Little Bits of History

Erie Canal

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 4, 2011

Erie Canal

November 4, 1825: Governor DeWitt Clinton pours water from Lake Erie into New York Harbor. This “Wedding of the Waters” took place ten days after the Erie Canal was completed on October 26. After completion, a large contingent of boats began the journey from Buffalo to New York City. They were regaled with cannon shot as they traveled the length of the canal. The governor’s boat, the Seneca Chief, led the way for the ten-day journey. After “marrying” the two water, a keg of Atlantic Ocean water was taken back to Lake Erie by Judge Samuel Wilkeson of Buffalo.

The Erie Canal runs from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes, a distance of 363 miles. There are a total of 36 locks to cover the height differential of 565 feet. It was the first transportation system between the Eastern Seaboard (especially New York City) and the Western Interior that did not require portage. Proposed in 1807, it took until 1817 for construction to begin. The principal engineer was Benjamin Wright. This superhighway was much faster and cheaper than carts pulled by draft animals. In fact, transport costs were cut by about 95%.

This new system led to a huge migration westward and it helped New York City to become the largest port on the East Coast, overtaking Philadelphia. Because of the cheaper methods of transportation of goods, the economy was improved. During this time, Britain also repealed the Corn Laws which allowed great quantities of wheat to be exported from the US to Britain. Since many of the construction workers building the canal were immigrants from Ireland, there sprang up many Irish settlements along the course of the canal. Much of the excavated soil was returned to New York City and New Jersey where it was used for landfill.

The canal was so important to transportation efforts that it was improved and enlarged in 1834 and again in 1863. In 1918, the enlarged canal was replaced with an even larger New York State Barge Canal. Today, it is part of the New York State Canal System and in 2000 the US Congress designated it as the Erie Canalway national Heritage Corridor in recognition to its significance to the growing nation.

“The opening of the Erie Canal to New York in 1825 stimulated other cities on the Atlantic seaboard to put themselves into closer commercial touch with the West.” – John Moody

“In the United States three new methods of transportation made their appearance at almost the same time – the steamboat, the canal boat, and the rail car.” – John Moody

“Farmers, merchants, manufacturers, and the traveling public have all had their troubles with the transportation lines, and the difficulties to which these struggles have given rise have produced that problem which is even now apparently far from solution.” – John Moody

“Pleasure is a shadow, wealth is vanity, and power a pageant; but knowledge is ecstatic in enjoyment, perennial in frame, unlimited in space and indefinite in duration.” – DeWitt Clinton

Also on this day:
Symbolism – In 1899, Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in Germany.
Chartists – In 1839, the Newport Uprising ended in bloodshed.

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