This year marks the start of a multi-year celebration of the Erie Canal. In 1817, ground was broken for the construction of the original Erie Canal. Across New York State, organizations will be celebrating the bicentennial of the beginning of this historic project that transformed New York and the nation.
Stretching for 363 miles across New York State from the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo, the Erie Canal was an engineering marvel when it opened in October 1825. For decades following the American war for independence, the new nation sought ways to connect the east coast cities with the new settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains, where fertile fields and abundant natural resources raised hopes for American prosperity and individual comfort.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Erie Canal and smaller canals that linked to it moved both passengers and products. Lumber, ale, glass, and other goods moved from the interior of New York east to Albany and New York City, while imported products and tourists traveling to Niagara Falls headed west on the canal. In order to compete with railroads, the canal was enlarged several times, the last in 1914 and 1915 when new locks and deeper and wider channels were constructed to accommodate larger barges. Today, the Erie Canal survives as a significant attraction for tourists and recreationists who bike, hike, and boat along its course.
This exhibition highlights the collections of the Albany Institute and commemorates the bicentennial of the start of construction of the canal in 1817. Included are original drawings and paintings, handwritten accounts of travel on the canal, and published documents that narrate a detailed history of its concept, construction, and festive opening in October 1825 when New York State Governor DeWitt Clinton road the length of the canal and emptied a barrel of Lake Erie water into New York harbor, thus uniting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. Historic photographs document the final years of the canal’s history as a commercial transportation system and its transformation into a nationally recognized historic corridor.