The D&R Feeder Canal at Wilburtha Road

We’re exploring the various crossroads and hamlets that became the neighborhoods and business districts of present-day Ewing Township. This month we consider Wilburtha or Greensburg, just a stone’s throw from West Trenton.

Drive along West Upper Ferry Road out of West Trenton a short distance, and just past the Catholic Church is Wilburtha Road. The name is a combination of Wilbur and Bertha, the names of two members of the Fisk family, which owned much of the property in the area at one time.

A trip down Wilburtha eventually leads to a point at which you pass over the feeder canal for the Delaware and Raritan Canal. Many of the homes are visibly “historic,” and the landscape easily suggests a former time. This was once Greensburg (re-named “Wilburtha” in 1883).

The development of Greensburg goes back at least to the early 1800s, and stems from two features: its innate geology, and the construction of the D&R Canal.

Development depends on access to transportation, and development in New Jersey — and Ewing Township — was no different. The Delaware River provided trade and transportation opportunity for the development of Philadelphia and the southern half of New Jersey.

But ships and cargo vessels were impeded by the falls of the Delaware — essentially those rocks in the river at Trenton — and north of Trenton was considered either unnavigable or shallow, rocky and dangerous. A similar situation existed along the Raritan River, which also becomes dangerous and not sufficiently navigable.

As colonists sought to connect their cities in as many ways possible, and as the young country began to grow and prosper, it became imperative to move goods efficiently and conveniently.

An inland waterway was planned and constructed, connecting rivers and waterways from Massachusetts to Georgia for commerce. The last remaining piece was the connection of New York to Philadelphia: a canal across central Jersey, linking the Raritan River with the Delaware via a safe, navigable waterway.

Thus New Jersey chartered the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and construction began in 1830. The main canal between New Brunswick and Bordentown was 44 miles long, 75 feet wide, and 7 feet deep. The feeder canal, which supplied water to the main canal, was 22 miles long, 50 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. Both canals were dug primarily by hand by immigrant laborers, and were completed in 1834.

The canal that parallels Route 29 and the Delaware River is that feeder canal. It also quickly became a crucial transportation way in the 1830s, carrying goods and cargo on boats towed by mules walking the towpath. It delivered produce and raw materials to markets in the big cities, and brought finished goods to local markets, general stores and individuals.

That ability to deliver goods to markets partially prompted the growth of our Wilburtha. But the other prompt was the land itself.

The geology of New Jersey is such that there is a swath of sandstone which cuts across the state in a southwest-to-northeast direction, from Trenton up to the northeast corner. Gray sandstone and its chocolate-brown sibling brownstone are inexpensive and desirable replacements for marble, and were in great demand.

During the digging of the canal, massive beds of brownstone and sandstone were located. With the feeder canal completed, the stone could be loaded on a barge, shipped via canal and river, and taken to market.

Several quarry companies set up shop in the immediate area. Hill’s Quarry opened in 1833, later becoming Charles Keeler and Sons Quarry. The Green family (descendants of William Green) also owned land along the river, becoming known as James Green Quarry, and lending the name of “Greensburg” to the area.

The village included a general store, a post office, and a tavern, in addition to a few dozen homes. Other quarry companies to harvest the ubiquitous stone were Clark and Brothers, Greensburg Granite, and later, DeFlesco Stone Co., and De Grave Stone & Brothers.

“Greensburg” stone was shipped to markets, and also used locally. The brownstone of the Psychiatric Hospital (1848) and the old Presbyterian church on Scotch Road (1867) came from these Greensburg quarries, and reminds us of the by-gone village and industry there.

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