Part 1 The Erie Canal
Richard Brewart Jr.
HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY ACTIVITY 12
Copyright © by The McGraw-Hill Companies,
When construction ended in 1825, the canal was an immediate success. The cost of shipping grain from Lake Erie to the
Atlantic dropped from $100 to $20 a ton, and the time in transit was cut from 20 to 8 days. The Erie Canal carried such a volume that it repaid its initial cost within 12 years.
President Thomas Jefferson thought the idea was crazy, and in 1809 he refused to fund the project with federal money.
Attempting to carve the Erie Canal through the New York wilderness was “little short of madness,” Jefferson fumed. But New
York governor De Witt Clinton refused to let the plan die. He remained determined to construct the canal—making water travel from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean a reality. How would Governor Clinton carry out his plan?
Clinton called on his fellow New Yorkers to fund a $7 million canal that would link
Buffalo to New York City via Albany and the Hudson River. Engineers who had studied Great Britain’s canals developed the plans, and construction began in 1817. More than 3,000 workers cleared trees, leveled ground, and dug the ditch for the canal, which would cover 350 miles (563 km) and raise and lower boats nearly 600 feet (183 m) during their journey.
A Big Ditch or a Grand Canal?
Digging the Big Ditch
“We are digging the Ditch through the mire; Through the mud and the slime and the mire, by heck!
And the mud is our principal hire;
Up our pants, in our shirts, down our neck, by heck!
We are digging the Ditch through the gravel, So the people and freight can travel.”
—Erie Canal work song
Erie Canal workers excavate a deep cut. Dug in rough, sparsely settled wilderness, the canal progressed about a mile a week. Since the elevation of Lake Erie was 565 feet
(172 m) higher than the
Hudson River at Albany, the Erie Canal had 83 locks with lifts that raised and lowered the boats as they traveled