Still the most famous man-made waterway in the U.S., the Erie Canal changed the face of commerce and the lives of countless Americans in the early 19th century. Completed in 1825, the Canal was then coined the Eighth Wonder of the World, and went through two additional expansions over the next 75 years to meet growing demand. Once the pivotal conduit for bringing produce to market from Lake Erie to the Hudson, the Canal is used primarily for recreation today. Many thriving communities along its banks still tell the story of its illustrious past and can be explored by boat, car or on foot. The eastern end of the Canal’s corridor is a mere three-hour drive north of the city, but connects visitors to a unique world where past and present meld together to tell a fascinating story of American ingenuity, vision and progress. Interesting venues and communities dot the entire 363-mile long expanse of the Canal, including these must-see, historical locations.
Erie Canal Village
Construction of the Erie Canal began in the small city of Rome, which was earlier the site of colonial Fort Stanwix, utilized during the French and Indian War to protect trade routes through its waterways. Today, a visit to Erie Canal Village in Rome will give you access to three historical museums, The Erie Canal Museum, The Harden and The New York State Museum of Cheese, which all tell the story of the Canal and early commerce in Upstate New York. Constructed as a recreation of a 19th century settlement, the Village also includes slice-of-life structures representative of that time, such as taverns, blacksmith shops, ice houses and Victorian homes.
Boonville Black River Canal Museum
Built to connect the Erie Canal to the Black River, the overland Black River Canal was an astounding accomplishment, with elevations over a thousand feet high running uphill and 70 locks. The southern section linked together Rome and Boonville. The Museum houses a rich array of artifacts from the Canal era and features exhibits, theatre productions, lectures and a full-scale canal boat replica.
Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum
The site of the completion of the Oswego Canal, historical Chittenango provides a glimpse into daily life during the Canal era. The Museum features boat building workshops and bicycle rides throughout area towpaths, complete with a lecture series about canal building and natural history. Completing the picture is the locale’s ode to Wizard of Oz author and local son, L. Frank Baum. The Wizard of Oz theme permeates the village and even features a yellow brick road.
Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site
Fort Hunter, N.Y.
A canal aqueduct built at Schoharie Crossing in 1841 encompassed elements of all three Canal eras of expansion and development. Current-day Schoharie features a historic site tracing the roots of the Erie Canal, the three eras of building and their impact on both the local area and the nation. Buildings and other structures dating from all three eras, such as Putman’s Lock Stand, which holds an exhibit on Erie Canal stores, can be experienced by visitors as can remnants from 18th century Fort Hunter.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.