The sun was hot, the weather beautiful, and our thoughts went to, you guessed it, time for a road trip. We called our friends, Di and Harvey Levin and said ,”Do you want to pack a bag and join us on a short trip out west?” They readily agreed and with a little preplanning we were off on another adventure.
All you need is a little bit of inquisitiveness and your list of destinations becomes limitless. We heard this old song and decided to travel where we could get some first-hand views of what they meant.
"I got a mule, her name is Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.”
We chose to travel to Herkimer, and take an excursion on the Lil Diamond II. It turned out to be a great decision because we all had an outstanding time. Our cruise time was 3 p.m., allowing us time for a leisurely drive and a visit through the Gems Along the Mohawk. This shop is open year round and provides specialty shopping, an official Mohawk Valley visitor center, waterfront dining, and two cruises daily that traverse through one of the locks.
After a short wait we were allowed on board the ship to select our seats for the journey.
Pushing off from the shore the captain came on the speaker, introduced himself and his shipmate and explained that we would be on the canal for about 90-minutes. During that time he would explain about parts of the canal and some of the history connected with its construction.
The Erie Canal had an extraordinary impact on the people and communities along its banks. Villages barely on the map before the canal was built were transformed into major cities in just a few years. Between 1820 and 1850 Syracuse grew from a town of less than 2,000 residents to one of over 25,000. Rochester, a town of 331 residents in 1815, grew to nearly 10,000 by 1830. By 1850, Albany, Troy, Utica, Rome, Lockport, and Buffalo all grew to double or triple the size they had been before the canal opened.
The opportunities for commerce created by the canal brought enormous prosperity to the cities along its route, from New York City to Buffalo. Factories and mills sprang up along the banks of the canal in places like Little Falls and Rochester where nearby rivers provided the waterpower and the canal provided a fast, cheap means of transporting goods. By 1850, Albany had become a major port; Troy, Cohoes, and Amsterdam were leading producers of textiles; Schenectady was a transportation and manufacturing hub; Syracuse was the country's leading exporter of salt; Rochester was one of the largest flour milling cities in the country; and Buffalo was the premier gateway to the west.
The business of moving goods and people along the canal involved thousands of boats and their crews. In 1845, there were 4,000 boats on the canal, operated by 25,000 men, women, and children. Packet boats, which carried passengers, were largely operated by boat companies, while cargo boats tended to be family owned. A typical crew included a captain, a steersman, a cook, a deckhand, and hoggees who were the men, women and children who drove the teams that pulled the canal boats. In addition, thousands were employed to maintain and operate the canal itself, including lock tenders, toll collectors, bridge operators, surveyors, repair crews, and bank patrollers, whose job, called the bank watch, required a man to patrol a ten-mile stretch of canal looking for leaks and breaks in the canal bank. There were also merchants, hostellers, liverymen, and shopkeepers along the route who fed, clothed, housed, and supplied those employed on the canal.
The present Erie Canal rises 566 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie through 57 locks. From tidewater level at Troy, the Erie Canal rises through a series of locks in the Mohawk Valley to an elevation of 420 feet above sea level at the summit level at Rome. Continuing westward, it descends to an elevation of 363 feet above sea-level at the junction with the Oswego Canal, and finally rises to an elevation of 565.6 feet above sea-level at the Niagara River.
The original Clinton's Ditch, also known as Clinton’s Folly, the Erie Canal had 83 locks. The enlarged Erie Canal, built between 1835 and 1862, saw this number reduced to 72 locks. Today, there are 35 numbered locks, although Lock 1 is usually called the Federal Lock plus the Federal Black Rock Lock.
Engineering the Erie Canal required careful consideration of a great many factors. A canal must be level and changes in its water level must be quantum, not gradual. Bridges are necessary for all paths that cross a canal, and canals require aqueducts in order to cross other bodies of water.
Canals require careful maintenance to guard against breaks and must have constantly regulated supplies of water. Flooding or ice can devastate a canal that does not meet exacting standards of design, construction, and maintenance.
Lock operation, water supply and regulation, bridge operation, boat weighing and toll collection, dredging, and patrolling must all be carefully planned.
The first builders of the Erie Canal faced these enormous engineering challenges at a time when there were almost no professional engineers in the United States. The principal engineers of Clinton's Ditch were not professionally trained engineers when they began the project. Nevertheless, they were able to construct a canal so successful that it outgrew itself almost immediately. During the enlargement, the canal was deepened, widened, and most of the original single locks were replaced with double locks to enable traffic to pass in both directions simultaneously. By 1845 over a million tons of goods were carried on the canal each year. During the Enlargement, many engineers and designers were trained by the newly formed engineering programs at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and Union College in Schenectady. More than 30 Union College graduates were active in the Erie
The original Erie Canal locks were 90 feet long and 15 feet wide, and were designed for a canal boat 61 feet long and seven feet wide, with a three-and-a-half-foot draft. In order to keep pace with the increasing traffic on the canal, it was enlarged between 1836 and 1862, and the size of the locks was increased to 110 feet long and 18 feet wide. The enlargement included the doubling of the locks, two parallel chambers , enabling traffic to proceed in both directions at the same time. Although the enlargement was declared to be complete in 1862, 15 locks had not been doubled by that time, including most of those west of Port Byron.
In 1869, it was decided to resume the doubling, and this was completed in 1875. A number of locks were widened to 20 feet, beginning in 1870. In 1884, it was decided to begin lengthening locks, extending one chamber to double length, allowing passage for, double-headers, two boats hooked together without the time-consuming necessity for uncoupling. Lengthening of the first lock, Lock 50, to 220 feet was completed in 1885. By 1891, Locks 23 through 35, 40 through 43, 45 through 56, 60 through 66, and 72 had been lengthened. Locks 1 through 18 from the Hudson River through Cohoes, 57 through 59 at Newark, and 67 through 71 at Lockport were never lengthened.
A trip along the canal is a voyage into history. This rich heritage comes alive in many settings. Experience canal traditions at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, the Canal Town Museum in Canastota, and Erie Canal Village in Rome a complete, restored 1840s canal village. Ride in a mule-drawn packet boat near Medina, or visit Lockport to see locks from the 1840s canal.
The canal was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage. It was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95 percent. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York State, opened regions farther west to settlement, and helped New York City become the chief US port. It was enlarged between 1834 and 1862. In 1918, the approximate western half of the canal was enlarged to partially become the New York State Barge Canal which ran parallel to the eastern half and forms its new eastern branch to the Hudson.
Today, the Erie Canal is the cross-state east-west route of the New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal). In 2000, the United States Congress designated the Erie Canalway a National Heritage Corridor to recognize the national significance of the canal system as the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America.
Mainly used by recreational watercraft since the last large commercial ship, the Day Peckinpaugh in 1994. The canal has recently seen a recovery in commercial traffic.
Sailors have long been obligated to keep their quarters neat and secure, especially given the tight space onboard ships and turbulence at sea, hence the phrase ship shape came to mean neat, tidy, and in good condition.
Today, keeping a fleet of historic vessels in ship shape is the task of every member of the New York State Canal Corporation’s crew. Most of the blue and yellow vessels that you would see on the canal were built prior to 1940. That includes the tugboats, buoy boats, dredges, scows and quarter boats.
There are many recollections and reflections in writing and song that tell interesting tales about the Erie Canal.
Today, you can join in the fun, festivals, and events all summer long. Contact your favorite travel agent or look in the racks of travel folders at many hotels.
Regardless of where you decide to get the travel bug to bite, you will almost always have a wonderful time.
Members of the Order of Eastern Star are reminded that it is time to register for the 145th annual session to be held October 9, 10 and 11 in Binghamton. Registration is $415 and should be mailed to Grand Chapter, OES, Pounder Hall 106, 1400 Utica St., Oriskany, NY 13424 by Sept. 23. More information to follow.
Happy- anniversary wishes are extended to:
— Beryl and Hal Grant celebrating their special day on July 5;
— Therese and Randy Munroe on July 7; and
— Libby and Mike Pietro on July 9.
Happy-birthday wishes are extended to:
— Matt Edson on July 5;
— Lea Cure and Paul Toscano on July 6;
— Diana Ramo and Harvey Vlahos on July 8;
— Lou Ann Dowen on July 9;
— Carol McHugh, Jeremy Thomas Loblaw, Lenny Ramo, and Anne Vlahos on July 10;
— Mike Nowak and Gerald Peters celebrating on July 11;
— Jocelyn Chamaro on July 12;
— Mike Phelps and Rachel Marie Schroeder on July 13;
— Alice Fuina,Tom Miller, Ray Weiler Jr., and Maggie Williams on July 14;
— Betty Ann Best and Marcy Hornberger on July 15;
— Elisabeth Addyman, Rick Grant, and Jennifer Kelly on July 16; and
— Jackie Genovese and Scott Miller on July 17.