, or eighteen feet wide by sixty-four feet long, then the method should be by canal and not by slack-water navigation; and the feed-water from the Lackawaxen should be discharged into the Delaware at the mouth of the former river. Later, on April 8, another privilege was also granted to the company by the General Assembly, authorizing them to connect their mines with the canal by railways, provided such railways should not obstruct public highways, and "overhead causeways" should be built for owners of lands crossed.

This connecting railway was at this time occupying much of the attention of the board and its engineers. In the summer of 1826, Judge Wright, then chief engineer, was requested to examine the matter with reference to the peculiarities of the country over which it must pass. On October 26, under instructions from Judge Wright, Engineer Mills began a survey and examination for an extension of the canal westward from the mouth of the Lackawaxen up the Delaware on the New York side as far as Deposite, sixty-eight miles. Fortunately the original manuscript notes of this survey, with comments by Judge Wright’s own hand, have been preserved. Judge Wright states that the survey was made by the request and at the expense of the company, and was part of an important plan of connecting navigation between the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers at a point in Delaware and Broome counties. The line connecting the rivers had already been surveyed. A curious feature of this report was that no stone of value for cutting was found along the line and the lock estimates were, therefore, based upon a wooden lining, backed by rough walls. The estimates for the line from Lackawaxen to Deposite were $870,236.95.

The estimates for the connecting link, which followed up the valley of Oquago creek, passed through the summit of the dividing ridge by a tunnel one mile in length and descended along Johnson’s brook to the Susquehanna near Bettsburg, appear to have been $771,430. The tunnel, eighteen feet in diameter and lined with brick, was estimated to cost $300,000. Six hundred and ten feet of ascent and descent were to be overcome by inclined planes, to cost $122,000.

Judge Wright’s comments, on submitting these estimates to the managers on January 3, 1827, are of unusual interest. The rugged handwriting and the clear vision of this able engineer reveal a mental grasp of transportation problems as they then existed, which was almost prophetic in its character. He considered that the construction of the line to Deposite, by opening a hitherto undeveloped section of the state, would present equal claims with the Erie canal to the protecting and fostering hand of the Government that should be extended alike to all its citizens. It was not doubted that, when well understood, the enterprise would be patronized and assisted by the Legislature.

But the route was not expected to stop at Deposite. In June, and again in October, 1826, Judge Wright had personally examined the entire line. He says: "This excursion satisfied me that Nature had formed a valley from the foot of Otsego lake to the western part of Steuben county, 220 miles, where a canal could be formed at comparatively small expense; where many towns and flourishing villages are already seen, and where a few more years will show a dense population. The project of an extension up the Delaware, thence over to the Susquehanna and thence through the valleys of the Susquehanna and Tioga, is only second in importance to that of the Erie canal. The river valley improvements could be carried on, leaving the connecting link simply a good road, until by the ingenuity of the people, the development of modern engineering skill should find a better way of overcoming the elevation of the dividing ridge."

"This main line" was "but part of a great scheme of internal improvement by lateral canals," which he felt "sure would hereafter be executed along the valleys of the Unadilla; the Chenango and its branches; from Owego to Cayuga lake; from Newtown [now Elmira] to Seneca lake; and from the branches of the Tioga river to Canandaigua lake; thus opening communication with the Erie canal for the exchange of productions peculiar to each."

In his own mind, the increasing trade on the Erie and the throng of boats even then passing upon it, so soon after its completion, proved that not many years would elapse before that canal would be unable to accommodate the traffic of the growing states bounding on the Upper Lakes and western rivers, and he believed that the fifth year after the finishing of the Ohio canal would see the limit of tonnage capacity reached. The southern line would relieve this pressure. He considered that locks passing boats of twenty-five or thirty tons would accommodate an even greater amount of tonnage than those of the Erie canal, if the boats were made to fit them. In England, he said, it was well settled that narrow boats for canals were decidedly preferable.

By this time the available funds, aside from that portion reserved for banking purposes, which, by the limitations of the charter, could not in good faith be used for canal construction, were exhausted and the completion of the enterprise was problematical. A memorial was, therefore, addressed to the Legislature by the managers, asking the State to aid them to complete their canal. Of the various plans proposed for relief, the loan of the State’s credit met with legislative favor and on March 10, 1827, by chapter 62, special certificates of stock to the amount of five hundred thousand dollars were authorized to be issued to the company, bearing five per cent interest and redeemable at the pleasure of the State after twenty years. The company was required to give a first mortgage on its entire lands and privileges in both states, and all premiums on the sale of stock were to be repaid to the State for the common school fund. The company was also authorized to raise the sum of three hundred thousand dollars in addition (if it could) upon second mortgage security. Notwithstanding these objectionable restrictions, the company decided to accept the terms as the best that could be obtained, and it proceeded with the work. It was admitted that the State loan had saved the situation and would insure the completion of the enterprise. The use of anthracite coal, not only for domestic purposes but for generating steam, was beginning to be understood and the managers were hopeful.

Work on the Delaware river section was urged forward, but was retarded by much wet weather and its completion was necessarily deferred until the following season. The Lackawaxen section, as far as the forks of the Dyberry, was placed under contract. This terminal was seven miles short of that originally planned, but economy demanded the change. A railway was projected from this point (now Honesdale) to the mines at Carbondale, about fifteen miles. In the meantime good turnpike roads were constructed by the company between the mines and the canal terminal and wagons were used temporarily to bring down coal. Unforeseen delays occurred in the construction of the Delaware-Hudson section. The banks were not well settled, or were made of porous earth and coarse gravel, permitting excessive leakage, and repairs were tedious. Water was finally admitted late in the season of 1827 and some boats passed from river to river, carrying lock irons and a weighing machine for use at Honesdale, the head of the canal. A few boats only extended their trip to Wurtsborough, forty miles from tide. Labor employed on construction was withdrawn from adjacent industries; few supplies were provided for market; wagons had transported all articles which would bear the expense and, as we are told by the managers, public expectation was greatly disappointed.

Engineer Jervis was directed by the board to prepare plans for a railway over the summits of the Moosic mountains, which towered some eight hundred and fifty feet above the river level. It should be remembered that at this time only one short railway of three miles, at Quincy, Massachusetts, had "endured the test of the winter’s cold," and one other was a temporary and imperfect work. English engineers differed as to constructive details, but, as President Bolton said, all were "agreed in their great superiority over turnpike roads, and in their near approach to canals in respect to cheapness and facility of transportation."

Mr. Jervis devised a very ingenious scheme of inclined planes, five of them ascending, worked by stationary steam engines, and three descending gravity planes. This plan was submitted to Judge Wright and Professor Renwick and upon their approval construction was ordered. Rails were ordered from England. They were to be flat iron straps, secured with screws to an underlying wooden sleeper. Engineer Allen sailed to Liverpool to superintend their manufacture and to procure locomotives. The total weight of iron rails was three hundred and sixty tons. In November, 1828, the Governor of Pennsylvania, having received the report of commissioners appointed to examine the Lackawaxen section, issued a formal license to collect tolls thereon.

Hough’s New York Gazetteer (1872) says that the canal was considered open for use in October of 1828; we are elsewhere told (Niles’ Register, Vol. 35, p. 130) that Philip Hone wrote to the president of the New York Senate, stating the fact that the canal would be opened at that time, and the managers invited a committee of the Senate to join the excursion of the first boats passing over the line from Honesdale to the Hudson. Other authorities also used this date. But engineer Jervis says, "In the autumn of 1829 there was some navigation on the canal and a few hundred tons of coal were transported to tidewater," and President Wurts, in his annual report on March 5, 1833, says, "the canal of this Company was first opened for navigation in October, 1829, and 7,000 tons of coal passed through it." This may be regarded as conclusively fixing the date of opening.

The financial resources of the company were again at low ebb. The New York Legislature was again asked to come to its assistance by a further loan. On this application, State Comptroller Marcy informed the Legislature of the practical completion of the canal, from his personal observation, although the river sections were not yet filled. The Assembly committee having charge of the matter reported that, because the State had required a first mortgage on the entire property in order to secure the first loan of its credit, the company was rendered unable to offer sufficient security to obtain the additional three hundred thousand dollars authorized by the act of 1827. On May 2, 1829, by chapter 346, the Legislature authorized the issue of three hundred thousand dollars in additional certificates of stock, bearing four and one-half per cent interest, redeemable after twenty years, but again exacted a second bond and mortgage as security for the loan. Our space forbids more than a brief mention of the glowing tribute paid by the committee to the enterprise of the company and to the excellent character of its work, which should be considered, in a measure, as of great public benefit. Incidentally, we are told that the company had imported the first and only locomotive engines as yet introduced into this country.

Reinforced financially by this second loan from the State, the efforts of the company were again bent toward the completion of the entire line. At this time Mr. Jervis, as chief engineer of the company, was in charge in place of Judge Wright, who had resigned. The railroad, commencing at the mines, was carried to the summit level by five planes in about three miles. Chains, passing over sheaves, and steam-power from stationary engines were first used for ascending cars. Later, these chains broke and were replaced by rope, which in turn gave place to steel cables. After passing the summit level of a mile and a half, there came a sharp descending plane of nearly five hundred feet within a mile. To retard motion on the steep, descending grades, Mr. Jervis invented a simple yet curious contrivance of sails connected with the gearing, which, revolving in opposite directions, successfully held the cars back to a velocity of about four miles per hour. On the lower grades at the river end of the line, the locomotives brought from England were intended to be used. On August 8, one of them, the "Stourbridge Lion," which at the present day has become well known from its exhibition at various points throughout the country, was placed upon the rails at Honesdale for its trial trip, in charge of Engineer Horatio Allen. The trip was made successfully, but it was found that the weight of the locomotive was too much for the road, as constructed, and it was withdrawn from service. Horses and mules were substituted and later these were replaced by steam and gravity. The completion of the canal was practically accomplished, and vigorous efforts were also made to mine and transport the company’s products. As before stated, some 7,000 tons of Lackawanna hard coal found its way to tide-water during the year.

The numerous authorities at hand differ slightly as to the details of construction, the length of the line being variously stated as from one hundred and five to one hundred and eight miles. From the reports of the company and from legislative documents of the period, it is given as fifty-nine miles from Kingston to the Delaware river (now Port Jervis); twenty-two miles on the Delaware river; twenty-five miles on the Lackawaxen to its Honesdale terminus. This makes one hundred and six miles of canal, the system ending with sixteen miles of railway to the mines. The prism of the canal was twenty feet wide at bottom and twenty-eight feet wide at water-line, according to Mr. Jervis, although Mr. S. H. Sweet, in his Documentary Sketch of the New York State Canals, gives it as thirty feet in width. The depth of water was four feet. It was intended to pass boats seventy feet long, drawing three feet of water and carrying from twenty-five to thirty tons of coal, which could be drawn by one horse. The locks, of which there were one hundred and ten in all, were built nine feet wide by seventy-six feet long in the chamber. Sixty of these, on the Kingston-Port Jervis section, were of hammered stone, the balance being "composite," or with chambers of wood backed by stone walls. The total elevation overcome by locks was ten hundred and seventy-three feet. The summit elevation of the land line was five hundred and eighty-five feet above tide, with a total rise and fall on that section of nine hundred and fifty feet. The Rondout was crossed by a stone-arched aqueduct, the other rivers by wooden trunks upon stone piers and abutments. The Delaware, at the confluence of the Lackawaxen, was crossed in slack water, formed by a dam; one hundred and thirty-seven bridges were required.

The coal brought to market in 1829 was surface coal of inferior quality. Its use led to considerable public prejudice, which the company with difficulty endeavored to dispel.

In 1830 the New York Legislature, which had tied up the company’s property so completely that they could not sell a village lot, passed an enabling act (chapter 34), by which they were permitted to do this, and to build up their terminal points. Mr. John B. Jervis appears to have resigned during the year, being succeeded by Mr. James Archbold as superintendent of mines and railways, and Mr. Russell T. Lord being appointed general superintendent of the canal. On March 23, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania authorized an agreement to be made releasing the company from building a river lock in their dam across the Delaware, until required by the Commonwealth to do so. In return for this, the company agreed to connect their canal with the Delaware canal system of Pennsylvania, when required. This agreement was duly executed. The New York Legislature, by chapter 242, appointed the Manhattan Company of New York as transfer agent for State stock, thus making it marketable. Business was systematically commenced and 43,000 tons of a superior quality of coal were shipped to market.

In 1831 the railway transported 54,328 tons from March 20 to November 5, without interruption. The canal was open from May 1 to December 1. 52,578 tons left Honesdale; 1,000 tons were caught en route by closing ice; the balance reached tide-water. The canal tolls for the year were $19,394.05; the railway tolls were $1,160.59. The total sales of coal, including reserve supply, were over 70,000 tons, a clear profit of $34,000 being shown.

On March 23, 1831, a special meeting of the stockholders authorized the company to borrow, on the pledge of the company’s credit and property, a sufficient sum to pay its remaining indebtedness. The company’s credit was in a depressed state and terms were unfavorable, but finally a seven-year loan of $300,000 at six per cent was placed. This was at once applied to the payment of their indebtedness, but it was found that there were still $75,000 of debts outstanding. A supply of 18,000 tons being still on hand at tide-water and the business being so prosperous for the year, the company was enabled to take care of most of these claims. Agents were sent out to all manufacturing establishments to obtain a trial of hard coal and to point out the best method of using it.

The balance sheet for this year exhibits some interesting entries:


Amount of capital stock paid in


New York 5 per cent loan


New York 4 ½ per cent loan


Six per cent loan


Temporary loan


Amount charged to New York section of canal


Amount charged to Pennsylvania section of canal


Amount charged to railroad in Pennsylvania


Due on canal boats, to be paid in coal freights in 1832


Packet boats


Steamboats and barges



Tons of merchandise transported in 1831, 11,872.

Ninety thousand tons of coal and three million feet of lumber were sent down over the railway in 1832. The amount of business was claimed to be greater than that of any other railway in the United States for the period. Carbondale and Honesdale, five years before nothing but pine forests, now contained 2,000 and 1,200 inhabitants, respectively. Being scarce in New York during the previous winter, anthracite coal had brought from twelve to seventeen dollars per ton. In midsummer an epidemic of cholera proved a serious drawback, but the company was compelled to build additional boats on the western canal, getting them to Rondout late in the season. Locks were operated day and night, and premiums were offered for quick trips. Mining was continued throughout the ensuing winter in order to increase the next year’s output, and dividends cheered the hearts of the stockholders at Christmas time.

A general business depression of the country, which extended over most of the seasons of 1833 and 1834, greatly embarrassed the company’s operations. In anticipation of increased sales, the shipments were largely increased early in 1833 and the season closed with a record of 111,177 tons brought down. But manufacturers canceled previous orders, sales were difficult and the company was left with an enormous overstock. This compelled restricted mining in 1834, only 43,700 tons being forwarded. Although the Christmas dividends were suspended, this reaction probably left the affairs of the company in a healthier condition. Incidentally, it may be noted that dividends were not again resumed until 1839.

During the next decade, the managers struggled with varying fortunes and persistent effort to place the affairs of the company on a firm financial basis. Manufacturers and users of steam power were slow to appreciate the qualities of Lackawanna anthracite for their purposes. Bitter opposition was encountered from older and better established rivals, who contested every inch of the field, endeavoring to disparage the quality of their product and to discredit their motives. The contest was carried even into the financial arena of Wall street and speculative assaults were at times made upon the capital stock of the company, which caused its owners anxiety and embarrassment. Combinations of miners, laborers, strikes and "turn-outs" began to be noticed. On two occasions the business of the season was limited by an epidemic of cholera which broke out along the line. Shipments of coal, however, steadily increased with the widening of their market. Dividends of eight per cent per annum were resumed in 1839, and with the exception of 1842, when ten per cent was divided, were maintained for many years.

In the early ’forties their output of coal was seen to be crowding their transportation facilities and improvements were planned. Engineer James Archbold, of the mines and railway, improved the latter by reducing grades, doubling tracks and substituting more stationary steam-engines in the place of horse-power, dispensing with the use of one hundred and ten horses and mules, besides men and boys to manage them. These engines, however, were soon displaced by water-power, in the interest of economy, mules and horses being still used upon the summit levels.

Improvements running through several years were made upon the canal sections – by deepening the bottom and raising the banks so as to obtain a five-foot depth of water and an increase to forty tons in the capacity of boats. Years after this, a similar plan, known as the "Seymour plan," was advocated for improving the Erie canal. The sides of boats and the walls of the locks were also raised. These improvements, extending from Honesdale to Rondout, were in charge of Engineer R. F. Lord, who had been identified with the company since about 1830.

In 1840, 148,480 tons were brought down the canal and a net profit of eleven per cent was shown on the year’s transactions. In 1844 the banking charter expired, and the company did not ask for an extension, becoming thereafter simply a canal and coal company. The powers granted by the original charter were extremely broad, authorizing an increase of capital stock by a resolution of the managers, at their discretion. Additional scrip stock appears to have been issued to meet these and other improvements and to wipe out the bank circulation. To obtain five feet and six inches of water, carrying boats of fifty tons burden, was at this time the object of the company. It was noted in 1846 that, for thirteen years, all locks on the canal had been closed on the Sabbath.

In 1848 the construction of the Erie railway and its rock-blasting operations along the Delaware interfered with the safety of boatmen; this produced much friction and legal complications ensued. Much delay had been caused by floods and ice at the river crossing above the Delaware dam at Lackawaxen. Aqueducts, suspended by wire cables, were built by Mr. Lord, which obviated this difficulty.

More radical enlargements were begun even before the completion of the others. Locks were rebuilt, ninety feet by fifteen feet, instead of seventy-six feet by nine feet. Six feet of water was to be the minimum, and in 1850 this work had so far progressed that boats averaging ninety-eight tons were the rule, and this was to be raised to one hundred and ten tons. The State loans, due in 1848 and 1850, were promptly paid without extension and the company stood free from outside indebtedness. The original privilege given to Maurice Wurts for improving the Lackawaxen being about to expire, negotiations were begun and finally in 1852, after extended controversy, the Pennsylvania General Assembly released its claim under the "resumption clause" in perpetuity to the company. Maurice Wurts, conceded to be the originator of the company and the one whose name had been associated with its interests since its earliest inception, died in 1854.

The company’s profits were now enormous, ranging from ten to twenty-four per cent net, per annum, on its already doubled capital. In 1847 part of its canal capacity had been leased to the Pennsylvania Coal Company, the tolls from whose boats, in addition to its own, swelled its coffers. By 1858 the railway was extended down the valley of the Lackawanna six or seven miles to other coal mines in Blakesly, and a $300,000, seven-per cent, five-year bond-issue was made to meet the expenses. The whole funded debt was now $900,000 and the capital stock was $7,500,000. In 1864, the capital stock appears to have been raised to $10,000,000 and on this amount the next year’s statement showed thirty-one per cent net earnings.

Ten years later a corresponding advancement in the affairs of the company was shown. Other coal properties were developed and leases and connections established. Its markets and its business were extended and it was sending coal down the Susquehanna to Baltimore. Five millions more had been added to its capital and it was authorized by law to construct telegraph lines along its property. By a contract with the Erie company to build a connecting link of railway from Susquehanna, Pa., to Nineveh, N.Y., the markets of Rochester and Buffalo were opened to its products and delivery was also made at its Weehawken docks during the winter months

The gravity railroad from Carbondale to Olyphant was to give way to a modern, double-track locomotive-railway and a lease in perpetuity, obtained of the Albany and Susquehanna railroad, gave it an opening to the North and East. This was followed by the absorption of the Rensselaer and Saratoga railroad under lease and by the building of a new line to Canada on the west side of Lake Champlain, opening still more extended markets to the North. And still the average annual net earnings appear to have been in the neighborhood of ten per cent on the entire capital.

In 1904 its mileage operated was said to be eight hundred and forty-three; its coal tonnage 9,515,347, or 53.97 per cent of its total tonnage; its net earnings (excluding taxes) $6,214,672; its dividends, at seven per cent, $2,756,162. The total shipments of anthracite coal in that year were 57,492,522 tons, and 9.6 per cent of this amount was allotted to the Delaware and Hudson Company.

It is not within the province of this article to trace the modern history of this remarkably successful enterprise as a railway organization, whose extended markets, enormous resources and complicated interests now completely overshadow the modest requirements and facilities of its original line of transportation over the mountains to Rondout on the Hudson. The Delaware and Hudson canal, physically considered, has served its wise purpose in the economy of human progress. The slender thread of its stream, which in other days bore riches to those who by wisdom, integrity and shrewd business management upheld its growing fortunes, peopled its valleys, planted cities and towns in place of forests and scattered with lavish hand the blessings of civilization and commerce along its entire line, has given way to the inevitable, and the black diamonds of the Lackawanna now reach the markets of the world by other means and through other channels. Suffice it to say that in 1899 its corporate name was shortened to "The Delaware and Hudson Company" by a legislative enactment which allowed the company to abandon its waterway, saying, "whenever it shall appear to the managers that they can fulfill the purpose of mining and bringing to market stone coal more economically by railroad than by canal, they may do so, and they may also lease, sell, discontinue to use or maintain said canal or any parts thereof," by restoring highway crossings and feeder streams to their natural courses. Soon after the passage of this act the entire bed of the canal was sold to private parties, later passing into the hands of, other railway corporations. Portions of its bed, locks and other works are now occupied by railway lines and structures. Here and there an undemolished lock wall, or a section of its abandoned prism, are the only physical vestiges of that once famous waterway, which was built to open the markets of New York to the coal beds of northeastern Pennsylvania.






Original scan and html prepared by students at the University of Rochester. Additional corrections, illustrations and maps, and footnotes added (as endnotes) by Bill Carr, last updated 10/15/00.

Please provide me with any feedback you may have concerning errors in the transcription or any supplementary information concerning the contents. wcarr1@nycap.rr.com