Chapter XVIII.

Delaware and Hudson Canal.

   Our country owes this great work to the farseeing intelligence of William and Maurice Wurts---gentlemen who were at first deemed fit subjects for an insane asylum, because they labored to convince the public that anthracite coal would become an article of necessity.
   As early as 1812, William Wurts, who was then a young merchant of Philadelphia, commenced exploring the coal-beds of Luzerne county. With compass and pickax, he attempted to trace the coal up the Lackawanna valley, and from thence to the Delaware river; but as he approached the latter, he encountered the sand-rocks which underlie the coal-measures, rocks in which no valuable seam of coal can be found. He abandoned his search for this valuable mineral in the immediate vicinity of the Delaware; but did not resign his project of making that river a highway for transporting coal to the seaboard. He examined the eastern gaps of the Moosic mountains to find a practicable route to the head-waters of the Lackawaxen, upon which he believed coal could be floated to the Delaware, and in 1814 purchased large tracts of land, one of which covered the present site of Carbondale. In the same year, he transported coal to New York and Philadelphia for exhibition, to which places it was taken by the western route.
   Eight or ten miles from his coal openings, at the opposite base of the Moosic range is a narrow, sluggish stream known as Jones' creek, a tributary of the Wallenpaupack, as the latter is of the Lackawaxen. The summer of 1815 was spent in removing obstructions from the first-named stream, and during the fall two sleigh-loads were hauled over the mountain, and placed upon a raft. After a heavy rain, when the water was high, the primitive craft was started for the Delaware. The attempt was a more decided failure than was Van Tuyl's first endeavor to navigate the Neversink. After passing down stream for about a mile the raft came in contact with a rock, and the shining freight lodged in the bed of Jones' creek.
   Mr. Wurts next hauled coal with oxen to the Wallenpaupack, twenty miles distant. It was then rafted to Wilsonville Falls, around which it was carried on wagons to the Eddy in the Lackawaxen; then re-loaded in arks, and if the latter survived the perils of the Lackawaxen and Delaware, it was taken to Philadelphia, "where nobody wanted the black stuff as all the blowing and stirring given to it did not make it burn."1 The public were not only ignorant of the utility of this kind of fuel, but the expense of getting it to market was ruinous. Consequently but little was taken over this route, and the enterprise of rafting coal on the Wallenpaupack was regarded as a failure, and Mr. Wurts as a monomaniac.
   In 1822, Maurice Wurts became interested with his brother William, and the two proceeded to Carbondale, with a number of workmen, where they camped in the woods, and slept on hemlock-boughs, transporting their provisions for miles on horseback. Here, at great expense, they mined about eight hundred tons of coal, which they intended to haul to the Lackawaxen during the ensuing winter. They determined to substitute pine-rafts in the place of the more frail arks, and believed that the sale of the timber and coal together would yield a handsome profit. But the finest schemes of man are often thwarted by unexpected contingencies. The ensuing winter was unusually mild; there was but little snow; instead of taking eight hundred tons of coal to the Lackawaxen on sleighs, they were able to haul one hundred; coal was worth from ten to twelve dollars per ton in Philadelphia when they commenced mining at Carbondale; but the quantity sent from the more accessible Lehigh region reduced the price so that there was no margin for profit to the Messrs. Wurts, at least while they transported coal over mountains on sleighs, and down wild rivers on rafts.
   Intellectual dwarfs shrink and wither in peril, while the giant mind acquires magnitude in proportion to the dangers which arise and threaten disaster. Without competition and with fair profits on the fuel and the lumber they sent to market, William and Maurice Wurts probably would have continued the coal business on a small scale, and been contented with their primitive mode of transportation, and their limited revenue from the business. At that time, in a single year, six thousand tons of anthracite glutted the markets of all the cities of the Atlantic coast of the United States. Maurice Wurts, knowing this fact, proposed to send to the city of New York alone one hundred thousand tons annually, and to provide a way to do so, broached the project of scaling the Moosic mountain with a railroad, and constructing a long canal through a rugged and almost unexplored country, from the interior of Wayne county, Pennsylvania, to the Hudson! It is not surprising that the boldness of the proposition caused many who could see but the necessities of the hour to regard Maurice Wurts as wild and visionary, if not absolutely insane.
   William Wurts, who readily adopted the views of his brother, undertook to explore a route for the canal, and followed the valley of the Lackawaxen and Delaware until he reached the Shawangunk. Thus far there was no obstacle which was a bar to the project; but here he met a rocky barrier which seemed too formidable for a communication by water to the point which he wished to reach in the vicinity of the Highlands of the Hudson. In this emergency, he was advised by Abraham Cuddeback, of Cuddebackville, to explore the valley west of the mountain.2 Here he found an abundance of water and everything else favorable except public opinion. The entire route was feasible. When this was ascertained, the brothers determined to devote all their energies to the consummation of their enterprise.3 Through their efforts, the Legislatures of Pennsylvania and New York enacted necessary laws. Residents on the route were then asked to contribute toward the preliminary survey, but very generally declined to do so. The Messrs. Wurts then employed Benjamin Wright, who was considered the best engineer of the country, to locate the canal and road, and make an estimate of the cost of the work.
   Mr. Wright made his report in 1824. He pronounced the improvement practicable, and estimated the expense at $1,300,000, a sum so large that its realization seemed almost hopeless, especially as capitalists looked upon the project as a chimera worthy of hobby-riders and hot-brained enthusiasts. After this report, a greater number of their friends expressed grave doubts as to the sanity of William and Maurice Wurts, and the latter were obliged to decide whether they would abandon the enterprise, and be classed among visionary schemers, or vindicate the wisdom of its conception by securing its completion and demonstrating its utility. They knew, from the experience of communities older than our own, that a period was approaching when our forests could not be relied upon for a supply of fuel for dense centres of population, and that even then true economy proved that anthracite should be substituted for wood. Public opinion was against them; but the minds of the ignorant and prejudiced were enlightened by these energetic and enterprising brothers, who erected, in New York and Philadelphia, stoves and grates suitable for burning Lackawanna coal, and thus established the fact that it was cheaper, more convenient and every way preferable to wood and charcoal. The press, then influential because not sensational, was enlisted in their favor, and rapidly the mountain of prejudice, more formidable than the Moosic range, was removed. There was a favorable change in public sentiment. The plans of the brothers were matured. They proposed that a company should be formed with a capital of $1,500,000; that the company should surmount the Moosic by the way of Rix' Gap (800 feet in height) by means of inclined planes; that their railway should extend to the nearest point at which a sufficient supply of water could be commanded for canal navigation; that they should mine, carry to market and sell their own coal; that they should embark in the business of banking; and that they should engage in real estate speculations at points on their canal where land was certain to appreciate in value. A wise economy permeated every part of their undertaking.
   Books of subscription were opened in New York, and every share of the capital-stock taken. The brothers were no longer half crazy adventurers--the sport of shallow-brained wits--but the acknowledged heads of a powerful organization, with means to test fully and fairly the merits of their project.
   The canal and railroad were commenced in 1826 and completed in 1828.4 On the 3d of December of the latter year, a fleet of six canal boats, laden with one hundred and twenty tons of coal, (the first from the head of the canal,) passed through Mamakating Hollow (now Wurtsborough), on their way to the Hudson. The ancient Dutch residents, and the more recent Yankee importations, turned out with their families to witness the cheering spectacle. The sleep of ages was broken by the roaring of cannon and the lusty cheers of the people. The canal was considered a great public blessing---quite equal to anything in the history of the country, not excepting even the birth of the nation; for we find the good people of the valley on the ensuing Fourth of July engaged in celebrating "American Independence and the canal," on which occasion Colonel Jacob Gumaer officiated as Marshal; Eli Bennett, as Reader; John Dorrance, as President, and Lyman Odell as Orator.5
   Said Mr. Odell, "The genius of free government is peculiarly adapted, no less to public than social improvement. Already have our citizens caught the enrapturing flame, and accomplished more in the great field of public enterprise, than centuries have been able to produce under the despotism of foreign power. * * * * Suffer me to roll back the tide of time for a few short years, and contrast the past with the present condition of this county. Then the towering summits of the Shawangunk mountain, piled up in massive sublimity as if to hold converse with the clouds, stretched an almost impassable barrier along her borders, and seemed to laugh in sullen silence upon every attempt of her citizens to communicate with the rest of the world by toiling over its rocky surface. Then the wealthy feared and the enterprising shrank back from the privations and seclusions of this familiarly denominated wooden country. At length the scene is changed. A faint lay of light begins to illuminate her dusky horizon; and the great project is conceived of mingling the waters of the Delaware and Hudson together through the medium of an artificial channel! Heaven fired the breasts of a few public-spirited individuals with a fortitude which no obstacle could shake, and having ascertained the feasibility of the project, and made the necessary arrangements, the first decisive blow was struck! But four years have elapsed, and while timidity has faltered at the hazardous undertaking, and incredulity has pointed the finger of derision at the 'wild and visionary project,' the work has been steadily prosecuted, with a rapidity which outstrips all former example, to a successful completion!! The gloomy silence which heretofore reigned along the base of these mountains is broken by the busy din of commercial enterprise; and our daily avocations are cheered with the shrill music of the bugle, announcing the arrival and departure of boats laden with the produce and the wealth of this hitherto wild and neglected region. No longer is Sullivan shut out from the free and easy communication with her sister counties; and the spell of the Mountain God which has so long locked up her resources is 'shorn of its influence' forever!"
   At first the canal was intended for boats of thirty tons burthen; subsequently its capacity was so enlarged as to admit vessels of fifty tons, and finally improved so as to pass boats of one hundred and thirty.
   The first locomotive engine in America was imported from England and used on the road of this company at Honesdale. It was intended to be employed in the place of horse-power on the level east of the Moosic. The hemlock trestling over the Lackawaxen was considered too frail for the great weight of the engine, and almost every one predicted that the strange machine, with the bridge and the engineer, would be precipitated into the river at the first attempt to cross. Major Horatio AIlen was the only one who dared to pass over the structure with the iron steed, and his passage was witnessed by a multitude of spectators, who were happily disappointed; for he crossed in safety, and triumphantly disappeared in the narrow vista which was then bounded on either side by laurels and hemlocks. The road, as originally made, however, was found too weak for this engine," although sufficient for horse-cars, and the pioneer locomotive of the western world was thrown from the track, and for many years was a broken rusty wreck, "unhonored and unsung."6 It is somewhat singular that Barnum did not gather the interesting relics and degrade them by placing them among such curiosities as the Woolly Horse, Joice Heth, and the "Happy Family" of morphinized birds and beasts.
   With the completion of the canal, the Messrs. Wurts hoped that their toils and anxieties would terminate; but their hopes were baseless. Years of labor--such labor as they alone could furnish--were yet necessary to place the work beyond the possibility of failure. Disaster threatened it, and on its success depended not only their fortunes, but what is dearer to such men, their good name.
   The embarassments of the company arose from several causes. 1. Their engineer had greatly under-estimated the cost of the improvement. A heavy indebtedness was the result. The Directors had borrowed of the State of New York the large sum of $300,000. 2. There was at first but a limited demand for coal, and much competition on the part of rival organizations. 3. The small quantity of coal taken to New York in 1828 and 1829, was surface-coal which had been exposed to deteriorating agencies for many centuries, and was quite worthless. This furnished plausible grounds for the slanders of enemies, who asserted that the fuel from the Lackawauna valley was valueless, and that if it were otherwise, the canal and railroad were so illy constructed and perishable in character, that they were incapable of passing a sufficient amount of tonnage to pay interest on their cost. 4. The absurd cry of monopoly was also raised to prejudice the ignorant and superficial against the company.7 5. No dividends were paid, and stock which had cost the holder $100, was a drug in the market at from $60 to $70. 6. Legislative bodies were invoked to crush the company by hostile action.
   Maurice Wurts, who had resigned the position of Superintendent in 1828, resumed that office, and his brother, John Wurts, then a prominent Representative in Congress and a member of the Philadelphia bar, assumed the presidency. These gentlemen devoted the remainder of their lives to the company's interests, and the proud position it has attained is principally due to their anxious care, laborious industry and practical good sense. Under their management the debts of the company were honorably paid, its capacity increased fourfold, and its good name placed on an enduring foundation. The stock of the company, once worth but sixty cents per dollar, ran up to one hundred and forty, and instead of carrying one hundred thousand tons of coal to market per annum, they lived to announce that the number considerably exceeded one million!8 The capital-stock of the corporation is no longer limited to $1,500,000; but has been raised to $7,000,000, and even now its affairs are exempt from the spirit of peculation and fraud which, vampire-like, is draining the life-blood of too many communities and incorporations. The latter fact is due to the policy established by the Messrs. Wurts, to employ no subordinates except men of well-attested honesty, sobriety and capacity, to pay them liberally but not extravagantly, and to employ them during good behavior.
   How ecstatic and extravagant would have been the sentences of Lyman Odell, the Wurtsborough orator of 18 29, if he could have foreseen the time when vessels larger than the sloops of his day, would be constantly gliding back and forth through the valley of Mamakating, and that the aggregate tonnage of the canal would amount every year to many millions of dollars in value!
   The effect of cheap and easy transportation on localities is important. Notwithstanding good roads were opened to and through the county previous to 1830, the increase of population was but 6,256 during the preceding twenty years. From 1830 to 1850, the increase was 12,728. The wealth of Sullivan advanced in a greater ratio in the latter period. Three years after the canal was constructed, John Eldridge, Rufus Palen and one or two other large tanners commenced operations here, and they were followed by other men of their calling as the bark of Greene, Schoharie and Ulster was exhausted, until this county was considered the most important sole-leather manufacturing-district in the world. Without the canal, this interest would not have been developed previous to 1850.
   But the benefit of this canal to Sullivan is a mere bagatelle when compared with its benign influence on the coal-region of Pennsylvania, on New York and other cities, and on the country at large. Its success led to other works for a similar purpose, which now minister to the comforts of the poor, and add to the wealth of the rich. Destroy the coal-fields of the Lackawanna, and the public improvements which have been made to convey the carbonaceous deposit to those who consume it, and you will bring upon an immense number of the human family an evil not exceeded by famine and pestilence. From such a contingency only could we learn truly to estimate the benefits conferred by William and Maurice Wurts, whose memory should be honored by all good men.
1 - Hollister's Lackawanna Valley.
2 - Hollister's Lackawanna Valley.
3 - Eager says Maurice Wurts traversed Orange county in search of a practicable route for the canal to Newburgh; but he found the Shawangunk an insurmountable obstacle. Abraham Cuddeback led him to examine the valley leading to Kingston, whene a good route was found. Hollister, who gives a better account of the lahors of the Messrs. Wurts, declares that William made the exploration.
4 - In some places on the summit-level, the bottom of the canal was made of coarse gravel, and in a few hours all the water that could be commanded leaked through and disappeared.
5 - Watchman, July, 1826.
6 - Hollister's Lackawanna Valley.
7 - Hollister's Lackawanna Valley.
8 - In 1870, the principal companies engaged in mining and transporting anthracite reported that they brought to market 14,448,958 tons, of which the

Reading Railroad Company delivered3,668,371
Scimykill Canal,502,812
Lehigh Valley Railroad,3,515,481
Lehigh Navigation and Railroad,l,713,208
Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad,2,247,689
Delaware and Hudson Canal,1,752,099
Pennsylvania Coal Company,l,044,298

The total amount of anthracite. bituminous and semi-bituminous coal taken to market in the United States, during; the year, exceeded 17,000,000 tons!

Please note the numbers in the table do not add up to the tons listed as the copy from which I am working does not have clear figures for all these amounts. - Tim Stowell

Copied Exactly as Printed by
Tim Stowell

If you have any suggestions, please e-mail
webmaster Tim.

Saturday, 26-May-2018 20:01:45 PDT

Thanks for Stopping By!

Home       Source data       Submitted Info       Military       Geographic data

Volunteer / Subm Page       Query front end       NYGenWeb page