The Erie Canal played so many important parts in opening up America that it is hard to count them all.
First of all, the Nay-Sayers said that it could not be done. Fortunately there were strong proponents that were able to win out in the rough and ready political climate of the early years of New York State and we have all benefited greatly.
The Erie Canal took the path of least resistance right across the central part of New York State and through a series of so called feeder canals or natural watershed, and using a highly engineered system of locks to raise or lower the boats this largest canal in the U.S was able to connect Albany to Buffalo.
This natural path across the state follows what I like to call in my talks about Upstate New York Genealogy migration patterns as following the western corridor, or the natural route to follow the setting sun.
Primarily the canal was for transporting large quantities of bulk freight, slow maybe but at a very cheap rate in comparison to any other method. You may have in mind the images of people riding on packet boats, and they did of course, but these were almost always very wealthy people.
I have heard it said that to ride on the Erie from Albany to Buffalo would cost an average working man’s salary for a month. Most of our ancestors walked across the state usually with an ox team pulling a sledge in the winter or a cart in better seasons.
There are always exceptions and some of you may have proof of ancestors transporting their homestead property by way of the canal, but they would be in the majority. Many of these people only had a bowl and spoon and a few hand tools and a change of clothing.
It is said by historians that the Erie Canal was dug by New England farmers that worked for what was considered very high wages paid by the state and they primarily worked in the off farming season. For those of you that have heard that “The Irish dug the Erie Canal” you would be referring to the 1850′s period of the canal widening, which of course attracted many of the recent famine immigrants to good jobs.
I want to call your attention to an excellent website that is all about the Erie Canalway and part of the National Heritage Corridor of New York.
One excellent resource on this site is some very detailed maps that you may download for free, such as:
Erie Canalway Eastern Region – Albany up to Whitehall, NY and westward to Oneida Lake area.
Erie Canalway Central Region- Utica to Rochester
Erie Canalway Western Region – Jordan to Buffalo
Download these excellent maps at the official website of the Erie Canalway National Corridor website at:
You will find many items of interest on this website, things to do, get involved, plan your visit, and much more.