Waterway constructed in the 1820's. Runs through New York State from Lake Erie at Buffalo to the Mohawk River, eventually flowing into the Hudson River, New York Harbor and finally the Atlantic Ocean.

At the time of its construction, was a controvertial project. Governor DeWitt Clinton was convinced it would work, however, earning the project the nickname "Clinton's Ditch".

Once complete, the canal worked. It was singly responsible for the expansion and creation of various towns and cities along its route, including Rochester. Small towns opened every fifteen miles or so, providing places for canal travelers to stay after a long day on the water.

The canal (and its system of locks) opened the midwest to eastern markets by providing transportation to New York City, and this before the widespread introduction of rail. Farmers could ship goods to the Great Lakes, where they would be taken by barge through the canal to New York. Taking the Niagara River to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River was impossible because of a little thing called Niagara Falls, so the Canal was a boon to farmers throughout the United States.

After the development of the extensive railroad system, the Canal lessened in importance. Now, with airplanes and automobiles, the whole thing seems almost silly. The Canal is currently being promoted as a recreation area. The state would like to convert the Canal's towpath (along which mules towed barges way back when) into the country's longest multi-purpose trail, suitable for walking, running, biking, and skating. And the canal itself is still used by boaters and swimmers for recreation.

The Erie Canal is part of the New York State Barge Canal system.

The Erie canal was of tremendous economic importance at the time of its construction, but carried with it some devastating ecological consequences. The construction of the canal is now credited with being responsible for the introduction of a number of exotic species to the Great Lakes to the east of Lake Ontario. Niagara falls was not only a barrier to easy human traffic on the water ways, but also kept aquatic species from invading those systems.

The most famous of these invaders is the sea lamprey, which quickly spread throughout lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior after the opening of the canal. The species had devastating effects on the native salmonid (trout) communities, and they are still widespread today despite intensive and expensive control measures.

I'm pretty sure this is just a traditional tune, but if there's anybody I should be giving credit for the words and/or music, please let me know.


I've got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

We've pulled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And we know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo-o

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, for we're coming to a town
You can always know your neighbor,
Can always tell your pal
If you've ever naviaged on the Erie Canal

We'd better get along on our way, old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
'Cause you bet your life I'd never part with Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

Git up there mule, here comes a lock
We'll make Rome 'bout six o'clock
One more trip and back we'll go
Right back home to Buffalo


This song is best performed by someone with a nice deep rumbling bass voice, especially the line "From Albany to Buffalo-o", which dips down to the lowest note in the tune. I've found it's a good introduction to the idea of songs in a minor key for little kids learning music.

The first great east-west highway in the United States was the Erie Canal. It was completed in 1825. It was wholly within the State of New York and was paid for by the state. Taxes and lotteries raised the $7,000,000 it cost to make a 363 mile ditch 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide. It had 82 locks to raise boats a total of 571 feet between the Hudson River and Buffalo. It was by far the most comfortable and the expediant way for passanger travel over such a distance. Costs for freight were cut as much as 90 per cent. Passenger fares were about a cent and a half a mile. From New York City to Buffalo was a five-day trip as the barges were pulled along the canal by horses on the tow paths.

A look at the map shows that the Mississippi River and its great tributaries from a splendid transportation system converging on New Orleans. It was apparently Mother Nature's inclination to draw commerce from the Great Lakes regions and the Ohio Valley southward. That was the direction of trade before the Erie Canal. But with the new route from Buffalo to Albany the traffic turned east-ward. The population was to the east, the best markets were to the east, and the best approach to Europe was to the east. The Erie Canalbound the West to the Northeast much more effectively than the Mississippi River tied the West to the South.

Before the Erie Canal the port of New Orleans held promise of being the busiest port in the United States. After the Erie Canal the city of New York was an easy winner. Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, and New Orleans all grew more slowly as a result of Governor Clinton's ditch. But the economic pull of the Erie Canal was not the whole story. Commerical ties form political ties. The politcal struggle bewteen the Northeast and the South for the support of the West in their increasingly bitter conlfict over commericial vs. agrarian interests, over increasing federal power vs. states rights, over interpretation of the Constitution, and finally over slavery were also part of the Erie Canal story. The Northeast and the West were brought closer together while the South was slipping into isolation.

After the Erie Canal lost much of its economic importance, small towns on its border desperately searched for ways to keep alive. Many hit on tourism, using flatboats to bring vacationers up and down the length of Upstate New York. Eventually, the tradition of Canal Days emerged. If one takes a vacation in late spring and early summer in WNY, it is impossible to miss signs proclaiming local Canal Days, with food, arts, and entertainment.

One of the largest and most reknowned Canal Day celebrations occurrs in the small town of Fairport, about 30 minutes from downtown Rochester. The entire main street and several side streets are shut to traffic, becoming great walk ways for thousands of people. There are several bands in different parts of the town, incredible quantities of food and hundreds of art vendors, selling everything from little figures made out of spun sugar, to magnificent oil paintings. The celebration is in the first weekend of June and is concluded with a tremendous fireworks display, a feature added in Canal Days 2002. In all, it is an old fashioned fair, one that transports you back to America's small town past.

If one is interested in making the journey to Fairport, there are other attractions, such as the famous Lift Bridge, which once featured on Ripley's Believe It Or Not, on account that there are no congruent angles in the entire structure. There are many lovely bed and breakfasts, and the town is an ideal jumping off point for studying Rochester's rich history or the Finger Lakes wine country. As someone who has lived in Fairport, I recommend taking the canal path by bicycle, as it winds through some interesting scenery, and watching the fireworks on the bridge a block down from Main Street.

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