No one has made a full-scale canal boat in Wayne County since before the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) canal was closed in 1898. Until now — at least a full-scale replica representation.
Tom Colbert, Wayne County Historical Society (WCHS) trustee, showed off the progress of the "faux canal boat" project, built mostly over the week of August 22 in the basin of the D&H Canal Park at Lock 31, a mile west of Hawley. motorists going by on Route 6 or anyone pulling in to hike the towpath and other park trails will at once see what very much looks like a real canal boat moored, as if it were floating on water.
The boat replica is the last phase of the overall project which included building an event pavilion which opened in the dry canal basin in 2020, and the handicapped-accessible earthen ramp that allows access from the parking area level. The replica was constructed over the top of the pavilion.
Colbert, who chairs the Towpath to Trail Committee, said that the pavilion and ramp portions were funded through grants and an allocation from the Society's budget, cost approximately $157,000. The boat replica cost about $30,000, which Colbert said was covered by the Society. In the years the project has taken, material costs rose dramatically, he said. They have spent about $10,600 on materials to date.
The pavilion below has a permanent exhibit in the back of a typical canal boat cabin interior.
They will also paint the boat, probably red with white trim, he said. A rope will tie the replica to an actual D&H granite snubbing post, which has the grooves worn down from the rope wrapped around it.
They will need a name for the boat. Colbert proposes to call it the "Clinton Leet" after the late Wayne County resident, a Society trustee. Leet first proposed to the board in 1995 that the Society acquire the parcels that made up the former Selberg property for a canal park and living history museum. The trustees backed the idea, what amounted to a long process of planning and grant application writing. Leet attended the first Canal Festival in 2013, and died eight days later at the age of 91.
The plan for the pavilion and faux boat was proposed by the Towpath to Trail Committee, which included Colbert and Sally Talaga who have stayed with the project, and originally, Lisa Ohliger. Colbert, who is an artist and has carpentry skills, came up with the design.
The boat replica is built to the exact dimensions of the largest version of the D&H canal boats, 14 by 90 feet. The canal was enlarged three times in its 70-year history to be able to use larger boats to carry more coal, as business grew. It was last enlarged in 1850. The largest boats could carry 140 tons.
At its peak, the D&H had about 1,300 canal boats. At first, they envisioned that the replica would be fully supported by the pavilion but there were problems including the weight of the boat structure. Working with an engineer (Jehremy Corrigan), Colbert recommended shifting the replica towards the parking lot, supporting the boat on one side with columns so the weight is not all on the pavilion. The replica also was kept open on top to allow weather to pass through.
The pavilion is available for private parties, reunions and other events.
“We thank Trustee Tom Colbert who never gave up on this idea and pushed onward with the dream to have a life-size model showing what the real canal boats looked like," Carol Dunn, WCHS Executive Director, said. "This completed ‘faux’ boat allows the park visitors to totally immerse themselves in the park environment, and truly sense what it was like when millions of tons of coal were transported each year through the canal corridor. We look forward to our park visitors enjoying and learning more from the new structure.”
The plan is to have the project completed in time for a grand opening with a dinner in the pavilion, probably in May or June of 2023, he said.
Talaga, retired WCHS Executive Director, said that the idea of a pavilion supporting a boat replica was made in 2014. She recounted the long and uncertain process as the vision for the Canal Park has come together, seeking permits and grants, as well as volunteers.
"Everything worth doing takes time," Talaga reflected.
"It's just a beautiful piece," Colbert said of the boat taking shape. He affirmed it will serve to further celebrate the heritage of the canal, and be the latest tourist attraction for Wayne County.
In addition to this project, the committee recently completed restoration of the interior walls of the canal-era house, known as Daniels Farmhouse. The house was used for a time as an inn and canal store, catering to canal crews that tied up in the basin before passing through the lock.
Underground electrical work also will be done, to service the pavilion, to light the sign by the road and eventually a parking lot lamp.
Eventually the Society plans to erect a barn which will include a caretaker's apartment, handicapped-accessible restrooms, and perhaps a garage for the 1888 Spencer steam tractor.
The D&H Canal shipped anthracite coal from 1828 to 1898, using a 16-mile gravity railroad from the Lackawanna County mines to Honesdale, for shipment on the 108-mile canal to Kingston, NY. Barges then took the coal down the Hudson to New York. There were 108 locks.
For more information on the canal park call 570-253-3240 or visit: waynehistorypa.com.