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Morris Canal in Jersey City

Little Basin of the Morris Canal circa 1900
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
Little Basin of the Morris Canal at Paulus Hook
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2002

Artists rendering of a scene along the old Morris Canal in Jersey City. Formerly on display in the Provident Bank's Greenville Branch.
Photo: C. Karnoutsos, 2005

In 1836 the extension of the Morris Canal into Jersey City at Little Basin from Newark was completed, making it the eastern terminus of the canal. It linked Jersey City with the anthracite coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania for "black gold" on flat-bottomed boats to arrive at the city and promote industrial development.

The decision for the extension served both canaltrade and manufacturing. Jersey City had a prime location on the Hudson River with available ferry service to carry coal across to New York City. Jersey City benefited from the warehouse and freight yard industry required for the transshipment of goods across the river. The Irish immigrants in the city worked on the docks, many as day laborers for very little money.

Postcard view of the Morris Canal circa 1910.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
Postcard view of the Morris Canal bridge connecting Jersey City and Bayonne circa 1910.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

The Morris Canal was designed by Morristown engineer George P. MacCulloch. It originally extended ninety miles from Phillipsburg on the Delaware River to Newark when it was first completed in 1831. It was then brought into Jersey City from a ravine at Newark Bay, near present day Route 440, cut between Mercer Park and Currie's Woods and went on to New York Bay at 52nd Street, Bayonne for a total of over 109 miles.

In Jersey City, a dry channel, forty feet wide, was dug from the Hackensack River to the Canal, or Little Basin, in the city. Lock gates at the end of the canal allowed water to pass through the canal with the assistance of a pumping station near the Hackensack River. Barges ". . . passed under the Bergen Road bridge and across Bergen Neck [Bayonne] almost to New York Bay. There it rounded a very sharp bend known as 'Fiddler's Elbow' and headed northward for the [Morris] Basin in Jersey City" (Robinson, n.p.).

Map of Greenville Grove circa 1860
The route of the Morris Canal along the southern waterfront of Greenville can be traced on the left
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
Detail from the 1850 Dripps Map of Jersey City.
The eastern terminus of the Morris Canal Basin can be seen on the left where the little basin opens onto the Hudson River and New York Bay
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
The area surrounding the old Morris Canal basin in Paulus Hook has been incorporated into Liberty State Park.
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2002

With the development of the railroads in the northeast, the use of the Morris Canal declined. It reached its peak after the Civil War, carrying 900,000 tons of coal. The canal route that took delivery time of five days was overtaken by the shortened railroad time of only eight hours. The Jersey City extension of the canal on the Hudson River waterfront remained the only viable part of the canal after 1871. That year the Lehigh Valley Railroad leased the Morris Canal to eliminate competition. In 1922, New Jersey took over the canal, except in Philipsburg and Jersey City, and drained it in 1924.

Today, the Morris Canal Greenway Plan, sponsored by the City of Jersey City, is coordinating efforts to develop a recreational pathway for pedestrians and bicyclists along the former route of the old Morris Canal.

References:

Robinson, Walter F. Bayonne Centennial Historical Review, 1861-1961. Bayonne, NJ: Progress Printing Co., 1961.
Rice, Ronald L., (Map Archivist of the Canal Society of New Jersey)."The Morris Canal in Jersey City." http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Rapids/4854/walk.htm
Veit, Richard. Digging New Jersey's Past: Historical Archaeology in the Garden State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub