The Erie Canal started construction in 1817 at Rome, New York, and had its grand opening in 1825 when it. The canal was four feet deep, 40 feet wide, and 363 miles long, and it cost more than $7 million to build (more than $120 million in today’s dollars). As time went on, the amount of traffic and the sizes of the boats being used grew, and the canal had to be enlarged a few times to keep pace. The channel ended up reaching up to 23 feet deep in some areas and up to 200 feet wide. The engineering of the Erie Canal was a pioneering achievement and led to the construction of similar waterways in other parts of the state. All of those put together make up what is now known as the New York State Canal System.
The Idea for the Canal
It all started with the notion to offer a quicker and safer way to move goods by building a canal to connect the Hudson River to Lake Erie. While a passage like this made sense to some, not everyone was on board with the idea. In fact, Thomas Jefferson felt that the idea was “madness.” It took a couple of different proposals and a persistent man to get this idea to stick. Dewitt Clinton, the governor of New York at the time, paved the way by raising the millions of dollars needed to fund this massive project. Once the money was in hand, construction began on the Erie Canal in 1817.
- Erie Canal: Learn about the history of the canal with this brief article.
- Erie Canal Facts: Read over these quick facts about the original, enlarged, and barge canal systems.
- Fast Facts of the Canal: This page contains interesting tidbits about this historic waterway.
- Gov. Dewitt Clinton’s Role in Getting the Canal Built: Watch this short video on how Gov. Dewitt Clinton fought to get the canal built.
- Learning the History of the Canal Through Song: This document helps teach some of the history behind the Erie Canal through the many songs written about it.
- Dewitt Clinton and the Canal: Find more information about Clinton’s role in the engineering of the canal here.
- The Canal Era: This article delves into the background of the creation of the canal.
Building the Canal
The construction of the Erie Canal was an engineering task the scale of which had previously been unheard of in America. The chief workers on the canal had little to no training coming into it, and the job would put everyone to the test, as the path they needed would be going through fields, swamp areas, forests, and even some craggy mountain cliffs. The engineers in charge came up with the idea to start the canal in the middle: This area was the easier one to deal with, and getting this part constructed helped the working crew feel a sense of achievement as they began the more difficult sections. Construction ended in 1825, when the whole canal opened for passage.
- The Building of the Canal: Read an informative article discussing the construction of the canal here.
- History of the Canal: The article explains how the engineering of the Erie Canal finally took off.
- Building the Erie Canal: The History Channel presents this video about the building of the canal.
- Benjamin Wright: Learn about the chief engineering expert on the Erie Canal project.
- Paving the Way for a Generation of Engineers: The building of the canal gave these laborers hands-on training in principles of engineering.
- Labor History of the Canal: Immigrants played key roles in the construction of the Erie Canal.
- The Erie Canal in Perinton: Find out more about how the idea for the canal came about as well as some of the difficulties that workers faced.
- Construction Details of the Erie Canal: Read a history of the canal that provides many details about how it was built.
- Irish Workers and the Erie Canal: The canal was built with the help of many immigrants, including the Irish, who faced many hardships as they completed their task.
The Impact of the Canal
After the canal opened, it greatly improved the speed and ease of travel from the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean and back. Ultimately, New York’s population boomed as people flocked to this waterway and ended up settling in cities near it. Trade increased as westerners found access to more lucrative markets they didn’t have before. Immigrants also settled here, seeking opportunity and bringing their customs, languages, and religions.
- How the Canal Transformed New York: Read how the construction of the canal had a great impact on New York over the years
- Effects of the Erie Canal: This article discusses the benefits the canal had on the surrounding communities.
- Paying for the Erie Canal: Read about the Erie Canal today and the expense of keeping it operating.
- Effects the Canal Had on Michigan: The canal didn’t just benefit New York; it also brought increased trade to Midwest states.
- Canal Through the Mohawk Valley: This page looks at the canal’s route over the years and how it paralleled and overlapped the Mohawk River.
- Traveling the Erie Canal: The canal affected history in many ways. This article discusses the western migration that occurred because of it.
- How the Canal Shaped the Valley: In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the engineering of the canal, this article discusses how it affected the Hudson Valley.
- How the Canal Worked: Historic photos on this page show what the canal looked like in its early days.
- Historic Documents From the Canal: The New York Heritage website has a digital collection of items relating to the Erie Canal.
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