Since childhood, I have lived along the Delaware & Raritan Canal, having grown up in the canal
town of South Bound Brook. For over two decades I served on the board of the Canal Society of
New Jersey and, with my husband, Robert, I have led canal tours throughout the Northeast.
On vacation, we enjoy cruising (at the leisurely pace of 5 miles per hour) on the historic canals of
England, Scotland, France, Canada, and other countries.
In addition to writing many canal and travel articles, I have served as the curator of the Mule
Tenders Barracks Museum on the banks of the D&R Canal in Griggstown, New Jersey. A retired
teacher, I have written two books on the D&R Canal for Arcadia Publishing. My children’s picture
book, Bridgetender’s Boy, was published by the National Canal Museum in 2005.
|GROWING UP ALONG THE CANAL
In the summer of 1946, my dad, Berton House, bought a fuel tank
from an old World War II airplane. Splitting the tank in half, he made
two floats for a catamaran. (A catamaran is a boat with two parallel
hulls or floats; it is usually a light sailboat with a mast mounted on a
frame joining the hulls.)
The picture at the right was taken along the Delaware and Raritan
Canal in South Bound Brook, New Jersey. My dad is paddling as his
mother, Clara Riggs, and my mom, Louise, enjoy the ride. Since this
trip occurred a mere five months before my birth, I must have been
along for the ride.
Some years later, on Halloween, pranksters punched holes in the
floats, and the boat sank in the canal. Maybe it still sits on the bottom
of the canal, waiting to be discovered.
I attended Robert Morris Elementary School in South Bound Brook and graduated in 1965
from Bound Brook High School. My favorite class was journalism, taught by Marilyn Ballas.
At Paterson State College in Wayne, New Jersey I majored in elementary education. While
living in Pioneer Hall, I edited and wrote the dorm newsletter with my friend Chris. This was
my first attempt at writing for an audience.
After doing my student teaching at Crim School in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional
School District, I began my career at the Finderne Elementary School, teaching fourth grade.
When that building closed in 1983, the faculty moved just down the road to Adamsville
School, where I stayed until my retirement in 1994.
While teaching, I also wrote and edited newsletters for my church and for the Friends
of the Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage, a state historic site in Somerville. You might
want to visit the Wallace House, because George Washington lived there for six months while
the Continental Army was camped nearby.
When I retired after 25 years of teaching, I knew that I wanted to
write, but I also hoped to be active in the historical community. While
visiting John Auciello, the chief ranger of the Delaware & Raritan Canal
State Park, I happened to ask if he needed any help. "How would you
like to work at the Mule Tenders Barracks Museum?" he asked.
And so, my team of volunteers and I created new exhibits, freshened
up those displays already in the museum, and held a grand reopening
in May of 1995. The building was kept open for visitors on weekdays
and a dedicated corps of guides greeted park users on weekends.
All was going smoothly until September 1999, when the remnants of
Hurricane Floyd hit the Millstone and Raritan river valleys, causing
massive flooding. Muddy water filled the entire first floor of the Barracks
Museum, ruining some exhibits and leaving the rest covered with
chocolate-colored mud. Volunteers helped with the cleaning of exhibits,
but the building was not restored by the State Park System until 2011.
While driving along Interstate 95 in the fall of 1996, a friend suggested that we needed a driving guide
that listed canal sites along the way from Maine to Florida. Thus began my research into creating A
Driving Guide to Canal Sites Along I-95. Combining maps and detailed driving directions, this book lists
and locates nearly one hundred sites from Maine to Florida, all within 25 miles of the interstate.
As Bob and I travel, I often keep a journal of the places we visit and the folks we meet. An article on our
cruise aboard the Emita II on the Erie Canal was published in the travel section of many of the Gannett
In 2001 I began borrowing photo collections from the Canal Society of New Jersey and the D&R Canal
Commission. Putting the pictures in order to tell the story of the canal, I added captions and produced, in
2002, The Delaware and Raritan Canal for the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing. Two
years later, having found a treasure trove of additional photographs, I wrote the follow-up, The Delaware
and Raritan Canal at Work, also for Arcadia.
During this time I had also been working on the manuscript for Bridgetender's Boy, but had not found
an illustrator. Two different artists had begun drawings for the book, but each had to give up the job.
What to do? Just when I had run out of ideas, Doreen Lorenzetti a member of my writing group, asked if
she could illustrate the book. She was the ideal choice! Working all summer, Doreen created the beautiful
illustrations that bring the story to life. My characters and Doreen's children were the same ages, so her
family is forever immortalized in Bridgetender's Boy.
I was honored to write about twenty entries for the Encyclopedia of New Jersey,
published by Rutgers Press. My longer articles concern the Morris Canal and the
Delaware and Raritan Canal. I also wrote seventeen 100-word entries about individual
towns in our state.
For years I had been working intermittently on a book about inventions
created in New Jersey. Finally, in 2012, I took all of my notes, went to Cape
May, and worked without interruption in an office in the Emlen Physick
Mansion. I thank Michael Zuckerman for this opportunity. Finally it was done
and the History Press offered to publish it. So far, it is my best-selling book.
Then, out of the blue, I received an email, asking if I would like
to write the fun facts for Hidden New Jersey. The editor, Ann Lewis,
had previously published Hidden Michigan and had selected New
Jersey as the next state in the series.
Of course I said YES! The editor chose the talented Hazel
Mitchell as the illustrator and the book was published in 2012 in
both hardbound and paperback.
On a Road Scholar trip of the Grand Canyon, our tour leader Bruce Banker
showed us the National Park-style architecture of Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.
Mary was one of the female pioneers in her field, working for the Santa Fe
Railroad and the Harvey Company. She designed and/or decorated hotels and
stations along the railroad and many of the buildings at the Grand Canyon.
I am now working on a children's picture book about her life.
Mary Colter (right) discussing Bright
Angel Lodge plans with Grand
Canyon Nat. Park Sup't Minor R.
Tillotson and Mrs. Harold Ickes (wife
of the Secretary of the Secretary of