Shippenport, Ever Heard of It?

by Amy Curry, Executive Director
May 4, 2021

The Morris Canal is one of Morris County’s largest sources of industrial and engineering pride. In operation for nearly 100 years, the Canal was instrumental to the industrialization, settlement, and economic growth of all the communities it passed through, from Phillipsburg in the west to Jersey City in the east. In Morris County, the canal passed through many communities, with a critical stop at Lake Hopatcong. Initially the idea of Morristonian George P. Macculloch, the canal passed right through the heart of Morris County’s iron district, including Roxbury Township.

The Atno Store at Shippenport can be seen in the background.

The busy hamlet of Shippenport (Roxbury) was named for Charles T. Shipman, a prominent Newark businessman and director of the canal company in 1829. Soon after taking his director’s position, Shipman purchased land in the vicinity of Morris Canal’s Inclined Plane 1 East and constructed a three-story saw mill on his own property powered by water intended for the canal. Twenty years later, the area boasted a store, three sawmills, and an iron forge, all operating in conjunction with the plane.

The Remains of the Shipman’s saw mill.

Today, the boundaries of Roxbury Township contain five inclined planes and more existing canal resources than any other municipality along the entire 102 mile route. Many of these features are contained within community greenspaces or as part of locally-designated historic districts. There’s one inclined plane, however, long noted by canal enthusiasts for its one-of-a-kind qualities, that is finally looking for its moment to shine. Inclined Plane 1 East, the site of Shipman’s mills, is today located in the Landing section of Roxbury. Shippenport Road closely follows its path, and, while sleeper stones and the tow path can still be found, it’s the archaeological remains located largely to the western side of Shippenport Road that set this site apart.

Shippenport, Plane 1 East, the mill, and forge all appear in the 1853 map of Morris County

Despite local development and the passing of nearly 100 years since the Morris Canal’s abandonment, the remnants of a bloomery forge, forge pond dam, turbine tailrace and tailrace tunnel, and sawmill can still be found by the intrepid searcher. Today, these canal-related resources are rare, existing nowhere else in such a preserved state and within proper context to each other. While protected by easements or recent property acquisition, Roxbury Township looks forward to recent grants to help bring these resources further to light for all to enjoy.