Phillipsburg—on the Delaware River held steady as the western terminus of the Morris Canal for approximately 100 years, beginning in 1820. This connected the city by water to the industrial and consumer centers of the New York City area, with connections westward via the Lehigh Canal across the Delaware. At one time, Phillipsburg was the crossroads for five railroads, each with its own freight yard and maintenance facility in the town. A local heavy manufacturing plant employed up to 4,500 people and provided a great deal of machinery to the World War II effort. Long gone is the era of canal shipping and many of the vital area freight railways have gone bankrupt or bypass the city on long distance routes.
The Morris Canal connected Phillipsburg on the Delaware River with Jersey City on the Hudson River. In its 102 mile length, its elevation changes totaled 1,674 feet. To overcome these changes, canal boats were moved over 23 “inclined planes”. The boats were cradled in plane cars which moved on rails with the power supplied by water from the upper level of the canal (water flowed through a Scotch turbine located deep underground.) This system made the Morris Canal unique. The canal connected the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley with the New York-New Jersey markets and significantly aided in the development of industry and cities in that area. It permitted the revival of the languishing iron industry in North Jersey and generally accelerated the development of the northern part of the state. Farm products, manufactured goods, raw materials and construction materials moved in this system.
The canal was the primary impetus for these developments because it was the only efficient bulk transportation system in operation in North Jersey during the first half of the nineteenth century. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the development of a more efficient bulk transportation system—the railroads—that eventually put the Morris Canal out of business.
In 1994, the New Jersey Legislature designated Phillipsburg as an Urban Enterprise Zone community. This zoning offers tax incentives and other benefits to Phillipsburg-based businesses, as well as a sales tax rate half of the state. This program has brought new and diverse businesses to the historic district of Main St. Phillipsburg. You’ll also find a steam train excursion operated by the New York, Susquehanna and Western Technical and Historical Society.
The society operates the only steam locomotive in the state of New Jersey. All year you can ride along the beautiful Delaware on The Wine Train to Alba Vineyards or on themed excursions like Santa Claus & Easter Bunny trains.
Far from its roots as an industrial town, this river valley hamlet holds exciting surprises for the future. You are welcome to Phillipsburg again and again.