Sunday, September 11, 2016

Book Review: The Erie Canal

The Erie Canal by Martha E. Kendall, National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2008.
I didn't realize the Erie Canal had been built so early in the history of the United States.  It would run from Buffalo to Syracuse and the Hudson River.  The canal was begun in 1817.  It was the dream of DeWitt Clinton, who had become governor of New York.  The building of the canal posed challenges, it included technology that had not been worked out when they began the canal.  They started with the middle more flat section of the canal.  The first section opened for use in 1819.  In 1820 more was added for use.  However the first section of the canal was almost stopped by disease carrying mosquitoes.  There was a swampy area to go through, and workers refused to work this.  Finally, the area was dug during the winter, when the mud and the mosquitoes were not quite such a problem.  The mosquitoes even took the life of DeWitt's wife.
Other areas of concern were those areas requiring locks, and crossing existing waterways.  An aqueduct was built over the Genesee River.  Another marvel was the Lockport Combine, a series of five locks in a row.  Here the cliff face was blasted using black powder, a new invention.
The entire length of the canal was opened in 1825, and just as DeWitt had predicted, was a financial boon to New York, as well as the nation.  It opened up the areas of Ohio to migration.  Communities developed along the canal.  It allowed for the movement of agricultural products to New York City.  During the early days along the canal, vehicles were pulled by horses or mules along the shore.  The foot path was only on one side, so if two boats met there was some difficulty in passing.  On boat would have to stop to allow the tow lines to settle to the bottom, then the other would pass over the top.  Young people called Hoggees would man the mules pulling the boats.  The canal had very low bridges, and consequently it was important to watch yourself as a bridge could push you off the boat.
 The canal has been enlarged a couple of times.  It originally was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep, then 75 feet wide and now 200 feet wide and 12 feet deep.  Many families lived on the canal, riding up and down transporting goods and people.  Until the advent of the railroad it was the preferred method of travel for many going West.  The St. Lawrence Sea Way now takes most of the commercial travel. The Erie Canal it is most often used for recreational purposes.  Riverboats ply its waters for pleasure cruises.  People in canoes, row boats and other small boats also use the canal for recreation.

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