Saturday, January 10, 2009

175 Years & Counting: Delaware & Raritan Canal, 1834 -2009

On June 25, 1834 the Delaware and Raritan Canal was officially opened for public use. After a journey of several days that began in Bordentown, Governor Peter Vroom and entourage arrived via mule-drawn canal boat in New Brunswick to a 24-gun salute and parade. The group enjoyed a grand dinner that evening to celebrate the opening of this highly anticipated modern transportation system. It was expected that the new waterway would be a boon to the state's economy by providing new business, commerce and transportation opportunities. In April of 1834, a few months prior to the June ceremony, the Hunterdon Democrat published these enthusiastic words regarding the nearly completed D & R Canal:

Those who are partial to this mode of traveling cannot fail to be pleased with this route. The scenery from Lambertville to Trenton is striking and beautiful with a fine view of the Delaware River, and passing through a fertile and well-improved region of country. The appearance of the whole country through which the Feeder runs is truly imposing, and a great part of it romantic and beautiful. The whole of this magnif- icent work will soon be completed; its enterprising and liberal advocates will be remembered with pride by Jerseymen, especially those who were mainly instrumental in its accomplishments will stand conspicuous, and will be ever regarded as benefactors in their country.

Clearly, 19th century New Jerseyans appreciated the visionaries responsible for the canal project and welcomed this newaddition to their state. Then, as now, the D & R Canal was valued. Today of course the D & R is no longer a working transportation canal. Instead it has successfully transitioned to become a beloved park, recreation destination, water supply and historic site. To the 21st-century visitor and regular park user, it is no less appreciated. Our yearly visitation numbers stand as a testament to the canal’s continued favor as the D & R Canal State Park is among the state's most heavily used parks.

This year will mark a Delaware and Raritan Canal milestone. It will be the 175th anniversary of the waterway's opening! A celebration of that landmark is in order. A committee has been formed and its members are currently busy planning a year-long canal commemoration the details of which can be followed throughout the year on the park website. While opportunities to learn about the waterway’s history and contribution to the state will be offered, it is the committee’s goal to showcase everything the D & R Canal State Park has to offer. Visitors will have a plethora of programming options and events from which to choose from hiking, biking, boating, birding and horseback riding to guided history and nature walks, art/photography shows, lectures, family picnics, camping/outdoor equipment expo and concerts.

To start the year off, the Delaware River Mill Society will host “175 Year Celebration of the D & R Canal Art Show” from January 19th to the 31st. The show will be open to the public daily from 12:00 - 4:00 pm. This artistic look at the canal will be mounted in the historic Prallsville Mills in Stockton and will feature contemporary artist's impressions and renderings of the waterway today. The show will include paintings, drawings, photographs and three dimensional work inspired by the historic sites and natures beauty along the feeder and main-stem canal. For those who want to showcase their D & R artwork or photography should contact the Delaware River Mill Society at (609) 397-3586 for full submission details.

In addition to this kickoff art show and the usual programming offerings, there will be several unique happenings offered during the course of the year. In the spring park users will have an opportunity to show their support of the canal by taking part in an ambitious task - Hands Along the Canal. This bold undertaking will attempt to line thousands of hand-holding park users along the historic towpath from Landing Lane to Trenton’s Cadwalader Park. Sponsored by the East Coast Greenway, Hands Along the Canal is scheduled to take place at 10:00 am on Saturday, May 9th. Those of you who love and use the D & R should make sure to mark your calendars, pick a favored location and plan to be a part of this historic show of support for the park. Keep checking for updates and event details.

Also in May canal aficionados, park users and all others will have an opportunity to meet the authors who have been inspired to research and write about the canal era and the D & R. The Canal Authors Extravaganza will be held on Saturday, May 16th in Griggstown from 12:00 to 3:00 pm (exact location still to be determined). This will be a chance to meet and speak with eleven canal authors including William McKelvey, Paul Muldoon (Pulitzer Prize winning poet), Richard Veit, Marie Murphy Duess, Linda Barth, Jeanette Muser and others. Lee Sullivan Hill and Linda Barth will read excerpts from the children’s books, the Riverside Band will be on hand to provide their brand of bluegrass inspired music and attendees will have the opportunity to view several videos about the D & R including the NJN production produced by Cliff Crawford. So get those canal books off their shelves and plan to get them autographed in person!

These are but a few of the programs and special events that are planned for this milestone year so make sure to keep checking the park website for additions and updates throughout the year. This extended programming calendar and special events could not be accomplished without the assistance of the many friends groups and organizations that dedicate themselves to the
preservation and support of the D & R Canal State Park. Our staff is (as always) happy and grateful for their continued commitment and support!

We look forward to an active and exciting year as we mark the canal’s 175th anniversary. We encourage everyone to help us celebrate. Come show your support for this treasured New Jersey historic site and surviving icon of the canal era!

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