The Ditch Part 1. Why the Erie Canal? (An Introduction)

 

Born and raised in southeastern Michigan near Detroit I develop an appreciation for the Great Lakes and surroundings due to family vacations along the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula. As I become familiar with this area the desire to learn more about the geography and history of land stretching from Minnesota to Wisconsin, Michigan to Pennsylvania (never developed an interest in Ohio it is so below Michigan), and New York State into New England increases. I learn of Native American Indian tribes Ojibwa, Chippewa, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Iroquois that fuel the imagination and romanticize the region. A 1967 Pykonen family vacation (nine years old, I was) took us across southern Canada through the province of Ontario to Niagara Falls where we come close to the western terminus of the Erie Canal

early map of the canal by Thomas Curtis Clark, 1896
early map of the canal by Thomas Curtis Clark, 1896

at Tonawanda, NY our goal being Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Appalachian Mountains and the countryside into Pennsylvania supplement the pictures and information creating lingering memories that grow with subsequent moves from Michigan to Oregon, south to California, back to Michigan, and finally here to Washington State. Then came along the video of Jerome K. Jerome’s story Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the dog) with Tim Curry, Michael Palin, and Stephen Moore a humorous story of three friends who take a boat trip in a Thames skiff up the Thames to cure what ails them. Even though the story takes place in England the pastoral, picturesque, and historical countryside complete with locks is reminiscent of upstate New York and further cements an Erie Canal interest.
In the early part of the 19th century, soon to be Governor of New York State Dewitt Clinton pushed hard for construction of an east/west canal to connect the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. Detractors, lacking the vision Clinton saw in this link to the west, saw it as a waste of money however, in 1817 work began on “Clinton’s Big Ditch”. In 1825, the canal opened for business just a mere 49 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, sealed, and delivered by Thomas Jefferson (not before reacquainting himself with the Mrs. according to the movie 1776). An engineering marvel it includes 18 aqueducts that carry the canal over rivers and ravines with 83 locks and a rise in elevation of 568’ from the Hudson to Lake Erie (that’s amazing!). The canal started out at 4’ deep and 40’ wide then in 1918 a final enlarging of Clinton’s Ditch deepens it between 12 to 14’ and 120 to 200’ wide. Running north from the Erie Canal’s beginning at Albany, New York is the Champlain Canal opened in 1823 connecting Lake Champlain and the Champlain valley with the Erie Canal and other feeder canals that merge into it further increasing trade in other regions of New York creating just what a young country needs, growth.

Next:   Locking Through

 

 

 

 

 

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