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The Morris Canal was different from all the other canals -- defying the terrain, literally climbing hills and mountains by way of locks and inclined planes -- climbing a total of 1,674 feet of elevation change.

The canal was build primarily to transport anthracite coal from northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey as a more inexpensive and reliable fuel source for the iron industry. Lake Hopatcong, near the summit of elevation change, was the main source of water.

The technology used on the Morris Canal was innovative using 23 locks and 23 inclined planes, 7 of each were in Warren County. Flat-bottomed canal boats were steered with a tiller while the boat was pulled by two mules guided by a young mule driver who walked alongside the mules. The boats traveled through locks and over inclined planes. It was in the powerhouse that the water-powered turbine was set into motion to raise or lower cradled boats on the inclined planes by means of a cable.


The Powerhouse

powerhouse at morris canalThe Powerhouse contained machinery and controls which operated the inclined plane. A water-powered reaction turbine located beneath the building supplied the power. A shaft and gearing transmitted the power from the turbine to a grooved cable-winding drum on the first floor of the building. From his lofty station in the cupola, the plane tender had a clear view of activities at both the top and bottom of the plane. When he was the brakeman’s signal, he opened the valve sending tons of water from the headrace flume down into the turbine below. He then engaged the winding drum, setting the cable into motion, and starting the cradle car and boat on its way either up or down the plane.

Click here for a larger diagram of the Powerhouse.

Turbine & Tailrace

scotch reaction turbineThe Inclined Plane was powered by using water from the upper level of the canal to run a huge Reaction Turbine located in a chamber beneath the powerhouse. This powerful machine could move the wheeled cradle car and Canal Boat loaded with 70 tons of coal, from a dead stop, up the plane, over the summit and down into the upper level of the canal. Once used, water was carried away from the turbine chamber in a Tailrace Tunnel that led back into the canal at the bottom of the plane. From the powerhouse, the Plane Tender controlled the operation by adjusting the speed of the turbine and tightening a brake on the cable winding drum shaft. At Plane 9 West, boats were raised or lowered 100 vertical feet in about 15 minutes.

Water was brought to the powerhouse from the upper level of the canal in a headrace flume that ended just behind the building at the level of the second floor. A valve allowed the water to be dropped about 50 feet through a penstock pipe to the turbine chamber and up into the turbine from below. Jets of water from the turbine rotor’s four curved nozzles force it to turn at approximately 67 RPM. A drive shaft attached to the rotor was geared to the cable winding drum in the powerhouse overhead.

Click here to see a larger version of the turbine.


Plane Summit

summit of incline planeThe Plane Summit was the point where the top of the inclined plane met the watered upper level of the canal. At that point a berm of earth acted as a dam to keep the water from running down the plane. The plane tracks came over the summit and down into the water of the canal. As boats waited their turn, the brakeman helped each captain to jockey his ninety-foot long canal boat into or out of the cradle car submerged in the canal. Once secured, the boat and cradle were pulled out of the water, over the summit and then lowered down the plane. Because they were so long, the boats and cradle cars were built in two sections so they could bend as they crossed the summit.

inclined plane at 9 westThe inclined plane’s rails were spiked to heavy wooden beams and then supported by massive stone blocks called sleepers.

After being pulled up the plane, the cradle car crossed the summit and descended into the canal until only the tops of the timber side showed about the water. When the canal boat floated free, the captain reattached the tow line and his mule team started the boat on its way.




sleeper stones at plane 9 westSleeper Stones can be seen at the at the Jim and Mary Lee Morris Canal Museum in Greenwich Township, Warren County.







Back To Map of the Canal

Books by James Lee

The Morris Canal-
A Photographic History

morris canal book
Currently Out Of Print -
check back soon.


morris canal book

Available from
The National Canal Museum,
Easton, PA

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