Central New Jerseyans were isolated in the early 1830's. Few roads existed, railroading was in its infancy, and rivers were not easily navigated. Thousands of laborers, mostly Irish immigrants, spent almost four years hand digging the sixty-six mile D&R canal.
New Jersey Governor Peter Vroom and a party of dignitaries officially opened the Delaware and Raritan Canal on June 24th and 25th, 1834, traveling by barge for its entire length
The D&R Canal was built to provide a safe and short waterway between Philadelphia and New York City for the transport of farm products, coal furniture, clothing and household goods. In short it provided connection with the outside world.
During the canal's heyday Port Mercer was an active community. Along with barges and ferries the canal was also used for pleasure boating.
The canal did not show a profit after 1892 as railroads gradually took over most of the shipping business. The canal stayed open, however, until the winter of 1932-33, when it was closed permanently to commercial navigation.
Shortly after the canal was closed to navigation, the State of New Jersey took it over and restored the feeder and main canal to be used as a source of raw water for farms, industry, and homes in Central New Jersey. In 1974 the State Legislature passed a bill establishing the canal and the narrow band of s state -owned land along its banks as a State Park In 1973, the Delaware and Raritan Canal and 17 structures relating to the canal were put on the National Register of Historic Places.