The D&H Canal Museum and Five Locks Walk is located in historic High Falls, just a few minutes outside the village of New Paltz.
Operated by the D&H Historical Society, this quaint museum is located in the former St. John’s Episcopal Church, which dates back to 1883. The parish hall houses permanent and temporary exhibits, including a working lock model, a recreated canal boat cabin, a miniature gravity railroad car, and several dioramas depicting canal life.
Why was the canal built?
Two brothers, William and Maurice Wurtz, conceived the idea for the Delaware and Hudson Canal in 1823. Recognizing the need for a cheap and efficient fuel source in New York City, their idea was to build a canal that would transport coal from the mines in Carbondale, Pennsylvania (where they owned large tracts of land rich in anthracite coal) to Kingston, New York where it could be transferred to barges and shipped to New York City to be used as a new source of cheap energy.
Benjamin Wright, chief engineer of the Erie Canal, was hired to design the 108-lock canal, the building of which was estimated to cost 1.2 million dollars. Although the Erie Canal was state-financed, the D&H Canal was to be funded with private money. To raise money, the brothers arranged for the business leaders of New York City to gather at a coffee house on Wall Street. Once there, they gave a demonstration of the energy anthracite coal could produce and how it could shape the industrial and domestic development of New York City. Stock in the Delaware &Hudson Canal Company was offered for sale and was purchased within a few hours. The company became America’s first million-dollar private enterprise.
Built by hand and horsepower, the canal took three years to build. Since it was man-made, the water had to be brought in from reservoirs, lakes and other natural waterways using feeder channels, which is why the canal takes such a roundabout route to the Hudson River. By having it follow a series of natural waterways, the rivers and streams could provide a constant water source. A large map at the entrance of the museum displays the route of the canal.
By 1828 the 108-mile canal was up and running. For the next seventy years, mules pulled barges laden with the anthracite coal from northeastern Pennsylvania all the way to Rondout Creek near the village of Kingston. From there it was shipped on barges down the Hudson to New York City and up the river to Canada. Although coal was the main cargo, many other items were hauled by canal barge. Cement and bluestone from local quarries in our region were transported and there are also records of passenger boats traveling the canal as well.
The Canal operated successfully until 1898, when the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company made the transition to railroad company, becoming America’s oldest continuously operating transportation company.
Just for kids
Several sheets are available at the entrance to the museum with items for the children to look for as they wander around. This will keep children from pre-school to age 8 busy, while older children will enjoy the demonstration of the lock and trying the brakes on the gravity railroad car.
Dress for a hike
After touring the museum, pick up a map of the D&H Towpath Trail and Five Locks Walk, which starts just a block away behind the Depuy Canal House. The hike, which passes locks 16 through 20, takes about twenty minutes. On your way to the path, you will pass the 1850 Hasbrouck Store, once a D&H Canal Company feed and grain store. Today the building is home to an antique shop.
The D&H Canal Museum is located at 23 Mohonk Road in High Falls, New York. For hours and admission price, visit their website at www.canalmuseum.org.