Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lost Wonders of Pequannock: The Old Morris Canal

Part one in a multi-part series, Lost Wonders of Pequannock will uncover secret spots, old and new, which make Pequannock a wonderful place to spend the afternoon.



If you've never noticed the 15ft tall waterfall equal in width to the Great Falls of Paterson located in Pequannock, you're not alone!

One could be forgiven for not knowing of Pequannock's integral part in the nation's industrial revolution, however the evidence surrounds us to this day.  Pequannock was an essential link in the transport of both iron and the anthracite coal used to process it from the 1830's to the 1920's.  It is perhaps an ironic bit of history that the canal helped to transport the very metal which would eventually put it out of business in the form of a transcontinental railroad system.  Much of that metal also ended up in buildings which stand in New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and even Detroit to this day.  The coal of course is long gone, used to heat generations of homes throughout the harsh northeast Winters.

If you've lived in New Jersey for any length of time, you've already seen the Morris Canal.  The Morris Canal was series of man-made canals, locks, and inclined planes which actually lifted cargo boats up and down the New Jersey highlands over some 107 miles (and 760 vertical feet).  It was considered a feat of modern engineering along the lines of the Roman Aqueducts for its time.

At the same width as Paterson's Great Falls, the lower falls in Pequannock are a marvel unto themselves, created by a feeder dam once used to maintain water levels along the canal.  Accessible most readily by an unmarked path between the post office and the soil depot on Pompton Plains Crossroads, the falls are an amazing place for fishing, exploring the area, or just having a picnic lunch (an especially tantalizing prospect with a Dunkin Donuts, Moes Mexican, and VJs Pizza all nearly within walking distance).  Please obey any "No Trespassing" signs posted in the vicinity and take care near the water, as drownings have occurred.

The upper falls, also the product of a Morris Canal feeder dam, are also impressive, though more difficult to reach.  They are most accessible by parking along the roadway on Carlson Place and proceeding along the path located behind the horse farm.

Between the two falls lies a scenic path along the Pequannock River which was once the Morris Canal tow path, a key feature of Pequannock's Aquatic Park.  The path proceeds along the Guard Bank of the canal.

Amazingly, restoring these two historic landmarks may hold the key to solving Pequannock's seasonal flooding problems.  When new, the feeder dams greatly slowed the velocity of downstream flow, allowing more time for more water to vacate the lower parts of the river.  Over the past 90 some years, little has been done to maintain the dams and both are now almost entirely silted on the backside, negating any positive effect.  Though some have suggested removing the dams, those statements are misguided as doing so would reduce the entire Aquatic Park and surrounding residential areas to a muddy swamp, which was indeed what the area was prior to their construction, as noted in the 1923 decommissioning engineer's report.




Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock EnvironmentalHistoric District, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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