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 Post subject: Wharton Cleaning out Morris Canal
PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2005 7:08 pm 
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Wharton wants a clean canal bed
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
BY KATHLEEN G. SUTCLIFFE
Star-Ledger Staff

The borough of Wharton grew up on the banks of the Morris Canal.

Before the tiny borough was a glimmer in its founders' eyes, barges carrying coal from Pennsylvania lumbered through the canal's waters and fed the area's growing iron industry.

Now Wharton leaders are hoping to repay an old debt to the once-prominent route that put the tiny borough on the map.

Officials have pledged to restore some of the canal's former glory by coordinating a cleanup this month of a quarter-mile section stretching from Hugh Force Park to Main Street.

In the 81 years since the canal was drained, residents living along its bed have gradually come to think of it as an extension of their backyards.

The hollowed-out canal bed has been filled in with brush and assorted debris. Tool sheds and doghouses have cropped up atop the canal's berm, alongside the old stone hitching posts.

The cleanup project is being coordinated by the Wharton Pride Committee, which also launched a borough-wide cleanup in May. Guiding the project is Pedro "Chick" Moreno, the borough's housing and zoning official.

"We want to clear all that out and make it look nice," Moreno said during a recent inspection of the canal bed.

The canal, which was in operation from 1824 to 1924, was used to transport coal from Phillipsburg to Jersey City and Newark. A mural depicting Wharton's canal days adorns the municipal building's council chambers.

In the spring, Moreno sent about 60 letters to homeowners along the canal, notifying them of the impending cleanup. The borough has offered to help residents relocate structures and clear brush and debris from the 60-foot-wide canal bed slicing through the backyards of homes along Pine Street and Central Avenue.

The canal bed is considered public property, but residents will be permitted to continue using the area provided they keep it clear.

West Central Avenue resident Bill Donnelly, 84, has beat most of his neighbors to the cleanup effort.

He spent a day clearing brush from the canal, and said he supports the initiative. He was born in his West Central Avenue home in 1921, three years before the canal was officially drained and said he recalled the waning days of the canal.

"I remember when water went through here," Donnelly said. "There's a lot of memories."

Donnelly also recalled the early techniques used to clear brush from the canal bed after it was drained.

"Years ago they used to burn it off to keep it clean," Donnelly said.

The borough's most recent project picks up where a 1976 restoration project near Hugh Force Park left off.

While most of the canal bed throughout the state is dry, a half-mile stretch through the borough is one of the few portions of the 102-mile route from Phillipsburg to Jersey City which still contains water. This preserved portion also features the stone ruins of a lock tender's house.

Members of the Canal Society of New Jersey, an organization dedicated to preserving the canal and publicizing its history, call the preserved half-mile stretch one of the most "striking" portions left on the former canal route.

"There's not much of the Morris Canal that's still watered," said William Moss, the society's past president. "That's one of the nicest places."

Moss also hailed Wharton's efforts, saying it complemented surrounding clean-up and restoration efforts in Roxbury, Montville and Boonton.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2005 1:39 am 
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Personally I thought it was nicer when the tracks were still on the High Bridge Branch RR that ran parallel with the water-filled portion of the canal. It's too bad they had to tear them up. It was fun playing with the track changers. 8)

Why is it they are suddenly interested in preserving the canal now? They have already built over and destroyed so many landmarks in Wharton. How many people driving through or living in Wharton know who Joseph Wharton is? Or have ever heard of Port Oram?

Now if only they would re-route Route 80 and rebuild the modern Huff Mine complex -- I could supply the engineering drawings. Or reopen the Irondale Tunnel as a tourist mine!

Miner Mike


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2005 11:25 am 
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Actually I thought this "preserved " portion of the canal which currently has water was actually owned by the company who owns ITC Crossing. They can really do what they want with this land, I don't know if I would safely say that it is preserved. It is a nice stretch of the canal and is very clean and well kept. I hope it can be kept this way.

I am still upset that they took up the High Bridge Branch north of the Chester Railroad. There were some real nice portions of the railroad left, especially portions along the canal. Wish I could have gotten pictures of some of that.

It would be interesting opening up the Irondale tunnel. I wonder if any homes up there still have well water? From what I read, when the tunnel first opened, people who lived up the hill had problems because their wells went dry! The entire water table up there went down to the level below the tunnel. I've seen a lot of the maps of the mines served by this drainage tunnel, this would have been a fun research project.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2005 11:58 am 
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You're thinking of the preserved water-filled section of the canal in Stanhope. That is owned by ITC whereas the section in Wharton is parkland.

The High Bridge Branch still had its spur running to the Scrub Oaks Mine at the foot of the hill as late as the early 90's. Any railroad buff would have been overjoyed to see all of this intact. Now all of this has been stripped away by the quarry to the point that today it looks totally unrecognizable. The quarrying operation has even broken through to the mine. It was really just a matter of time...

The impressive stopes are still underneath the town of Wharton. I too wonder if the residents in Wharton even know why their wells aren't working (assuming the water level is still down). Some tour mines are established 70 or more years after a mine is abandoned. This means we still have hope for a tourist iron mine in the Highlands. It would be a shame to see this history turn into more development.

Miner Mike
PS, Rob Maselko, do you have a well?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2005 1:44 pm 
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Location: Wharton, NJ
Hi Mike and Greg,

Fortunately, my home uses "city" water, not a well. If you walk in the Irondale section of town, you can still see old water wells on people's front lawns. It has been a long time since those were functional!

Althought Wharton's efforts to preserve the canal bed from Hugh Force Park to Main Street come late in the game, it's better than nothing. Maybe this will mark the beginning of a new awareness and appreciation for the town's history.

I was talking to a neighbor who has lived in Wharton all his life. He said that when Scrub Oaks was in operation, you could feel the ground vibrate when they were set off explosives to further the drift. He also added that many of the homes in the "Sterling Heights" development on the southwestern side of town were built right on top of "test pits". As we now know, most of those "test pits" are actual shafts, possibly hiding stopes underneath. It won't be long before those homes experience the same collapsing basement syndrome as seen in parts of Mine Hill.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2005 12:35 pm 
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Well if the town's wells are inoperable because they are dry, it tells us that the Irondale Tunnel is still doing its job today! Rob, when are you available? We are ready to do our mine research!

I agree, it's better that Wharton takes some steps toward preservation even if most of the "good stuff" is long gone. It is a shame they destroyed the railbed of the High Bridge Branch leading up to the water-filled canal to build houses. You used to be able to walk from where the sign is for the Canal House on Main St. right to the canal. There was also a historic looking house that they demolished.

We recently acquired (literally a couple days ago) a one-of-a-kind collection of old mine maps and letters, some of which cover Irondale in great detail. We could literally draw out exactly where the underground workings are on a modern day map and TO SCALE. We highly doubt some of these maps have been seen by other than mine owners. Lots of more good stuff to come!

Miner Mike


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 3:15 am 
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O man... that's so wacked out. This jerk I know lives right in front of the park, first house immediately to the left of the playground over there. He recently took me on a walk over there... I had NO idea there was any of the canal that was still water!!! I thought it was all destroyed...I was in hog heaven when he took me over there and told me what he knew, haha. Tis a shame though that they tore up the tracks... what ever possessed them to do that?!~ That's all sacred over there! Grumble... Anyway... that is great they want to give it a little upkeep... it needs it! :)

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 10:44 am 
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Mike and Greg,

I really enjoyed the read here. I have to many questions to ask you about this topic and would like to get togther with you guys soon to talk more about it and to see all the information you found. I hate to say it but our state really doesn't care all that much for saving historical spots. Some yes but not all. Talk to soon.

Miner Bond


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 3:00 pm 
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Yes, the water-filled portion of the canal in Wharton is a gem for anyone not expecting to find any preserved section at all. It is amazing in this day and age that such "recyclable real estate" has stood the test of time. It is also a photographer's paradise and really takes you back in time.

Miner Mike

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