For thousands of years, the lower Delaware River has linked people, ideas, and commerce. The Lenape natives fished, hunted and traded along the lower Delaware River corridor, long before Europeans arrived in the 17th century.
European settlers changed the valley landscape by clearing forests for agriculture, building mills to process grains, and to manufacture textiles and paper. Around these mills sprang up towns like Lambertville, Stockton, and Milford in New Jersey, and New Hope, Riegelsville, and Easton in Pennsylvania.
By the early 19th century, the nation needed a better transportation network to transport goods, food, and fuel. By this time coal was replacing wood to fuel America's industrial production, and milled grains were in demand by nearby cities that were experiencing tremendous growth.
To improve commerce, the Delaware Canal, the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and the Morris Canal were built along the lower Delaware River. Along the canals. anthracite coal could be transported from the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania to New York City and Philadelphia.
Just decades after the canals were completed, though, railroads replaced them. The canals still exist, and at New Hope PA and Stockton NJ and along the canal state parks, visitors can learn about an era of transportation that changed the river and the region.
In 1988, Congress recognized the Delaware and Lehigh Navigational Canal National Heritage Corridor and the key role of the lower Delaware River's historic canals.