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 source of water ABOVE the rock, and there was none. The water you see here came from Lake Erie (see also “Ellicott’s Southern Route“).
One of the biggest problems of all was how to get the excavated pieces of rock out of the trench! Finally someone had the idea of using a series of cranes like these, and the work was able to go on. One source tells us that the smoke rising from the trench in the distance is from a winter excavating techique that included building fires to heat the rock face. Barrels of cold water poured from above onto the hot rock created cracks. Heavy steel pry-bars could then move the chunks away where a nearby crane would lift them out.
Here’s a photograph (above) of the improved Erie before the final (Barge Canal) enlargement. Note the bowstring bridge, the solid bedrock on both sides, and the total lack of lights – even though they pulled 24/7 in those days. Walking that edge could be dangerous for a team, as there was no easy way out once they fell in.
A towpath had to be chiseled into the north (west) wall of the cut through this stretch. The arrows point to the same structure in both pictures.