A hundred and fifty years ago, the Morris Canal was the ‘superhighway’ for freight across the state of New Jersey – mainly anthracite coal shipped from the mines in Pennsylvania to the iron forges in North Jersey. Before the canal, the Iron Forges were floundering because they were running out of fuel. They used charcoal made from trees from local forests. It took 1,000 acres of trees to power one iron forge. (If you had to choose between cutting a thousand acres of trees, and polluting the air by burning anthracite coal, which would you chose? Oh, wait… you don’t get to choose, there are no trees left.)
It took five days to get a load of cargo from Phillipsburg to Jersey City at the speed of two mules towing a boat usually guided by the boat captain’s son.
I wonder what it would have been like to live on a canal boat with your family in a space not much bigger than one of those SUVs people drive today. You would buy supplies along the way, and cook your meals on a small coal stove. Every night, you would tie up the boat and board your mules in a stable. When the canal closed in the Winter, you would look for temporary housing and temporary work until the canal reopened in the Spring.
That leads me to my favorites place in Baristaville – the remaining towpath of the Morris Canal near Wright’s Field – between Newark Avenue passing under the Berkeley Ave Bridge to the eastern boundary of Bloomfield at the eastern end of Wright’s Field. (Technically, it isn’t the ‘towpath,’ it incorporates what used to be the canal towpath and the filled-in canal. And, technically, it is ‘Wright Field,’ but everybody calls it ‘Wright’s Field’ or ‘Wrights Field.’) Wright’s Field used to be a pond called Randolph Pond. The pond was filled in and Second River was channelized by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. It is a great place to hike or bike.
In honor of the Bicentennial of Bloomfield, we will be conducting a three-mile hike on the path of the Morris Canal through Bloomfield on Saturday, July 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you’d like to join us, make a reservation. (We have limited space, so reservations are required). Visit the Historical Society of Bloomfield website for details.
And, if you’d like to take a virtual tour of the Canal, I will be repeating my presentation on the Morris Canal in Bloomfield with historic maps, photos and ‘then-and-now’ photos on Saturday, June 16. Check the HSOB website for more details. This is a repeat of the program I presented on March 27. We weren’t able to accommodate the crowd at that event, so we are repeating the program in a larger space for those who didn’t get a seat, or who missed the program.