Mary Beth Writes

This photo is from Schoharie Crossing State Historical Site. The crumbling infrastructure is the oldest part of the Erie Canal -where it crossed Schoharie Creek. 

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The Erie Canal idea started around 1810.  Americans of means and dreams were looking for ways to “get ahead”. Everyone knew that waterways were the cheapest way to get produce and products moved around in this new big country.  But so far, one had to follow the routes of rivers, lakes, and the sea - with frequent long and complicated portages.

The technology of canals already existed in Europe. Americans realized there was a wealth to be made if a canal could be built from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River, which was the waterway to the harbor of New York City.

If you are one of my Racine friends, consider this. Most likely the flax which was grown and harvested in Racine County in the 1840's, which was loaded onto boats at DP Wigley and then shipped to Scotland where they used it to make linoleum - it probably shipped via the Erie Canal.  The Canal opened up midwestern products to the world. 

They wrangled the politics of it first. Then they started building it, along the way constantly inventing new technology to do the Herculean work of digging a 363 miles ditch that was big and stable enough for mules to pull boats along the length of it. It was completed in 1825.

The museums we went to were these. Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site. Their Education Coordinator spent an entire HOUR answering our questions.  That was amazing. Thank you David!  And if you live in the middle of New York State, they have Erie Canal programs you can visit or they will bring to you!

David suggested that we visit the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse the next day, which we did. (He also suggested we stop by the Glazed and Confused Donut Shop, which we also did).   

Some of the challenges of building this long ditch were these. 

What do you do if you are going east and west – and you cross a river of stream that is going north and south?  You can block up the creek if it’s small enough, but probably you are going to have to build an aqueduct over the stream! That's what the photo is of at the beginning of this story. 

What do you do if the water level needs to decrease rapidly, and the river that is next to your canal is a waterfalls? You build locks.

How do you build across a long, wide marsh when men are working in mud up to their waists, and hundreds of them are becoming sick with malaria, and many of them are dying?  Wait till winter and work on it when the marsh is somewhat frozen. Because standing in semi-frozen mud while digging is less deadly than digging in the summer.

How many workers does it take to build a 363-mile ditch? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands. Many of the workers were Immigrants who worked sunup to sundown for about fifty cents a day plus whiskey.

These days one can cruise the Erie Canal. Just in case you are the kind of person who might like to spend a few days traveling from Albany to Buffalo with your pal Sal. 

Bruce Springsteen singing The Song    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Koj5yGigFNU    

If you are intrigued by the mechanics of how they pulled trees and tree stumps out of the way. Plus other engineering problems and inventions.  https://sites.google.com/site/engineeringtheerie/home

I love Ben Franklin’s World podcasts which is how I first learned about Schoharie Crossing.  https://www.benfranklinsworld.com/episode-247-bfw-road-trip-new-york-schoharie-crossing/

 That is the canal going over a local river. 

 

Comments

Recently watched a show on PBS about the history of the Erie Canal -- very interesting. Given that my PBS station is the only one in NM and has a rather limited budget, it is quite common for programs to run here long after they run in more populous areas. Your photos from your trip are great!
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