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 these to drain the canal for the winter each season, and to refill it again the following spring. Electric motors will power these massive steel … Read more

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 effort. Wood was used of course, but the government also authorized the construction of 21 reinforced concrete barges like those seen here.   Unfortunately, not … Read more

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 the threat it used to be.   Leaks were common in especially the original canal, and “hurry-up” boats like this were expected to get to … Read more

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 railroads. New York State built and maintained the Erie Canal to promote growth in commerce within its borders, and it was determined to keep the … Read more

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 between the two animals). Teams on the Erie alternated in shifts of  six hours on and six off around the clock.  This picture and the … Read more

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 alike as boats seemed to travel in midair over the mile-wide valley created by the Irondequoit Creek. On the right above: Leaks were a constant … Read more

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 Washington fail in his attempt to canalize the Potomac River.  When he heard about the project in 1809 he said: “Making a canal 350 miles … Read more

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 Potomac River after the Revolution and before he took office as our first president. There were no engineering colleges in America then, but it … Read more