Elaine Herzog tied a rope to the granite subbing post at the D&H Canal Park Festival Saturday morning, probably for the first time in 115 years.
Saturday, August 24, 2013 marked the dedication by the Wayne County Historical Society of the D&H Canal Park at Lock 31 and the opening of their first annual Canal Festival.
It marked a symbol of the ambitious undertaking of the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal Company, which operated the canal from 1828 to 1898, linking the Lackawanna coal mines with the New York market. It helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, the steam age which ironically ultimately supplanted it with faster moving steam trains. The canal, built by hand, forged the industrious spirit of a progressive nation.
Brian Smith, chairman of the Wayne County Commissioners, gave an impromptu speech at the dedication, rallying the crowd to reflect on the canal-era inn and the grounds being restored and preserved. He said this project undertaken by the Society is important both to the county and to the nation- not because it is painted so pretty but because of the heritage it represents. He noted that this canal helped made the United States a Superpower and helped give us our freedoms. It helped attract millions of immigrants seeking a new life, including his own German and Irish ancestors in 1850.
Sounding like a slip of the tongue, he said the canal encouraged other industries including "the gas- excuse me, I mean glass industry..." Later he added, "As we go forward- we can't go back- opportunities will continue for the industrialization of America." He said this canal was "part of my indigenous culture and part of your indigenous culture."
As Herzog, the President of the Society, tied the rope, Sally Talaga held a variation on the traditional ribbon cutting. Instead if cutting the rope, they held the rope to an imagined canal boat where she invited the Society trustees past and present, volunteers who worked on the project and project doors "to get in the boat."
Talaga, who is on sabbatical from her 20-year tenure as Executive Director, has been a prime driver of the project. Seated with honor "in the boat" was Clinton Leet, former trustee who abut 20 years ago initiated the idea to purchase the building and property, which includes a mile of the canal and towpath.
Through the day, hundreds of people came and toured the grounds. The story of the canal was presented in word, models and imagery. Brookvalley Farm brought a horse and carriage to give people rides down the towpath. Fiddling and other canal-era music filled the air from performers in the canal bed. National Park Service staff showed off models of a working lock and boat, and showed what how typical boat cabin was furnished. Tom Kennedy gave guided towpath walks explaining the story.
Page 2 of 2 - Tom Colbert, who chaired the project committee, and Alan Kehoe, worked the barbecue.
"It's a great feeling," Leet commented, as he walked in the canal basin. "... to reopen the canal so people can understand what it is all abut and how it works. They did a tremendous job." He commended the Society's leaders for not giving up.
Jean Meagher, a trustee, said people don't realize all the behind the scenes work, of the effort of applying for grants that has made so much of what they have done a reality.
Maurice Meagher commented, "It's beautiful, a magnificent job of persevering... a credit to the Wayne County Historical Society and its trustees to raise the funds and show the history that is here."
He said this should help motivate others to help finish the dream.
Many words were expressed about the beautiful weather and wonderful turnout, the promise of a new beginning in this opportunity to preserve and interpret the canal heritage.
Yet it was bittersweet for the Society, as Herzog pointed out. A moment of silence was held for Gloria McCullough, long time Society Research Librarian, who died that week in an accident.
Herzog spoke of the day, that she was thankful for the support of the community and volunteers. She said they look foward to the next phase, which as funds allow, include renovating the interior of the building. She said their plan is to open a "living history" museum. Long range plans, she said, include to "float a boat."
The 16-acre park remains open daily for walking, bird watching and even fishing. It is located one mile west of Hawley along Route 6.
For more information contact the Society at (570)253-3240 or visit www.wchs-lock31.org.
NOTE: There are several historical societies celebrating the legacy of the D&H Canal & Gravity Railroad, from Carbondale, PA to Kingston, NY. Together they collaborate as the D&H Transportation Heritage Council. For more information on their museums, preservation efforts and plans, visit www.dhthc.com.