15 Miles on the Erie Canal

On this day in 1825, the Erie Canal opens, finally connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River and a man-made waterway spanning 425 miles. Visionary Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York led the opening ceremonies, replete with a cannonade, and rode the canal boat Seneca Chief from Buffalo to New York City.

Previous to the canal, overland travel from New York to Cleveland took over two weeks, and the trip to Detroit lasted a full month. These travel times were dramatically reduced and canal tolls exceeded total project costs within one year of operation as commerce, migration and settlement exploded. Within 15 years Buffalo’s population soared from 200 to 18,000 settlers and New York became the busiest port in America, moving tonnages greater than Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans combined.

So herein we delve deeper. Work began on “Clinton’s Ditch” in August 1823. Teams of oxen plowed the ground, but for the most part the work was done by Irish diggers who had to rely on primitive tools. They were paid $10 a month, and barrels of whisky were placed along the canal route for encouragement as the dig continued, 40 feet wide and four feet deep at the prism-design base. West of Troy, 83 canal locks were built to accommodate the 500-foot rise in elevation. The sides of the canal were lined with stone set in clay, and the bottom was also lined with clay. This stonework required hundreds of German masons, who later worked their craft on many of New York’s buildings.

When completed in 1825, it was the second longest canal in the world (after the Grand Canal in China) and greatly affected the development and economy of New York, New York City, and the United States. As an added bonus, Gov. Clinton had a river in Michigan named after him, with that locale becoming famous for party stores, bowling alleys, machine shops and nearly a million folks; many with names that end in vowels, yet some with no vowels at all.

And here endeth the lesson.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.