Yacht Club Site of Clambake and Canal Program

An audience that spilled out onto the elegant verandas of the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club on Thursday, June 7, heard Joe Macasek, president of the Canal Society of New Jersey, tell stories about the historic Morris Canal. A clambake preceded the talk to a full house of area residents.

Macasek said the 102-mile canal was one of many built in the early 19th century to transport coal for the budding Industrial Revolution. Anthracite was “inconveniently located” in the mountains of Pennsylvania, Macasek said. The coal had to make it to Jersey City and New York harbor.

George Macculloch got the idea to build a canal, which was amazing considering that the elevation change over the distance is 1,167 feet. The problem was solved with 23 lift locks and 23 inclined planes. Lake Hopatcong is the highest point on the canal.

The canal as the major transportation corridor across the state was supplanted by the railroad in the 20th century, but sections of the canal remain. About 47 miles along the former canal and towpath are being repurposed as the Morris Canal Greenway. Lengths of the waterway in Lincoln Park, Montville, Denville, Rockaway, Wharton, Ledgewood, Landing, and Mount Olive are open or soon will be, Macasek reported.

One of the few sections of the canal still full of water is a stretch about half a mile long at Hugh Force Park in Wharton. A project of Wharton Borough is excavating and restoring Lock 2 East with working gates. “If they can keep water in, they will have a working lock,” noted Macasek. He said they would also like to rebuild the lock tender’s house.

Macasek had what he called a “boat story” to tell. After Hurricane Sandy, he got a call from someone in Highlands. When a house was being lifted to be above any future storm surge, it proved to be resting on the front half of a Morris Canal hinged boat.

Some research turned up a tale about a man with a clam business buying a canal boat when the waterway was abandoned. According to the story, he dug a slip and used the boat until a storm in 1934 changed the coastline and marooned the boat, the dock, and the clam business. Undeterred, the former clammer built a house over the boat.

The boat was in surprisingly good condition, so the current owner donated it to the Canal Society when the house was raised. Because the property is so narrow, the Canal Society could not get the boat out in one piece. They kept the bow together, but took some of the boat apart, carting it across the beach and down the streets of Highlands with a forklift. The forklift got it onto a flatbed and it was then transported to Waterloo Village. Once at the storage barn, the movers realized they could not slant the heavy bow to get it through the door, so it was cut it in half.

Macasek said that Earle Post of the Jersey Hills Woodcarvers (and a former Jefferson High School science teacher) is building a full-size rudder for the canal boat.

He also talked about the acquisition of a collection of more than 200 Morris Canal documents. One grants access to the Morris Canal and Banking Company between a bridge and docks on the Delaware River in Phillipsburg. A number are from the end of the canal’s useful years, including one that indicates many documents were destroyed when the former supervisor’s house in Phillipsburg, which had been leased to the state geologist, was sold for scrap. Fortunately, Macasek noted, many documents are in the state archives.

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