SCHS-20100604-0007The D & H Canal: An Engineering and Entrepreneurial Challenge

Excerpted from D&H Canal Historical Society Website.

Pictures: Taken from the SCHS Archives

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 continuously operating transportation company.

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