A two-state riparian hike along the Delaware River

Bull's Island State Park - NJ Travel Blog

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The feeder for the D&R Canal

After last week's "extremely relaxed" hike, which turned out to be an extremely intense hike, I undertook another effort to make a relaxed outing today. I had learnt my lesson to not select a trail that may go up and down. So I planned something that, in my opinion, could not go wrong: a hike over a path that used to be a railroad alongside a canal. A trail with a lot of history and in a nice environment, since the canal flows parallel to the beautiful Delaware River.

The Delaware & Raritan Canal is/was a 71-km (44-mile) long canal that connected the cities of Trenton and New Brunswick. In order to provide the D&R with water, a feeder canal of 35 kilometers (22 miles) was constructed, which routed water from the Delaware River into the highest section of the main Canal.

Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Both the feeder as the main canal were used to transport all kind of goods like Pennsylvania coal. After its construction, from 1830-1834, the D&R Canal was a huge boost for its terminal cities which quadrupled in size because of the canal. In the peak years the D&R Canal transported more tons of goods than its much more famous colleague the Erie Canal in New York, which was designed by the same architect.

Despite its success, times changed. In 1893 the canal started operating with a loss which would never turn into a profit anymore. Operations were finally ceased in 1932. Unlike other canals, water remained flowing through the D&R canal because it was turned into a water source. Up till today the canal is still used for transportation of water. Besides that, the canal was placed on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the many bridges of the former Delaware - Belvidere Railroad, the D&R Canal, and the Delaware River
In 1974 the state of New Jersey turned the whole area along the canal into a state park: the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park.

One of the reasons the canal became unprofitable was the growing importance of railroads. Ironically a railroad was constructed along the canal shores after its boating services ceased. The Belvidere Delaware Railroad, a railroad connecting Trenton to Philipsburg and Belvidere. Constructed in 1836 it was much faster than the canal boats and could carry more. But, the railroad did not have an eternal life either. The last train on the Trenton-Philipsburg track operated in November 1978. Starting in 1979, the abandoned tracks were removed as ordered by the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park.

Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
This removal has currently been executed as far as Milford NJ. The rest of the abandoned tracks, further north, are still there. Only the most northern section is still in use as a tourist track

On the section where the track was removed the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park has constructed a perfect light gravel trail. Good for hikers and bikers. This almost horizontal trail goes through shaded woods, crosses old railroad bridges that bridge brooks that feed into the Delaware River. Very relaxed and nice!

At the village of Stockton the trail passes by the Prallsville Mills, a series of historic water-powered saw and grist mills.

The flat and well prepared trail made my hike relaxed indeed. Once in a while I had nice views on the old canal and the Delaware River.

The Pennsylvania Canal, filled
After looking at the Prallsville Mills I was supposed to return the same way as I came. I decided to continue a bit into the village of Stockton NJ where I used the Centre Bridge to walk across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

At the Pennsylvanian shore of the Delaware River there was yet another canal, the Pennsylvania Canal (also called the Delaware Canal). It was built at almost the same time as the D&R Canal and decommissioned one year earlier (1931). In 1933 the canal was handed over to the state and was left untouched. In 1940 it became, like D&R, part of a state park. Its towpath became accessible again and the canal was refilled with water. In the 50s however the state started making plans to pave over the canal and even construct roads.

The Lumberville – Raven Rock Bridge, seen from the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River
Fortunately that was prevented and, again like the D&R, the Pennsylvania Canal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It even became a National Historic Landmark. The canal is currently dry on many places, many of its locks are still in place, but some are heavily damaged by floods. Plans exist to have the whole canal be watered again some day.

I walked the tow path, which was perfectly walkable but in a less good condition compared to the New Jersey side. (Again as a result from flooding). At some parts the canal was filled, at some parts it was nothing more than a grass-filled trench, or a muddy something in between.

Near Bull's Island I arrived in the village of Lumberville. There used to be a wooden covered bridge here, the Lumberville – Raven Rock Bridge.

An old lock for the Pennsylvania Canal near Lumberville, PA
It opened in 1856, in 1903 a flood washed away one of the sections, which was replaced by a steel truss to be used until 1944 when the other sections were not stable enough anymore. In 1947 the bridge was converted to a 5-span (pedestrian only) suspension bridge, still supported by the original 1855 piers. It took me back to New Jersey where I briefly looked at a trail on Bull's Island and called it a day.

More pictures below. Also some historic ones!

jenniferhibbard says:
Really interesting and thorough history detailed here. It's not a part of the states I've spent a lot of time in. Sounds like a great area to hike in. From the pictures, looks wonderful.
Posted on: Aug 29, 2012
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The feeder for the D&R Canal
The feeder for the D&R Canal
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
One of the many bridges of the for…
One of the many bridges of the fo…
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
The Pennsylvania Canal, filled
The Pennsylvania Canal, filled
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Bri…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Br…
An old lock for the Pennsylvania C…
An old lock for the Pennsylvania …
On of the first miles of the feede…
On of the first miles of the feed…
The feeder for the D&R Canal and r…
The feeder for the D&R Canal and …
The feeder for the D&R Canal and r…
The feeder for the D&R Canal and …
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
Prallsville Mills at Stockton, NJ
This used to be a RR-Xing for the …
This used to be a RR-Xing for the…
As stream enters the D&R Canal at …
As stream enters the D&R Canal at…
As stream enters the D&R Canal at …
As stream enters the D&R Canal at…
An in memoriam for the Delaware - …
An in memoriam for the Delaware -…
Centre Bridge at Stockton, NJ seen…
Centre Bridge at Stockton, NJ see…
Centre Bridge at Stockton, NJ seen…
Centre Bridge at Stockton, NJ see…
The Pennsylvania Canal, drained
The Pennsylvania Canal, drained
The only other hikers I saw on the…
The only other hikers I saw on th…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Bri…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Br…
Lumberville, PA
Lumberville, PA
Lumberville, PA
Lumberville, PA
An old lock for the Pennsylvania C…
An old lock for the Pennsylvania …
The Delaware River as seen from th…
The Delaware River as seen from t…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Bri…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Br…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Bri…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Br…
Entering the Lumberville – Raven…
Entering the Lumberville – Rave…
Entrance to the Lumberville – Ra…
Entrance to the Lumberville – R…
One of the piers of the Lumbervill…
One of the piers of the Lumbervil…
View ofer the Delaware River from …
View ofer the Delaware River from…
GPS profile for my hike (rendered …
GPS profile for my hike (rendered…
Pennsylvania Canal in 1914 just no…
Pennsylvania Canal in 1914 just n…
An impression of what the D&R Cana…
An impression of what the D&R Can…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Bri…
The Lumberville – Raven Rock Br…
Pennsylvania Canal and the lock at…
Pennsylvania Canal and the lock a…
Bull's Island State Park - NJ
photo by: mdalamers