Friday, July 20, 2007

79 miles on the Erie Canal Day 48

We cycled along the New York State Canal System today, which first started as the Erie Canal in 1825. Tonight, we're in Little Falls, New York. We had a fair amount of rain today again, but it looks like the storm systems will be moving on now.
The Erie Canal opened in 1825. Originally it ran 363 miles, from Buffalo, on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, to Albany, on the Hudson River. At an initial cost of seven million dollars, it was one of the engineering marvels of the nineteenth century. It allowed easy travel from western New York to New York City by waterway, much cheaper than horse drawn carriages on dusty or muddy roads. Within 15 years of the canal's opening, New York was the busiest port in America (supplanting Boston and Philadelphia). And with the exception of Binghampton and Elmira, every major city in New York lies along the trade route established by the Erie Canal. This includes Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady, Albany, and NYC. Today, 80% of the population of upstate New York lies within 25 miles of the canal.
The initial canal was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep (see top photo). It was dug by the muscle power of men and horses. Between 1835 and 1900, the Erie Canal "system" which came to include other New York State canals, was enlarged twice to accomadate larger barges. Between 1905 and 1918, the canals were enlarged yet again. Photo #2 shows the "barge canal", which is much larger. If you look very carefully, you can see that the "captain" of the boat is steering with one hand, while he hugs his "honey" with the other. He gave us a rather sheepish grin when we hailed him.
The third photo was taken after dinner, at the canal here in Little Falls, along the Mohawk River (which is just to the right, off camera). Much of the original canal has been abandoned, and engineers have "canalized" several rivers, such as the Mohawk, which flows into the Hudson River near Albany. Pleasure boats ride the canal system now, but there are plans to bring corn via the canal system to an ethanol plan downriver. Folks are still not sure if it's economically feasible--we'll see.
Tomorrow, we'll continue some more along the canal. Then we'll spend a few days crossing the mountains before we make our way to the Atlantic. As of today, I've ridden 3, 607 miles since leaving San Francisco on June 3rd. Hard to believe......

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