All Stories

Ellicott’s Southern Route – A “High-road” Proposal

Ellicott’s Southern Route – A “High-road” Proposal

When he learned that the canal was to cross Western New York far to the north, Joseph Ellicott sent his best surveyor to find a route that was more to ...

Lockport’s Deep Cut – The Final Obstacle

Lockport’s Deep Cut – The Final Obstacle

A channel dug by hand in solid rock for SEVEN MILES! Why didn’t they just go over the rock? Because water can’t flow uphill. They would have needed a reliable ...

Check or Bridge? – Think Carefully Before Deciding

Check or Bridge? – Think Carefully Before Deciding

  When the canal was enlarged for the last time in 1905-1918, individual homeowners who had their own bridges before were given the choice of either having a new bridge ...

A Wartime Transition – The Day Peckinpaugh Motorship

A Wartime Transition – The Day Peckinpaugh Motorship

In 2005 this vessel was rescued from the recycler’s torch by a group interested in turning it into a floating Erie Canal museum.  The plan was to create displays in ...

The Holland Land Company – The Western Background

The Holland Land Company – The Western Background

  Joseph Ellicott managed the 3.3 million-acre Holland Land Company tract that today is Western New York from this building in Batavia.  A large creek flows behind this building that ...

The Whipple Bowstring Bridge

The Whipple Bowstring Bridge

Getting Here Easily Even though we’re from the western section of the canal, we’ve known about and planned to visit this Whipple Bridge for years. In 2013 we finally went ...

Erie Canal Bankwatch – Searching For Leaks Since 1825

Erie Canal Bankwatch – Searching For Leaks Since 1825

Muskrats were notorious for digging their homes into the banks of the Original Erie Canal, but the banks of the modern Barge Canal are so large that animal activity isn’t ...

Change Bridges – Changing Sides: Not Direction

Change Bridges – Changing Sides: Not Direction

The bridge you see in the picture above is like many others that crossed the Erie Canal during the latter half of the nineteenth century, but this particular bridge was ...

The Golden Age of Postcards – Social Media a Century Ago

The Golden Age of Postcards – Social Media a Century Ago

Three things came together in the early 1900’s in this country that created a craze for sending penny postcards to friends:  One was the speed of postal transit because of ...

Washington’s Pivot – Seeking a Trade Route West

Washington’s Pivot – Seeking a Trade Route West

The Erie wasn’t the only attempt to build a canal westward.  Even George Washington, who was a surveyor in his youth, became actively involved in a project trying to canalize ...

The Erie’s Cities – A River of Prosperity

The Erie’s Cities – A River of Prosperity

New York City was the biggest benefactor of the Erie Canal’s success. Philadelphia, Boston and New York were comparable cities until just a few years before the Erie’s completion, but ...

Erie Canal Mules – The Perfect Animal For the Job

Erie Canal Mules – The Perfect Animal For the Job

This mule is being “tailed” down the “horse bridge” to enjoy some fresh grass with his companion before heading out (note the towrope attached to the whipple-tree on the towpath ...

Concrete Barges on the Erie Canal – A Wartime Expedience

Concrete Barges on the Erie Canal – A Wartime Expedience

Steel was in tight supply because of the war when the Barge Canal was finished in 1918. Alternative materials were sought to create a fleet for use in the war ...

The Three Canals – Understanding the Signs

The Three Canals – Understanding the Signs

    Sometimes the signs at our historical sites include well-intended mistakes. There was a culvert here in 1823, but this one was built for the canal’s third version, and ...

Two Transit Roads

Two Transit Roads

  Straight roads aren’t uncommon of course, but not many have histories that go back as far as these two that cross the Erie Canal in Western New York State. ...

Lockport’s Upside Down Bridge – Debunking a Favorite Story

Lockport’s Upside Down Bridge – Debunking a Favorite Story

The picture above includes the top of one of Lockport’s modern lock gates. The railroad bridge you see crossing the canal in the distance doesn’t look like most other bridges. ...

Salt City – A Paying Customer

Salt City – A Paying Customer

Salt sheds at Syracuse, NY in about 1900. Before modern refrigeration, salt was an essential commodity used to preserve food. It’s no accident that the original Erie Canal was routed ...

Opening Ceremonies – Measuring the Speed of Sound

Opening Ceremonies – Measuring the Speed of Sound

    Governor Dewitt Clinton and his party being carried on the Seneca Chief from Buffalo to New York in October of 1825.  The Governor was riding a wave of ...

Lockport’s Flight of Five – An Engineering Marvel

Lockport’s Flight of Five – An Engineering Marvel

ca 1825 – This colorized version of a famous woodcut shows the approach to the original locks at Lockport from the east. The people standing on the roof of this ...

Cracking Pendleton – An Annual Spring Ritual

Cracking Pendleton – An Annual Spring Ritual

The New York State Canal Corporation crew is here to open the canal for another season.   The invention of direct current electricity made it practical with guard gates like ...

Surveying The Erie Canal – The Essential Skill

Surveying The Erie Canal – The Essential Skill

  Early surveyor’s transits like this one were used to lay out the course of the original Erie Canal across New York State.  Though cutting-edge for their day, these instruments ...

The End of An Era – A Motorship Retirement in 1994

The End of An Era – A Motorship Retirement in 1994

Jim Brennan was the last oiler on the Day Peckinpaugh motorship when it was retired from service in 1994. The “Peck” is seen below moored at Lockport on its way ...

The Medina Aqueduct

The Medina Aqueduct

This picture of the so-called “enlarged” Erie (ca 1862-1914) at Medina was taken between 1903 and 1914. The two yellow arrows are pointing to a falls in the Oak Orchard ...

Lifting The Bridges

Lifting The Bridges

This swingbridge at Albion, NY is just one of many bridges that had to be replaced for the 1905-1918 NYS Barge Canal enlargement. The masonry buildings you see on the ...

America’s First Railroad? – Shuttling Erie Canal Passengers

America’s First Railroad? – Shuttling Erie Canal Passengers

This historical marker located in Albany marks the eastern end of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad. There’s some controversy as to whether or not this was the first in America, ...

Snubbing – Putting On The Brakes

Snubbing – Putting On The Brakes

  Before engines, posts like these were about the only brakes available. Drivers would loop a rope around a post several times and gradually slow the boats to a stop ...

The Great Embankment – A Surveyor Earns His Pay

The Great Embankment – A Surveyor Earns His Pay

The Great Embankment is found just a few miles east of Rochester at Pittsford, NY. In the earliest days of the Erie Canal, the embankment thrilled both onlookers and passengers ...

The Village of Delta – Keeping the Big Locks Filled

The Village of Delta – Keeping the Big Locks Filled

The modest flow of the Mohawk River at Rome could keep up with the locks of the Original Erie (top left), and of the Improved Erie (bottom left), but for ...

Adirondack Headwaters – The Stream That Changed our History

Adirondack Headwaters – The Stream That Changed our History

  Where does the Erie’s water come from? There are dozens of feeder streams along the way, but one of those stands out as the key to the erie’s success ...

A Great Depression – Good News For The New Erie Canal

A Great Depression – Good News For The New Erie Canal

Weighlocks like this one at Rochester were the toll boothes of the early Erie. Tolls were eliminated on the canal altogether in 1882 in response to growing competition from the ...

Lafayette – America’s First “Nation’s Guest”

Lafayette – America’s First “Nation’s Guest”

  The Marquis de Lafayette was on an extended tour of the United States when he visited the locks at Lockport in the summer of 1825. ...

The Key Players – A Canal Built by Non-professionals

The Key Players – A Canal Built by Non-professionals

Thomas Jefferson The great visionary president Thomas Jefferson was NOT a supporter of New York’s plan to build the Erie Canal!  Remember that he’d watched his friend and fellow-Virginian George ...

A Startling Discovery – A River Route Through The Mountains

A Startling Discovery – A River Route Through The Mountains

Unlike the other eastern rivers, which started at the TOP of the Appalachian Mountain Chain, only the Mohawk in New York State started on the WEST SIDE of the Ridge, ...

War With Canada – Two Neighbors Guard Their Border

War With Canada – Two Neighbors Guard Their Border

Work began on the Erie Canal in 1817 Our history books may not mention this as a reason for our decision to build a canal around Lake Ontario, but Canada ...

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