D&H Canal Museum
What They Are about
When a British blockade cut off the supply of imported bituminous coal prior to the War of 1812, commercial development of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields was undertaken to address the fuel shortage. But transporting the anthracite from the mines to coastal markets was a problem; given the weight of the coal and the poor condition of the roads, a water route would be required. The Wurts brothers conceived of the D&H Canal as a way to transport coal from their fields near Honesdale, Pennsylvania to the Hudson River at Rondout (Kingston), New York. From there, barges carried the coal south to the growing New York City market, as well as north to Albany and the Erie Canal.
The canal was constructed along a previously unsettled route in less than three years, using only picks shovels, draft animals and blasting powder. This 108-mile, 108-lock waterway was America's first million-dollar private enterprise, and operated from 1828 until 1898 (although the northern end was used until 1917). It transformed the economic landscape, as towns and villages sprang up along its route, and industries developed to exploit local resources such as lumber, agricultural products, and bluestone. The discovery of natural (hydraulic) cement near High Falls in 1825 spawned the Rosendale cement industry, whose product was widely used in construction projects, including the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty. The availability of anthracite coal led to improvements in the production of Hudson Valley bricks—an industry that found a ready market after New York City’s Great Fire of 1835 destroyed an estimated 600 buildings.