The Erie Canal, opened in 1825, was the engineering marvel of the 19th Century. It was built before the US has any engineering schools, and was built with the muscle power of men & horse, with only a few spots where rocks were blasted using black powder. The Canal spurred the first great westward movement of American settlers, opening the rich land and resources west of the Appalachians, linking them to the port city of New York, moving it ahead of Philadelphia as the dominant commercial centre of the United States.
Following American independence, the Allegheny Mountains were the Western Frontier. The “Northwest Territories”, which would later become Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio were rich in timber, minerals, and fertile land for farming. By trail, it took weeks to reach these lands and resources, on hard and bumpy roads in summer, along muddy trails in winter. And travel was time and labour intensive, and therefore costly to get the resources to market, in New York City and from there to factories and export markets.
New York Governor DeWitt Clinton envisioned a 363-mile canal from Buffalo on eastern Lake Erie to Albany on the upper Hudson River, and in 1817 managed to secure $7 million in funding. The canal was built 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep. Between 1835 and 1905 the canals were enlarged 3 times. In 1918, to accommodate newer larger barges, the engineers abandoned the original man-made channel and chose to “Canalize” the rivers by dredging navigable channels in the Mohawk, Oswego, Seneca, Clyde and through Oneida Lake. Dams were built, and locks added, and the whole system was renamed the New York State Barge Canal.
In 2001, the canal was designated as the nation’s 23rd National Heritage Corridor, the New York State Canal System consists of four Canals, historically significant for the contributions to establish New York State as an international center of commerce and finance.
The Erie Canalway Trail
Canals are significant for recreational use, since they are fundamentally flat, ideal for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and in some sections, for horseback riding. No motor vehicles are allowed. The Erie Canalway Trail has four main developed segments along the canal path that starts at the Niagara River between the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda and goes to the City of Troy. At Lockport., visitors can take cruises on the historic Erie Canal, including “locking through” on the only double set of locks on the Erie Canal.The Erie Canal Heritage Trail System extends from the Town of Lockport in Niagara County to Palmyra in Wayne County.