8 Ways the Erie Canal Changed America

8 Ways the Erie Canal Changed America

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1. The Erie Canal opened the Midwest to settlement.

Prior to the construction of the Erie Canal, most of the United States population remained pinned between the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Appalachian Mountains to the west. By providing a direct water route to the Midwest, the canal triggered large-scale emigration to the sparsely populated frontiers of western New York, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.

2. It sharpened the divide between the North and South over slavery.

Before the opening of the Erie Canal, New Orleans had been the only port city with an all-water route to the interior of the United States, and the few settlers in the Midwest had arrived mostly from the South. “Southerners had been moving up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers into southern Ohio and southern Indiana, which did become sympathetic to slavery,” according to Jack Kelly, author of the new book “Heaven’s Ditch: God, Gold and Murder on the Erie Canal.” The Erie Canal checked that trend as the new settlers from New England, New York and Europe brought their abolitionist views with them to the newly established Midwest states. “The New Englanders and Europeans beginning to stream across the canal were opposed to slavery, and it set up this confrontation,” Kelly says. “Southerners became more hardened and Northerners more adamant.” Kelly adds that the transformation of the Midwest into America’s breadbasket by the new settlers also “reduced the dependence of the industrial North on the agriculturally dominant South.”

3. The Erie Canal transformed New York City into America’s commercial capital.

Believing the Erie Canal to be a pork-barrel project that would only benefit upstate towns, many of New York City’s political leaders tried to block its construction. Good thing for them that they failed. “The Erie Canal really made New York City,” Kelly says. Prior to the canal’s construction, ports such as New Orleans, Philadelphia and even Baltimore outranked New York. “The success of a port depends on how big a region it can draw from inland,” Kelly says. “It gave New York City access to this huge area of the Midwest, and that was an enormous factor in establishing New York City as a premier port in the country.” As the gateway to the Midwest, New York City became America’s commercial capital and the primary port of entry for European immigrants. The city’s population quadrupled between 1820 and 1850, and the financing of the canal’s construction also allowed New York to surpass Philadelphia as the country’s preeminent banking center.

4. It gave birth to the Mormon Church.

The Erie Canal brought not only rapid change, but anxiety, to towns along its path. Kelly says that apprehension sparked an evangelical religious revival in the 1820s and 1830s along the canal route as well as the birth of religions such as Adventism and Mormonism. “Many people don’t realize Mormonism started right on the Erie Canal since it’s so associated with Utah,” Kelly says. It was along the canal route in 1823 that Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by a Christian angel named Moroni and where in 1830 he published the Book of Mormon and founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like Smith himself, many of the religion’s early followers were drawn from the underclass who missed out on the prosperity brought to some by the canal. The new waterway, though, proved to be a 19th-century “information superhighway” that aided the spread of the new religion.

5. The Erie Canal helped to launch the consumer economy.

In addition to providing an economic boost by allowing the transport of goods at one-tenth the previous cost in less than half the previous time, the Erie Canal led to a transformation of the American economy as a whole. “Manufactured goods had been pretty much unknown on the frontier until transportation costs became cheaper. Farmers could grow wheat in western New York, sell it and have cash to buy furniture and clothing shipped up the canal that they otherwise would have made at home,” Kelly says. “That was the first inklings of the consumer economy.”

6. It led to the advent of the presidential nominating convention.

In 1826, Freemasons in Batavia, New York, were suspected in the kidnapping and likely murder of William Morgan, who had vowed to expose the order’s secrets in a new book. The failure of any Freemasons to be brought to justice ignited such outrage along the canal route that it led to the creation of America’s first “third party”—the Anti-Masonic Party. As the 1832 presidential election approached, the grassroots movement lacked the elected representatives in Congress and state legislatures that traditionally selected candidates, so it staged a nominating convention instead. The Whigs and Democrats quickly followed suit. “The other parties saw this as a great morale booster and publicity, so they staged their own conventions beginning in that same year,” Kelly says. Although the Anti-Masonic Party quickly disappeared, it left behind a considerable political legacy.

7. The Erie Canal boosted the nascent tourism industry.

The Erie Canal is purely a tourist attraction today, but it also attracted vacationers when it opened as well. Thousands of tourists, including Europeans such as Charles Dickens, flowed down the canal on excursions from New York City to Niagara Falls. Instead of staying at inns along the way, sightseers slept on packets boats pulled by mules through the night. “It was considered a real novelty to sleep while traveling,” Kelly says.

8. It sparked a boom in canal construction.

Within a decade of the opening of the Erie Canal, tolls paid by barges had paid back the construction debt. The Erie Canal’s commercial success, coupled with the engineering knowledge gained in its building, led to the construction of other canals across the United States. None, however, could replicate the success of the New York waterway. “They became filled with political pork,” Kelly says. “Plus, they were expensive to build and maintain and had to be closed in the winter, so the railroad eventually took on a lot of the transportation function of the canals.”

Building the Erie Canal

The idea of building a canal from the east coast to the interior of North America was proposed by George Washington, who actually attempted such a thing in the 1790s. And while Washington's canal was a failure, citizens of New York thought they might be able to construct a canal that would reach hundreds of miles westward.

It was a dream, and many people scoffed, but when one man, DeWitt Clinton, became involved, the crazy dream started to become reality.

When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, it was the marvel of its age. And it was soon a huge economic success.

The Financial Impacts of the Erie Canal

  • The original Erie Canal cost $7 million to build and this was carried out over the years 1818 to 1825.
  • The legislative act allowing bonds to be sold to finance the canals' construction specified a maximum interest rate of 6 percent. This apparently was the interest rate which the bonds actually paid.
  • Over the period from 1824 to 1882 the total tolls collected amounted to approximately $121 million. This ranged from $300 thousand in 1824 to $4.5 million in 1862.

David Muir to Narrate Erie: The Canal That Made America
WCNY, Central New York’s flagship public broadcaster, announced June 29 that David Muir, ABC “World News Tonight” anchor, will narrate WCNY’s newest documentary “Erie: The Canal That Made America,” premiering at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 on WCNY.

“Erie: The Canal That Made America” is a one-hour documentary, marking the bicentennial of the start of construction of the Erie Canal when surveyors and excavators began linking a young United States’ east to its western frontier. It depicts how a young nation broke through with its first national public works project – America’s greatest – by succeeding in constructing a supposedly impossible-to-build, 363 mile man-made waterway to America’s heartland. Once the waters of the Great Lakes were wed with the Atlantic Ocean, the canal helped create what America now knows as the Empire State and propelled New York City into the role of America’s leading port and economic hub.

Muir is an Emmy-award winning journalist who serves as anchor and managing editor of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir and co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20. For more than a decade, Muir has reported from international hotspots including Tehran, Tahrir Square, Mogadishu, Gaza, and Fukushima. Most recently, Muir landed the first interview with President Donald Trump after his inauguration. Muir secured the exclusive sit-down with Pope Francis inside the Vatican. Muir’s Emmy-nominated series Made In America is a hallmark of the broadcast. A magna cum laude graduate of Ithaca College, Muir spent five years as an anchor and reporter at WTVH-TV in his hometown of Syracuse, NY before joining WCVB-TV in Boston, and then ABC News.

“As a boy growing up in Central New York, the Erie Canal was always part of the landscape, but few may know it began as an audacious and grand idea championed by only a few,” Muir said. It is a powerful reminder of the possibilities that can be unleashed when leaders embrace American ingenuity. This was truly an idea born and made in America that would shape our country in ways unimaginable at the time.”

“In this year that marks the bicentennial of the groundbreaking for the Erie Canal, WCNY is committed to telling the national and even international impact of the Erie, the canal that made America,” said Robert J. Daino, WCNY President and CEO. “WCNY’s documentary takes viewers across the country to discover how the canal transformed America’s immigration and opened the Midwest to settlement, created the financial capital of the world, and transported new ideas and social movements that continue to shape the nation today.”

About the New Documentary
Fifteen miles. It is an average commute to work in 21 st century America, or the jaunt to a youth sports practice on a school night. Fifteen miles. In the formative days of our nation, it was the working day for so many who helped push America west along its first superhighway.

“Erie: The Canal That Made America” is a one-hour documentary, marking the bicentennial of the start of construction of the Erie Canal when surveyors and excavators began linking a young United States’ east to its western frontier. It depicts how a young nation broke through with its first national public works project – America’s greatest – by succeeding in constructing a supposedly impossible-to-build, 363 mile man-made waterway to America’s heartland. Once the waters of the Great Lakes were wed with the Atlantic Ocean, the canal helped create what America now knows as the Empire State and propelled New York City into the role of America’s leading port and economic hub.

The United States marks the bicentennial of the Erie Canal in 2017. Surveyors and excavators began linking the United States’ east to its west in 1817. A young nation broke through with its first great crusade of ingenuity by willing the man-made waterway to places linked to the American heartland and linking a fledgling nation to the rest of the world.

Though it is often credited with helping to create what America now knows as the Empire State, the story of the Erie Canal is more than a New York story. The towpath certainly made New York City America’s leading port and economic hub once the waters of the Great Lakes were wed with the Atlantic. The confluence would change the course of cities beyond the northeast, including New Orleans and Chicago and Detroit.

WCNY’S Erie: The Canal That Made America is a defining story of immigration. Europeans poured their lives into digging and developing homes, businesses and communities along “Clinton’s Ditch.” It is the story of the political gambit taken to drive the waterway across the region south of the Adirondack Mountains and into the Great Lakes. A canal was first proposed by George Washington in the 1790s. But it took New York to make it happen.

WCNY’s Erie: The Canal That Made Americafollows the system’s routes that became invaluable supply chains for the Union Army during the Civil War. Slaves fleeing the south found safe paths to freedom in Canada along the canals. Safe houses were kept. African Americans settled in canal towns.

The canal became the place to see people like Amelia Bloomer, editor of the first newspaper for women and a women’s rights movement pioneer. Suffragists such as Harriet Stanton Blanch also raised awareness about women’s rights from the deck of packet boats that traveled a Canal Boat campaign for the rights of women.

The Erie Canal motivated other states to join the ride. Ohio built a link from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Valley, helping Cleveland rise from a frontier village to one of the nation’s great ports. Cincinnati served as a gateway for food products to move down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and up the canal system to Buffalo and beyond. Pennsylvania built a portage canal system to Pittsburgh using stationary steam engines and inclined plans to move packet boats over the Allegheny Mountains on rails.

Even a century after America’s rail system, and later its highway and air traffic systems usurped the canals as the way to move people and freight, the Erie has enjoyed a renaissance as a socio-economic lifeline for communities.

Erie: The Canal That Made America – New York State PBS station air dates

WCNY Syracuse

WXXI Rochester

Saturday, Sept. 16 at 10 am on WXXI World

Thursday, Sept. 14 at 10 pm on WXXI City-12

WMHT Albany

WCFE Plattsburgh

WPBS Watertown

Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 8 pm (pledge)

WLIW New York City

WSKG Binghamton

WNET New York City

WNED Buffalo

Erie: The Canal That Made America, public TV stations carrying the documentary, air dates

Kentucky Public TV

KET: Friday, October 13 at 4:00 AM ET

KET2: Sunday, October 15 at 10:00 PM ET

  1. KETKY: Thursday, October 19 at 5:00 AM ET
  2. KETKY: Thursday, October 19 at 7:00 PM ET
  3. KET2: Thursday, October 19 at 10:00 PM ET
  4. KETKY: Saturday, October 21 at 4:01 AM ET

KCTS, Seattle, Oct. 25 2am

KQED(Plus), San Francisco, Oct 2 and Oct. 8, 10 am

KQED World:San Francisco, Sunday, Nov 5, 9:30am

KSPS7.1 – READ MORE, Spokane, WA

Wednesday, October 25, 10:00 pm

Sunday, October 29, 02:00 pm

KSPS7.2, Spokane, WA, Sunday, November 5, 09:30 am

WHUT, Washington, D.C. Saturday, Oct 14, 12:00 p.m.

WGBY, Western Massachusetts, Sunday, Nov. 5, 12:30 p.m.

SOPTV, Southern Oregon Public Television, Wednesday Oct. 18, 11 p.m.

APT World, Alabama Public Television, Sunday Nov. 5, 11:30 a.m.

All others show on website, but no schedule as of yet.

KNME New Mexico Pub TV (NA)

MPT Maryland Public TV (NA)

WGVU Grand Valley State Univ. (NA)

WCMU Central Michigan Univ (NA)

Community Idea Stations, Richmond VA (NA)

OETA, Oklahoma Educational TV

Pioneer Public TV, Mn, SD, Iowa

WNMU, Marquette MichiganThursday Oct. 5 10 p.m.

IPTV, Iowa Public TV, Des Moines, IA

TPT, Twin Cities Public TV, Minneapolis, St. Paul, MN

MilwaukeePBS, Milwaukee, WI

WBRA BlueRidge PBS, Roanoke,Lynchburg, VA

WLTV PBS 39 WGBY Springfield, MA

Ozarks Public TV, Springfield, MO

WCNY, with support from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, traveled the world’s most successful canal to explore the waterway as it is today. Along the way we met people who use the canal in a variety of ways and invited them to share their stories. It is these stories that make up the seven Erie Canal Minutes (actually each 90 seconds in length) found on this page. As you watch and listen to these minutes, it is evident that this national historic treasure is very much alive and well!
The seven minutes are:

8.8: Primary Sources

After the War of 1812, Americans looked to strengthen their nation through government spending on infrastructure, or what were then called internal improvements. In his seventh annual address to congress, Madison called for public investment to create national roads, canals, and even a national seminary. He also called for a tariff, or tax on certain imports, designed to make foreign goods more expensive, giving American producers an advantage in domestic markets.

Basil Hall, a British visitor traveled along the Erie Canal and took careful notes on what he found. In this excerpt, he described life in Rochester, New York. Rochester, and other small towns in upstate New York, grew rapidly as a result of the Erie Canal.

The factories and production of the Market Revolution eroded the wealth and power of skilled small business owners called artisans. This indenture contract illustrated the former way of doing things, where a young person would agree to serve for a number of years as an apprentice to a skilled artisan before venturing out on his own.

The social upheavals of the Market Revolution created new tensions between rich and poor, particularly between the new class of workers and the new class of managers. Lowell, Massachusetts was the location of the first American factory. In this document, a woman reminisces about a strike that she participated in at a Lowell textile mill.

The French political thinker Alexis de Toqueville travelled extensively through the United States in gathering research for his book Democracy In America. In this excerpt, he described the belief that American men and women lived in &ldquoseparate spheres:&rdquo men in public, women in the home. This expectation justified the denial of rights to women. All women were denied political rights in nineteenth century America, but only a small number of wealthy families could afford to remove women from economic production, like de Toqueville claimed.

The &ldquotransportation revolution&rdquo shaped economic change in the early 1800s, but the massive construction of railroads also had a profound impact on American politics and culture. This sheet music title page shows how abolitionists used railroad imagery to advocate for the immediate emancipation of enslaved people and to promote their political platform before the 1844 presidential election.

Irish immigration transformed American cities. Yet many Americans greeted the new arrivals with suspicion or hostility. Nathanial Currier&rsquos anti-Catholic cartoon reflected the popular American perception that Irish Catholic immigrants posed a threat to the United States.


The Erie Canal is the most successful waterway in North America. It shaped the course of settlement and commerce between the Atlantic Seaboard and the interior of our country. The Erie not only made New York the “Empire State” and New York City the world’s leading seaport, but also contributed to the creation of the United States as a Superpower and the leader of the world’s economy—not bad for a skinny ditch of only 40’ wide and 4’ deep!!

The dream of opening up the interior of our country, by building a canal, had been discussed for decades prior to the actual beginning of construction in 1817. The Appalachian Mountain Range posed a formidable barrier between the states bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the vast, mostly uninhabited “Northwest Territories” on the west side of the mountains. In order for a young America to grow, prosper and indeed survive, it would be necessary to find a way through those mountains and open up those western lands to settlers and commerce.

Luckily, nature had bestowed upon New York State the only low level, natural opening through the Appalachians between Georgia and New York—-the Mohawk Valley. This opening would be the key to making the dream of building the canal a reality!

While the canal had many “fathers”, its foremost proponent and promoter was DeWitt Clinton. A visionary and astute politician, Clinton had been a U.S. Senator and was the ten time mayor of New York City. He believed that his city could only become a major economic force by the building of the Erie Canal. After years of hard campaigning, his tireless efforts promoting the concept of the Erie Canal finally paid off and on July 4, 1817 construction began at Rome, NY.

That first canal was dug almost entirely by hand. The canal was only 40’ wide by 4’ deep. It ran 363 miles across the state from Albany to Buffalo and had 83 locks. The locks raised vessels a total of 565’ between those two cities, an amazing engineering feat for 1825. The first barges were towed by mules or horses along towpaths. These barges (14 ½ feet wide and 78 feet long) could carry 30 tons of cargo while being towed by only one mule.

The canal was completed in only 8 years at a cost of $7,000,000. When completed on October 26, 1825, DeWitt Clinton (by then Governor of New York) boarded a vessel, the Seneca Chief, in Buffalo and headed to New York City. Arriving at NYC on November 4th , the Seneca Chief and Clinton became the first to travel the canal’s entire length. Upon arriving in NYC Clinton poured two kegs of fresh water from Lake Erie into the salt water of the Atlantic (New York Harbor) in a ceremony known as the “Wedding of the Waters”— this was the official opening of the canal.

The canal was an immediate success and reduced freight rates by over 95%. The Northwest Territories experienced unprecedented settlement and ultimately became the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. The cost to build the canal was totally paid off from the tolls collected in the canal’s first nine years of operation.

By 1835 traffic became so overwhelming that it was necessary to improve and enlarge the canal. When the enlargement was finally completed in 1862 the canals capacity had been increased eight fold and was, once again, extremely successful.

By the 1890’s railroads had taken away all of the canals passenger business and most of its cargo business. By 1900 a new larger canal—The Erie Barge Canal—was being planned.

Construction began in 1905 and was completed in 1918. By utilizing “canalized” natural waterways, the new canal would be much larger, faster and better able to compete with the railroads The Erie Barge Canal would be the first canal to use motorized vessels, therefore eliminating the mules, horses and towpaths.

The Erie Barge Canal’s success was due primarily to its transport of petroleum products. Its peak cargo carrying year was 1951. After 1960 more modern technology (oil pipelines, our Interstate Highway System, and the Saint Lawrence Seaway) began to obsolete the Erie Barge Canal as a cargo carrying waterway. As cargo declined, recreational boats began utilizing the canal and in 1992 New York State began a series of improvements and upgrades with recreational boating and tourism in mind.

Today this amazing waterway, still fully operational, has become a “yacht highway”. The Erie Canal now caters to thousands of recreational vessels from all over the world as well as tour boats such as one of the Lil’ Diamond vessels, cruise ships, canoes, fishing boats and kayaks. Some vessels use the canal as a destination. Others use it as a means of completing a popular boat trip known as the “Great Circle Cruise”, a 5,600 mile circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States that typically takes 5-7 months to complete. In 2005 over 1,700 vessels were on this cruise and passed through the Erie Canal.

Today you don’t need your own boat to enjoy this marvelous and historic waterway. Tourists and locals alike can now board a tour boat, such as a Lil’ Diamond vessel, and relive history by taking a 1 ½ hour cruise on the canal while hearing about the canals history and traveling through a lock. Being raised or lowered 20 feet inside the lock walls is an experience not soon forgotten.

The complete NYS Canal System is 524 miles long and consists of four canals– the Erie, Oswego, Champlain and the Cayuga-Seneca. All four canals are contemporary and fully operational.

In December of 2000 the Federal Government designated all of the NYS Canal System the 23rd National Heritage Corridor in the nation. In 2016 the Erie Canal along with the whole NYS Canal system was designated a National Historic Monument.

With these designations and New York State’s strong commitment to the preservation of these four canals rich heritage, the essential steps have been taken to ensure the canals historic legacy will be preserved as a vital resource to be enjoyed by future generations to come.

Exploring Erie Canal's role in shaping America

Jun. 23—WATERFORD — The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, in partnership with the National Park Foundation and WCNY-TV, are pleased to announce the premier showing of "Floating Ideas: How the Erie Canal Helped Shape America" on WCNY-TV at 9 p.m. on Tuesday. The half-hour documentary airs again on WCNY-TV at 1 p.m. on July 4 and premieres on YouTube on July 6.

"Floating Ideas: How the Erie Canal Helped Shape America" examines the spread of ideas along the Erie Canal, with an emphasis on women's rights, suffrage, and the quest for social justice.

"The struggle began two centuries ago, but is just as relevant today," said Bob Radliff, executive director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. "Although the Preamble of the Constitution begins with 'We the People of the United States,' expanding who 'we' means to include women, Native Americans, and people of color has been a long and enduring fight. Floating Ideas explores the Erie Canal's role in shaping the narrative and expanding our national identity."

The film threads together movements to end slavery and secure women's right to vote. Themes include: the influence of the Haudenosaunee on suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage the women left out of the suffrage narrative who faced voting barriers despite the passage of the 19th Amendment and expanding opportunities for women today.

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor received a National Park Foundation Women in Parks grant to support to the creation of the film.

"This film details how the Erie Canal was an information highway, moving people and their changemaking ideas throughout the country," said LaTresse Snead, chief program officer at the National Park Foundation. "The National Park Foundation and our donors are committed to elevating more perspectives about the multifaceted history of the United States through national parks, including women who broke the norms traveling alone along the Erie Canal to gather and organize around their vision of equality, dramatically impacting the world as we experience it today."

"The National Park Service tells the stories of diverse women at parks, historic sites, and heritage areas across the nation. This exciting documentary project shares that dynamic history of the Erie Canal with an even wider public," said Ella Wagner, 250th Commemorative Fellow, National Park Service, Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.

"The Erie Canal is something New Yorkers and beyond so often take for granted," said New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton. "A revolutionary feat of engineering built by many New Yorkers before us, the Canal and its banks hold stories of our nation's journey to self-discovery and its struggle for equality. Just as goods and travelers passed through its waters, so too did the fight of women's rights, suffrage, and the quest for social justice. Floating Ideas provides New Yorkers with an inside look at that journey and how this historic waterway helped shape our nation's identity for decades to come."

"WCNY welcomed the opportunity to work with the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to produce and broadcast this story about the Erie Canal's role as an information highway transporting ideas that transformed a young America," said Mitch Gelman, president and CEO of WCNY, Syracuse. "WCNY looks forward to sharing the program with our viewers and PBS viewers across the state and beyond."

The documentary was produced by WCNY Public Media for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor with funding support from the National Park Foundation, the National Park Service, and the New York State Canal Corp.

Barge Canal Centennial Celebrations Planned For Rochester

We currently travel on the third generation of the Erie Canal, commonly referred to as the “Barge Canal” 2018 celebrates the centennial of the opening of this version of the Canal system. The fact that we travel today on infrastructure designed and built 100 years ago is a great testament to the engineers and builders of the Barge Canal and the foresight of NYS to embark of its construction

The Canal Society of New York State in conjunction with the New York State Canal Corp and in partnership with the Centennial Celebration Committee are hosting two events to mark the centennial opening of the Erie Barge Canal in 2018.

When: Saturday May 5 th . Canal Conversation & Symposium

Join the conversation at this daylong public forum in which presenters discuss canal history and its continued value today and for the future. Registration $40, includes breakfast, coffee breaks and lunch.

Thursday May 10 th . Centennial Celebration: Watering of the Erie Barge Canal

East Guard Lock just west of Kendrick Rd.

Witness the re-creation of the first inflow of water into the 20 th century Erie Canal as “Teddy Roosevelt” sponsors, and other dignitaries greet the public and ceremoniously commemorate the event using the authentic shovel used 100 years ago on May 10 th . 1918. Dignitaries will also unveil a bronze plaque to celebrate the designation of the NYS Canal System as a National Historic Landmark. FREE

Canal by Coach Tour: Following the festivities join Canal Society of New York State President Emeritus Tom Grasso and other experts for a guided tour by motor coach of the remarkable canal sites in eastern Monroe County Registration: $60. Includes lunch, bus, printed guide and more.

On the morning of May 10 th . 1918 a group of engineers, contractors, workers and a few prominent citizens gathered on the east side of the Genesee River in Genesee Valley Park to inaugurate a monumental, audacious and revolutionary accomplishment in New York State’s long and storied canal history. Water for the first time was let into the newly completed expansion of the Erie Canal or “Teddy Roosevelts Ditch”. Five days later the new Erie-Barge Canal was opened for through traffic from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River. A new era had begun.

Sponsors: New York State Canal Corporation, Canal Society of New York State, Create a Brand, City of Rochester, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Bergman Associates, and John & Eve Graham.

To register for either of the events, click here

The English Channel (between the UK and France) The busiest sea route in the world, it connects the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. More than 500 ships pass through this channel daily. It also has the world’s busiest shipping lane: The Dover’s Strait.

Canals carry free surface flow under atmospheric pressure. Canals with sources of water at a higher level can deliver water to a destination such as a city where water is needed. The Roman Empire’s aqueducts were such water supply canals.

A Period of Prosperity

Upon the completion of the Erie Canal, Governor Dewitt Clinton kicked off a "Great Celebration." Beginning in Buffalo, cannons fired off along the length of the canal to Albany and down the Hudson River. Then, the cannon fire was returned all the way back to Buffalo.

As the cannons went off, Clinton took a flotilla of boats from Buffalo to NYC to celebrate the momentous occasion.

From the moment the Erie Canal opened for travel, it was an immediate success. There was an explosion of trade as natural resources were transported from one end of the canal to the other in record time. Settlers were encouraged to travel west around Buffalo and the Great Lakes Region and contribute to the growing communities.

Supplies flowed from east to west, and just 15 years after the canal opened, NYC became the busiest port in the country. In fact, traffic increased so much that the canal had to be enlarged multiple times.

Section Summary

A transportation infrastructure rapidly took shape in the 1800s as American investors and the government began building roads, turnpikes, canals, and railroads. The time required to travel shrank vastly, and people marveled at their ability to conquer great distances, enhancing their sense of the steady advance of progress. The transportation revolution also made it possible to ship agricultural and manufactured goods throughout the country and enabled rural people to travel to towns and cities for employment opportunities.

Review Question

Answer to Review Question

  1. The Cumberland Road made transportation to the West easier for new settlers. The Erie Canal facilitated trade with the West by connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie. Railroads shortened transportation times throughout the country, making it easier and less expensive to move people and goods.


Cumberland Road a national highway that provided thousands with a route from Maryland to Illinois

Erie Canal a canal that connected the Hudson River to Lake Erie and markets in the West

Mohawk and Hudson Railroad the first steam-powered locomotive railroad in the United States

Watch the video: 200 years on the Erie Canal (June 2022).


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