Phillipsburg to Easton, the long way

Both Sides Now

By Bob Koppenhaver

Follow the narrow, twisting back roads along both shores of the Delaware River -- from Phillipsburg south to Milford in New Jersey, and Upper Black Eddy back north to Easton in Pennsylvania -- through countryside rich in local history and lore, old hamlets of which little trace remains, past quaint homes and natural wonders along the way.

Stone lime kiln along River Road near Carpentersville.

In Phillipsburg's Union Square, the "free bridge" that connects with Easton, PA, has withstood the high waters of the Delaware River's angry floods. South Main Street heads away from the square through the historic district, lined by a predominance of buildings whose original architecture has been stabilized or restored. While renovating Delahanty's Restaurant, the owners found canal boat poles probably used on the Morris Canal, which began here in Phillipsburg. The Vandegrift Bridge carries South Main over tracks of the Norfolk Southern before Shappell Park appears, where three Civil War-vintage seacoast mortars have rested for over a hundred years. Beside the onion-domed Byzantine Catholic Church, an ancient mile marker, shaped from native rock, has advised generations of sojourners, "44 miles to New Brunswick." A block beyond, the former Morris House, now Steve's Café, overflows with period photos and artifacts that afford glimpses of the town's essential role in the development of regional transportation and commerce. Another half-mile, and South Main Street passes under an awesome stone-arched railroad bridge.

road map

After a sharp right turn at the traffic light, Carpentersville Road proceeds a mile before crossing over I-78 into peaceful, idyllic farmland. This is the Alpha/Pohatcong Grasslands, more than two thousand acres of farm fields, pastures, and grassland, half of which are preserved open space. On Oberly Road, beside a farm lane about a mile from Carpentersville Road, a small bench and plaque help mark a 128-acre tract that has been leased back to farmers, but is also known for excellent year-round birding.

Carpentersville Road soon passes a Pennsylvania Dutch bank barn, built into a hill so that hay and grains stored on the second storey were easily accessed for feeding livestock housed in the lower level. At the railroad grade crossing, the first of six between here and Milford, Carpentersville Road becomes River Road. These tracks were laid in 1854 for the Belvidere-Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad--the "Bel-Del"--which stopped running decades ago. Today the "old" New York Susquehanna & Western #142 chugs along the tracks from the Phillipsburg station, escorting train-cars full of passengers along a few beautiful riverside miles where no other roads go. Special trainsÑa Wine Train, Mine Train, Corn Maze Train, Pumpkin Train, and Polar ExpressÑrun at various times during the year, although a Delaware River Railroad Excursion is delightful anytime. Engine #142, a coal-fired steam locomotive, is not really all that old. Built in China in 1989, based on an early 1900s American design, it is among the last steam locomotives built anywhere in the world and the only one still in use in New Jersey.

Mine train
The mine train stops for prospectors. Photo by Bob Koppenhaver.

Paralleling the tracks, River Road weaves through riverside lowland. During Hurricane Diane's 1955 flooding, the lowest portions were under eight feet of water. And since more recent flooding, some homes along here have been raised a whole storey. In the small hamlet of Carpentersville to the south, old maps show a Bel-Del railroad station, store, post office, and gristmill. Some of these structures remain among a cluster of vintage homes. Below Carpentersville the river road becomes more dramatic, squeezed tightly between cliffs rising on the left and the train track on the right. Pay attention!

Just beyond the third grade crossing, two imposing, expertly-crafted stone structures are surviving examples of nearly two dozen commercial kilns that produced many thousands of bushels of lime from locally quarried limestone. Coal arrived by way of the adjacent railroad tracks to fuel the lime kilns and reduce the stone to its final product, which was shipped out on the same tracks, usually toward Flemington, Trenton, and Monmouth County. Lime was used in mortar, cement, and as a vital soil conditioner for farmers' fields.

After turning under a low railroad overpass at the intersection with Creek Road, bear right over the small iron bridge spanning the Pohatcong Creek, staying on River Road. Around the end of Pohatcong Mountain, the Pohatcong Wildlife Management Area lies for a short distance on either side of the intersection with Pincher's Point road.

Another Bel-Del station once stood at Riegelsville, where a tidy Roebling suspension bridge leads over the Delaware to Riegelsville, PA, named after a relative of the prominent paper-manufacturing family. The Riegel mill stood a few hundred feet downriver, where the Musconetcong River enters. The former general store that served Riegel employees stands straight ahead at the fifth grade crossing, just past the bridge.

Along the river roads

Warren Glen Road begins at the grade crossing. About 800 feet after crossing the tracks, turn right onto River Road (CR 627) at the first intersection. Then, after crossing the Musconetcong River, turn right onto the Old River Road. Anyone enthralled by vintage architecture will love the beautiful old homes along this stretch, marked on modern maps as Mt. Joy. Older maps call this hamlet "Musconetcong", so named by the railroad. At the stop sign, turn south back onto River Road (CR 647). Soon, Gilbert Generating Station is visible along the riverbank with the Nockamixon Cliffs of Pennsylvania towering in the background. River Road then passes through another former hamlet, Holland Station, which had a post office and station down by the old Bel-Del tracks.

Traces of Indian civilization and vanished villages mark the entire district, as camps were kept up and down the river. Two rare artifactsÑone a piece of shale on which was carved the image of a village; the other a bannerstone with drawings of wigwams, a snowshoe, and a trail -- were found near the lime kilns, preceding those structures by centuries. At various locations down the road, and on both sides of the river, sources as reputable as the Smithsonian Institution and New Jersey's State Archaeologist refer to a legendary inter-tribal conflict arising from a dispute between two boys claiming ownership of a large grasshopper. Shallow burial grounds, caches of bones, concentrations of triangular points designed for warfare, and later references in Colonial-era documents, indicate a deadly escalation from a family feud to the Grasshopper War.

milford bluffs
The Milford Bluffs rise two hundred feet above the river and host prickly pear cactus on their southern face.

The Milford Bluffs, a two-mile stretch of red shale cliffs that rise two hundred feet above the river, again constrict the road, at times down to one lane. The bluffs' southern exposure creates near-tropical conditions that have encouraged the unexpected growth of native prickly pear cactus cascading down the cliffs, blooming yellow in July and displaying purple pear-shaped fruits in late fall. Where the bluffs diminish, the road enters the village of Milford, both scenic and appealing, a nice place to stop before crossing the river into Pennsylvania.


Over the Milford Bridge, in Pennsylvania's Upper Black Eddy, turn north onto yet another River Road, aka Route 32. This side of the Delaware has seen four different, but parallel, modes of transportation: the highway, the Delaware Canal, a trolley railway a few miles north, and the river itself. In the earliest days of settlement, raftsmen guided hundreds of gigantic rafts, sometimes over a hundred feet long, on dangerous trips floating goods to markets mainly in Philadelphia. The river's back current (eddy) here made it a popular stop for the travelers en-route from above the Delaware Water Gap.

Heavy, non-buoyant products such as coal, limestone, and cement could not be transported in boats down the rocky and sometimes shallow Delaware. For these goods, calm-water, easily navigable canals were the answer. The river road parallels the 60-mile-long, hand-dug, Delaware Canal, which, by 1832, provided a commerce route from Bristol, just north of Philadelphia, to Easton. For almost a hundred years, canal boats, usually steered by the head of a family or his wife, were pulled by mule teams that were sometimes driven by their children. The captain and crew cooked their meals and slept on the boats while in transit.

For years, hikers, bikers, canoeists, fishermen and birdwatchers have enjoyed the canal and towpath, now a Pennsylvania state park. But recent river flooding has devastated sections of the canal, necessitating its rebuilding. Heavy machinery artfully reshapes the canal contours, originally created with picks and shovels.

Nockamixon cliffs
During construction of the Delaware Canal, when huge portions of the Nockamixon Cliffs were blasted away, there were complaints that their natural beauty had been ruined. But today, rare plants, numerous species of birds to observe, and breathtaking winter ice formations along the cliffs make the grievances seem irrelevant.

About two miles after the river road crosses the canal above Upper Black Eddy, the wide bottomland suddenly disappears as the road enters "the narrows", between the canal and river on one side and a 300-foot-high precipice on the other. The Nockamixon Cliffs, stretching for nearly three miles, are entirely different from the toasty, cactus-clad bluffs across the river. The north-facing ledges host scarce alpine species, including one that is not otherwise found south of Maine. The old Indian Rock Inn is built nearly against the cliffs, and from the inn's deck an interesting illusion disorients, as the sun seems to set in the "east" over New Jersey. Because of an S-bend in the road and river, the sun does indeed set over New Jersey, but still sets in the west.

The road soon passes the Delaware Canal's Narrowsville Lock No. 20 where there are picnic tables and a grill for use along the towpath. From a short distance north on the towpath it may be possible to view eagle activity near a nest on Lynn Island.

Near the western end of the narrows, and at the edge of the village of Kintnersville, Route 32 ends at Route 611. Bear right and continue north past the stop sign. Route 611 parallels the short-lived Philadelphia & Easton electric trolley railway, which, by 1904, connected Doylestown and Easton. Intermittent rock cuts and beautifully laid up stone walls on the western side of the highway are all that remain of the old trolley rail bed. The P&E had a dozen passenger cars, powered freight cars, a hay car and snow plow. The equipment hauled passengers, mail, light freight and farm goods to market until 1926, when the trolley company folded, made obsolete by some of the first highway buses.

From Kintnersville north for nearly four miles, Route 611 cuts through Durham Township, famous for early iron production. The road passes alongside Rattlesnake Hill, where a mine opened in 1851, producing the largest quantities of Durham's best iron ore. On Mine Hill, just to the west, a mine was started as early as 1698 and supplied ore for Durham's earliest furnace, a purveyor of cannonballs and shot for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Rattlesnake Hill is also notable for a large Delaware Indian jasper quarry near the top. And within the sector now protected by a conservancy, one of the iron mines has become Pennsylvania's second largest bat hibernaculum. The area also serves as a habitat for dozens of bird species, some of them rare breeders.

Just past Rattlesnake Hill, near the Route 611 crossing at Cook's Creek, only scant traces remain of all that was once there. Taking advantage of the nearby canal's convenient supply of coal, furnaces were built in 1848, and, earlier, the famous Durham boats were designed and built at the mouth of the creek to carry iron goods down river. Durham boats also carried George Washington's army across the Delaware on Christmas Eve, 1776, for their crucial attack on the Hessians in Trenton. You can see a Durham boat replica near the old mill and post office in Durham village.

Route 611 continues north through Rieglesville, PA. The nicely restored Mansion Row, homes of former paper company executives and other local industrialists, may indicate why this town flourished while neighboring hamlets disappeared. Turn right at the traffic light and continue over the canal to the Riegelsville Inn, located at the western end of the Roebling Bridge. The Inn was originally built in 1838 by Benjamin Riegel, known locally as "the farmer" in order to differentiate him from his nephew of the same name, who established the New Jersey paper mills.

Groundhog lock
With 17 feet of drop, the Ground Hog Lock is Delaware Canal's deepest and northernmost lift lock.

Further north, at the southern edge of Raubsville is the Delaware Canal's Ground Hog Lock, a double lock designated as Locks 22 and 23. With 17 feet of drop, it is the canal's deepest and northernmost lift lock. A parking area gives easy access to the canal towpath and as well as the Delaware River. When the P&E trolley company's steam-driven power plant failed to deliver adequate electricity, the small hydroelectric power plant that still sits next to Ground Hog Lock was built, using the flow of water diverted from the canal to turn its turbines. Uhlersville, another lost hamlet, surrounded Ground Hog Lock, but few traces remain of Peter Uhler's 1830s distillery, malt house and lime kilns; nor of the later store, paper mill, gristmill, sawmill and hotel.

Pass through Raubsville, another scenic, quaint town that has grown and flourished, then soon under the I-78 overpass toward Easton. After passing Nesquehoning Street in a little more than a mile, the river road skirts along Mount Ida on the left. The lost hamlet of Williamsport (c. 1832) was once located at the base of Mount Ida where the road first passes a lime kiln then approaches and passes under the railroad bridges. The Glanz & Kuebler brewery, canal lock house and toll collectors office, a cooper's shop, two small taverns and tightly packed clapboard homes of immigrant workers were once tucked against the rocky cliffs, before they yielded to damage from recurring floods and demolition for the widening of Route 611.

The site of Williamsport is fronted by the junction of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, known as the "Forks of the Delaware". Three canals -- the Lehigh, the Delaware, and the Morris Canals -- also joined here. By raising the level of the Lehigh River, a canal company dam created a calm area so that canal boats coming down the Lehigh Canal could safely maneuver into either the entrance lock of the Delaware Canal or be lowered via another lock into the Delaware River to be pulled across into the Morris Canal entrance portal in Phillipsburg, NJ. The site is also in the process of reconstruction due to recent flood damage. A fish ladder allows shad to swim upstream around the dam and into the Lehigh River, and visitors can watch the migrating fish through glass windows as they swim past at eye level.

Pinched between the Lehigh River and Mount Ida's cliffs, Route 611 curves sharply around to a traffic light at the south end of Easton's Third Street Bridge over the Lehigh River. Near this spot stood Mike Malarkey's Hotel, where the P&E trolley tracks ended. Two railroad lines had stations nearby. In Malarkey's bar, trolley passengers mingled with canal boaters, railroaders, trolley workers, and the South Easton locals.

Immediately over the bridge Route 611 north turns right. At the traffic light, turn right and cross the free bridge to Phillipsburg's Union Square.

E-mail the author with comments or questions.

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Decoys and Wildlife Gallery
  • This wildlife art gallery contains the area's largest selection of hand carved decoys, representing carvers across the US, as well as an extensive collection of original paintings by some of the nation's most renowned artists.

    55 Bridge St., Frenchtown 08825, 908/996-6501

  • Bouman Stickey Farmstead
  • 114 Dreahook Road, Stanton 08885, 908/236-2327

  • Ship Inn Restaurant and Brewery
  • New Jersey''s first brewpub where, in addition to14 British ales and hard cider on tap, you can enjoy selections brewed on-site. The menu is derived exclusively from cuisine from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Lively weekend entertainment, on and off premise catering.

    61 Bridge St., Milford 08848, 908/995-7007

  • American Spirits Roadhouse
  • A comfortable, come-as-you-are environment in the classic tradition of America's best roadhouses, American Spirits Roadhouse is a haven for those who love classic favorites with new twists, extensive drink choices, and nights filled with music. Something special every night: great bands, open mic, poker, trivia, karaoke, and more.

    1090 Route 173, Asbury 08802, 908/735-0101

  • Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse
  • Artisanal cheeses, wood fired breads, 100% grass-fed beef, whey fed pork, and suckled veal, 100% grass-fed ice cream, pasta made with Emmer wheat and our own free-range eggs, and pesto made with our own basil! Bread and cheesemaking workshops are held on the working farm as well as weekend tours and occasional concerts.

    369 Stamets Road, Milford 08848, 908/86GRASS

More...

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Comments

Barbara
09 Feb 2015, 08:14
I remember a house along Route 611 (NJ side, I believe) maybe in Frenchtown, that looked like a converted stone church. Also I remember a family name etched into the stone walkway leading up to the house. Anyone familiar with this?
John
24 Nov 2014, 12:05
#142 is NOT the only operating steam locomotive in New Jersey. Please try some basic fact checking before publishing this sort of thing. Check out the BR&W Railroad in Flemington NJ, which operates an AMERICAN BUILT steam locomotive!
Susan
13 Jul 2014, 08:54
Great article! One sometimes never appreciates "home" until you move away. My family is another that had settled in the area and has been there for generations. My brother still lives in the area and is bringing up his family there. Although I have moved, it is still very close to my heart and close enough that my husband and I try to make the trip "down the river" a few times throughout the year.
Alan L. Pyatt
13 Jul 2014, 05:05
My family moved to Carpentersville in June of 1958. I live in the old Carpentersville Store. As a kid I played and explored all the old places and structures in Finesville, Rieglesville, and most of these historic area's you've mentioned. My childhood growing up here was a very "Huck Finn" existence to say the least. Even today, although the area has changed drastically, it is still very quiet and serine. The old Bel-Del RR line which runs the Black River and Western RR runs not more than 80 ft from my home. I know of the rich history of the area because it was told to me by the "Oldtimer's" that lived here when I was young, history handed down by generation if you will. I knew these people well because my father spent a lot of time hunting and fishing with them, as did I as well. To be honest, you couldn't imagine what it was like living here unless you did. Most of us didn't have a lot, but in actuality we had more then most do today. I would not trade any of the time I have spent here for anything. My father and mother raised my brother and I here, I have raised my kids here, and now one of my daughters is raising her family here as well......when was the last time you knew of generations of one family staying in one place in these times? I just thought I would share a bit here from one who has lived here all his life. One thing I would ask though is.....please, when you come through the hamlet....please be respectable of the people here and their property. There have been issues of disrespect, and it has made some very protective. There aren't many of these types of area's left in NJ, so please.....be respectful, that's all we ask.
DONALD B KREITZ
11 Nov 2013, 09:28
I was born and raise in Raubsville(1935) and I was always taught the little village just south of raubsville was called Coffetown, and I fished with my Dad for trout at Cooks Creek just east of L. Nichols farm.
carol
07 Jun 2013, 06:26
I was on River road in Pohatcong last week. Much to my surprise I saw a passenger train riding along the river!\r\nI have been searching for information on that train since I would love to take a ride along the river on a train. Can you please forward me the necessary information on that particular train?\r\nI would greatly appreciate it.\r\nThank you, Carol P
Jack Rescoe
03 Mar 2013, 11:24
I find myself returning to NJ Skylands and Bob Koppenhaver's fine article. After carefully rereading what he provided, I think the old iron mine I asked about may be the same one he mentions up in Kintnersville. It's been now almost 55 years since I was on that hike & I believe our hike leader named it "Kintnersville Circular". We visited Ringing Rocks that same day when it was not yet a designated park in Bucks County. I always long for those days I spent exploring the area.
Jack Rescoe
08 Aug 2012, 23:30
In about 1958 I was a member of the Union County NJ Hiking Club in Elizabeth. Along the Delaware River there is a paved road. Around Kintnersville, just off that road is an old iron mine which has its entrance in the side of the hill. There is also an old "ore pass" or slanted shaft going steeply down into the mine, which is very large and intricate with many passages, which we explored. Can anyone say with surety thay know of this mine, its name, and any history of who mined there. I've always wondered, lo these 54 years. Thank you. Oh! I should say this is on the Pennsylvania side. Jack in Portland, OR.
Frank Drinkhouse
28 Dec 2011, 13:15
Hi, correction to the previous post- the bridge my dad is looking for a photo or postcard of is 3.2 miles south of the Third St. bridge south of Easton on Rt. 611, just below the BlackHorse Tavern. If anyone has photos of this old bridge, call my dad, please. Thanks! Dave at 1-610-559-3973
Frank Drinkhouse
28 Dec 2011, 13:06
Hi, my dad lives in Easton and is eagerly looking for postcards of the Easton & Philadelphia trolley line on a bridge by Raubsville. He'll pay for postcard copy of the trolley on the bridge. Does anybody know of any? Call Dave Drinkhouse, 1-610-559-3973
maggie
22 Jul 2009, 04:20
I went back down to the section of River Road beginning after crossing the Musconetcong Creek (quite hidden from casual observers..who knew anything nice could be beyond that graffitti filled underpass) and what a treat! Beautiful homes and views of the river...there is an historic marker -- Parselyville?? I can't remember -- should have taken a photo of the sign. I wanted to look the district up online. I believe it said "national historic register" on it.
Bob Koppenhaver
21 Jul 2009, 16:53
To bwbriggs:\r\n\r\nThe article is 100% correct as written. You are confusing UhlersTOWN with UhlersVILLE. UhlersTOWN definitely still exists. UhlersVILLE definitely does not. Check the maps and texts from the 1800s. You will see exactly which buildings once existed in UhlersVILLE and that it was located immediately south of Raubsville PA.\r\n\r\nBob Koppenhaver, author of the article
Maggie S Walkforallseasons.com
20 Jul 2009, 04:38
Just took a bike ride from the prking lot in Rieglesville NJ, up the river road through Carpentersville. The road has just been re-paved and it is a wonderful, easy ride. We got just past Carpentersville before turning around due to time contraints and that registered 6.5 miles round trip. Truly feel as though you are entering another era. The Limekilns are spectacular and I wonder why there are railings on top of them and if there is a hiking path to reach the top.
bwbriggs
19 Jul 2009, 16:05
The following is incorrect-\r\n"Uhlersville, another lost hamlet, surrounded Ground Hog Lock, but few traces remain of Peter Uhler's 1830s distillery, malt house and lime kilns; nor of the later store, paper mill, gristmill, sawmill and hotel"\r\n \r\nUhlerstown is alive & well, but it is at the end of the Frenchtown, NJ bridge, in Uhlerstown PA. It is about 8 miles south of Raubsville.
Lisa
09 Jul 2009, 06:10
I agree with Arthur. Just like a recipe page has a button to click for a printable version. You would NOT lose ads because everyone would still view this page and then could print a basic copy to bring along.
Skylands Visitor
02 Jul 2009, 16:31
Arthur: Two solutions: Select the text, copy and paste in your favorite word processor to print. Or subscribe to our magazine which we still print for such occasions!
Arthur
02 Jul 2009, 05:43
Loved the article and look forward to making the trip with this text along as a professional guide. However ( always a "however"), I want to print it out but it will take a "ream" of paper because the setup is so narrow. Could you, in the future, make a "printable" version which will fill the page when printed out. I realize you would lose some of the ads but it really would be wonderful.\r\n
Al MacLennan
01 Jul 2009, 10:25
This is very interesting information, and I will have to take a drive out there to see some of the sights. Thanks for providing so many facts.
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