Finding History in NJ on the D&R Canal

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Griggstown, NJ on the D&R Canal. 

As recent photographs indicate, I was in New Jersey a few weeks ago. I’m a native Long Islander (forever a Vermont flatlander) who grew up with jokes about New Jersey. Sorry, NJ, though I know you grew up with Long Island jokes. Fair is fair. My experience with New Jersey was limited to long trips that traversed the New Jersey Turnpike (traffic!) and getting lost on the Garden State Parkway (teenagers + navigation = trouble) and the Jersey Shore (great beaches, not to be confused with the TV show). Imagine my surprise while visiting friends in Princeton and we discovered the gorgeous architecture of Princeton and the unexpected discovery of the D & R Canal State Park.

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The Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park is a 77 mile linear park that transformed the former canal towpath into a recreational resource for walking, running, biking, horseback riding and kayaking. The canal opened in the 1830s, constructed (hand dug) by mostly Irish immigrants. Originally the canal connected the Delaware River to the Raritan River, the Philadelphia and New York City markets. The canal opened in 1834 and continued in operation until 1932. The land became a park in 1974. The heyday of the canal existed prior to the railroads. Mules towed canal boats, yachts, and vessels along the towpath, in the middle of or alongside the canal. The canals operated with locks and spillways to account for the elevation changes.

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Today you can see all of these elements on the D&R Canal on foot, on bike, on horse, or even driving from lock house to lock house.

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At the edge of Princeton, NJ in the village of Kingston. 

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View of the lock at Kingston. 

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Lock tender’s house, bridge, and the lock at Kingston. 

Further down the canal you’ll come to Griggstown.

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Historic Village of Griggstown, NJ. 

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The view of the canal from the bridge in Griggstown. 

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Wood deck bridge. 

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Griggstown, NJ. The building appears abandoned from the exterior, though a peak through the windows shows that it’s not. NJ State Parks have an ongoing restoration project. 

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The Long House, formerly a store and post office and grain storage. Currently under restoration for an interpretive center. 

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The bridge tender’s station. 

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The 1834 bridge tender’s house, built for the bridge tender and his family. Historically, the bridge tender had to raise the bridge for the boats and mules to pass along the canal. 

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A perfect, tiny front door on the bridge tender’s house. 

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An abandoned state park property in Griggstown, due to flooding damage. 

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More flood damage. Keep out! 

The canal continues on, and whether you travel by foot or bike or car, I’d recommend a visit!  Read more of the D&R Canal’s history here and plan your trip.  Have you been here? Or other canals? The C&O Canal is on my list, too.

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11 thoughts on “Finding History in NJ on the D&R Canal

  1. Jim Grey says:

    Great stuff! Especially the stone house with the tiny front door.

    When I was in college, I had friends from New Jersey. Whenever they’d mention Long Island, they’d pronounce it like “Lon Gisland” and it always felt like a slam that I wouldn’t totally get because I grew up in Indiana.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Ha, yes, “Lawn Guy-land” – it’s basically mocking the strong, stereotypical accent. I maintain I don’t have the strong Long Island accent, but you can hear it in things like “coffee” “drawer” and “laundry”.

  2. Judy Stock says:

    I can’t remember which book it was, but it told how the bridge tender had to go down to the river at all odd hours of the day and night to let the boats through. The bridge tender baked bread and sold to those on the boats. Great pictures. Thanks.

    • Kaitlin says:

      I love those historic canal photos. The canal era seems to have been left out of many history textbooks. I didn’t learn much about them until grad school.

  3. Centralia Heart says:

    I lived in Budd Lake NJ and Long Island. I liked NJ better. My entire adult life I have lived in the Catskills. When I was young my relatives owned the Peapack Hotel ( the Howard House), it was sold and is now a parking lot. This was in Peapack NJ. But when you are a young teen you cannot expect relatives to keep the hotel so you could run it as an adult. Another piece of architectural history lost.

  4. vamama46 says:

    We spent the night in Kingston, NY a few years back. A wonderful town with the Hudson River and the Erie Canal, we totally enjoyed walking around the area. I remember a canoe trip on canals in Illinois and walking into Princeton, Illinois to buy another pair of shoes. We portaged a bunch of locks and had quite an adventure from Chicago to Muscatine, Iowa back in the late fifties.

  5. Lauren G says:

    Thanks for the NJ love! This park is wonderful in terms of history, and it’s also an amazing place to run!

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