The Erie Canal

On this very gray, cold and rainy day, what better to do than to do a write up on the Erie Canal, along which we have been travelling for about a week. 

Americans have been a restless lot with strong urges for expansion. Everywhere on earth natural rivers and waterways have been essential for developement of society. Just look at the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges or the large european rivers like the Danube and Rhein. In the US the Erie canal opened up the west, by connecting the rich areas around the Great Lakes to the Hudson river, which allowed for transportation of huge amounts of resources and merchandise out to the New York City seaport and eventually granting access to the world markets. The Erie Canal made New York the Empire State and New York the nation’s prime seaport and seat of world trade.  

 The idea of building the canal belonged to Jesse Hawley, a flour merchant in the town of Geneva,  NY.

President at the time Thomas Jefferson thought of it as madness. A reaction many great visionary ideas receives by contemporaries. DeWitt Clinton, then New York City mayor considered the ideas worth looking into. Several efforts were made between 1810 and 1816 by Clinton and supporters to receive federal financing for the project, but was denied at every attempt. Things changed in 1817 as Clinton became governor of New York.  Work commenced on July 4th 1817, as ground was broken in Rome, NY by unskilled workers. The original project, that linked Buffalo to the Hudson at Albany was completed October 26, 1825. Some feat considering all the labor needed to build a total of 83 stonewalled locks that lowered and lifted boats. Lake Erie sits 570 feet higher than the Hudson river at Albany. It soon proved the sceptics wrong as the area was buzzing with activity and drew people from all over the world to the area seeking work and opportunity. Building upon the success of the original canal, New York State funded the expansion by allowing the building of the Oswego, Cayuga-Seneca, Chemung, Crooked Lake and Chenango canals. The system was steadily expanded and improved to allow for bidirectional movement of boats and barges. Early 1900s allowed for selfpropelled vessels. The locks were now electrically operated by hydroelectrical power generated at the individual locks. They could now pass boats and barges up to 300 feet long.  

       In 1959 the St. Lawrence Seaway that connects the Great Lakes directly to the Atlantic through Canadian land, meant a steep decline to the commercial use of the New York canal system. In 2000 Congress established the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to aid preserving and interpret how the canals influenced the development of the nation. 

Biking along the Erie and meeting excellent ambassadors for the Canal as John (Janek) has really opened my eyes to important driving forces behind the might of this nation, a might the world has been affected by, for good and for bad. 

Tomorrow we will also expand westward. Needless to say our expansion will not affect the world in the same way. We will consume some burgers and beers and maybe leave a skid mark or two along the way. 

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