George Washington was the first to realize the importance and need of canals for the nation’s development, but never completed his thought. On July 4 1817 the Erie Canal was began by Governor DeWitt Clinton a former New York city mayor and US Senate in Rome New York. It took much persistence and determination by Governor DeWitt Clinton to make the Erie Canal a reality. He believed the canal could be dug across the entire state of N.Y. to form a water route through the Appalachian range and become a “Gateway to the West.
” In 1808 Governor Clinton asked the N.Y legislator to form a Committee to study his idea. After three years the committee recommended the canal be built at an estimate of $5 million.This was delayed because President Madison vetoed the federal assistance for the project and because of the war of 1812. The N.Y. legislator than granted him a huge sum of $6 Million.
The canal was opened on Oct 26, 1825 and referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The canal a 363 mile water way 40 feet wide at the top, 28 feet wide at the bottom and only 4 feet deep it runs from Albany N.Y, to Buffalo N.Y across rivers, valleys, and mountains. The canal was engineered by only a few engineers in the country, who had no idea how to construct a canal. The canal was constructed and problem solved by trial and error. There were so many invention’s developed during the construction of the canal like the big two wheeled device to pull trees and roots out of the ground, and a special cement that hardened under water.Many Americans considered it the first school of engineering.
The New Yorkers did not have to wait until the entire canal was completed because it was built in sections and each section was used as completed. It took 2 years for the first section to be completed from Utica to the Seneca River, the 98 mile middle section opened May 1820. The next section ran eastward to Little Falls opened in 1821. In 1322 the canal reached Schenectady on the east and Rochester on the west. By 1823 the eastward section was completed to Albany and the Hudson River.
The last miles were through Lock port completed in 1824 running westward to Buffalo in 1825, were the most difficult to build. At this point there was 7 miles of 30 feet thick limestone rock and flint, which took 2 years to burrow through by blasting rock with explosives. Today it is known to geologists as (Lock Port Dolomite). GROUND BREAKING/THEIR SALARY- The canal was officially named the “The Erie Canal” but it had other names such as: The Grand Erie Canal, The Great Western Canal, The Big Ditch, The Mother of Cities, The Lifeline Of The Union, The Empire State, Clinton’s Ditch, Clinton’s Folly, the governments gutter, the governments gully, and some people called it that Dam Fool Dig.
More than 50 contractors worked on the first 58 miles of work authorized by the commission. The 3,000-4,000 laborers; farmers and immigrants from Europe and Ireland were paid from 37 112 cents to 50 cents per day, using spades and wheelbarrows to carry away the dirt.Some of the farmers decided to use horse drawn plows to break the ground and pull the dirt to the side. Using this method 3 men working with horses or oxen could excavate a mile in one season. Also working like this in a group they were paid 12 1/2 cents per cubic yard of dirt.
One team dug out 3 rods of canal in 5 1/2 days a total of 250 cubic yards of dirt, totaling a wage of $1.88 per day/per team. Today a steam shovel could do this in 30 minutes.The Irish were grateful for this because back home their wage was a dime.
They also could make money if the wished by being paid by the amount of dirt they excavate each day. DISEASES-In the summer of 1819 1,000 men were incapacitated many died between July and October from Malaria, Pneumonia, and Typhus fever, from the Montezuma swamp land west of Syracuse, which came from the Anopheles mosquito’s bite which caused malaria. “70 man died like flies when the canal approached the swampy valley of Seneca valley.” The canal commission did not issue a warning because it would have horrified the country. Despite the hard efforts of the men who died. They were buried in anonymous graves without a single stone to mark their resting place, and not any remembrance of the heroes who were at rest.OPERATION OF LOCKS-The legal speed limit of the canal was 4 miles per hour pulled by horses and oxen that were changed at relay stations to animals to rest. The lock keepers were awakened by the steer man’s horn to open and close the gates and to drop a boat from one level to another.
The boat sinks foot by foot until finally it is with the surface below. The horses or oxen than resume pulling the boat along the river. The process is reversed to go up current;instead there are pipes under the water level that fill the lock rising the boat until it is level with the water level, and the lock gates open to allow the ship to sail on At “Lock port’s” in downtown there is a double set of 5 locks to raise or lower a boat 70 feet. The canal shortened the travel time from Buffalo to N.Y.city from 6 weeks to 10 days.
Over 13,000 boats and 40,000 setters used canal to go west, making Buffalo a major trade center with the west. As the US expanded westward in the late 18th century, people in a4, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and western N.Y. had to find ways to transport their goods. The Erie Canal allow transporting of produce, especially grains from the west, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and other Great Lakes to the east and the west was able to receive manufactured goods in exchange.
The canal produced rapid growth of cities near the canal and rapid development of central and western N.Y state raising land values and made business grow.The Erie Canal made N.
Y. city the center for foreign and domestic trade in the United States. New York city took over Philadelphia and Boston becoming a major seaport in country. Before the canal was built it cost ‘$400 and took 6 weeks to move a ton of freight from Buffalo to N.Y. city.When the canal was completed it cost $10 and took 10 days to transport freight containing raw materials.
When completed in 1825 the 360 mile long canal connected Lake Erie in Buffalo with the Hudson River in Albany providing cheap transportation. People were able to travel by barge from Albany to Buffalo for only $8. More than $40,000 people traveled west on 13,000 boats, barges, and rafts. To celebrate the opening of the canal in 1825 Governor DeWift Clinton rode the canal within 9 days carrying a key of Lake Erie water from Buffalo to N.Y. city.
There cannons boomed, flags waved, and speeches were given. DeWitt Clinton finished it off at the end by dumping the Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean.TODAY- Today the Erie Canal is know as the N.
Y. and remodeled between 1905-1913 by Governor Theodore Roosevelt making the canal wider, the depth 12 feet deep instead of 8 feet and lengthening the locks to accommodate barges 300 feet long, carrying 240 tons instead of 30 tons it once carried, Because of the remodeling freight can still be transported between Buffalo and N.Y. city cheaper than by railroad and by average just as fast, because it moves steadily without stopping or layovers.
Like the old fable the tortoise and the hare slow and steady wins the race.” Today we can trace the Erie canal across N.Y.S by looking for towns names, if the name begins or ends with “port” or “basin” this is a reminder where the canal ran.
The names chosen meant something usually honoring the first settlers and achievers.. You may notice an old gray (building) stone building off the N.Y.
S thruway by the Port Byron Travel Plaza, this is the relic and remains of the “Old Erie Canal lock 52.” This was saved and maintained during the construction of the N.Y.S Thruway in the 1950’s. Those of us who studied or read about the Erie Canal may think of some songs sung during the construction of and while transporting on the Erie Canal; a more popular song was Mule Sal.