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A Boater’s Guide to New York State’s Waterway: The Erie Canal

The Erie Canal was officially proposed for the first time back in 1807. It was noted for being the very first system of transportation between New York City and the Great Lakes that did not necessitate any portage. Another advantage for travelers was that it was a faster means of transportation than carts pulled by animals. Its construction also helped save travelers money because it reduced the costs of transportation by 95 percent.

A waterway that can be found in New York, the Erie Canal runs for 363 miles. It travels from Albany to Buffalo, along the Hudson River until it arrives at Lake Erie. The Erie Canal basically completes a water route that is navigable, from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Great Lakes. A total of 36 locks span the length of the canal, and its total elevation differential is approximately 570 feet.

The reasons behind the creation of the Erie Canal had initially to do with attempting to connect the East Coast to the western settlements that were newly appearing; while proposals were made to the New York state legislature in the 18th century, efforts to jump start canal-building failed. The Erie Canal advocate who finally succeeded in beginning the efforts to build the canal was the entrepreneur by the name of Jesse Hawley. His motivation was driven by profit, as he wanted a way to transport grain that he imagined growing in Western New York to the Eastern Seaboard. He received major support from Joseph Ellicott, an agent representing the Holland Land Company, who also had a profit motive in seeing a canal built. Hawley would later on succeed in persuading New York Governor DeWitt Clinton to back the project. Despite opposition and pejorative names used to describe the new project, Clinton was able to secure legislative funding for $7 million for the Erie Canal project in 1817.

The Erie Canal became the United States’ first major system of transportation. This permitted goods of all kind to be moved to and from New York and also the Upper Midwest, making it a major commercial enterprise. Since it also lessened the distance that ships and boats had to sail between eastern seaports and the Great Lakes, the canal ensured a more efficient way of shipping goods. Finally, the Erie Canal made a strong contribution to the importance and reputation of New York State, New York City, and Buffalo.

The effects of the Erie Canal related mainly to increasing trade around the nation, not just around the New York State area. It accomplished this through opening overseas and eastern markets to farm products that hailed from the Midwest. Communities consisting of ethnic Irish people also began to emerge along the route of the Erie Canal, which only made sense and was natural because Irish immigrants were a significant core of the labor force that was used to construct the canal. Finally, at the time of the completion of the canal, the US found itself growing closer to England and Europe by way of a substantial increase in the export of Midwestern wheat to Europe.

The legacy of the Erie Canal can still be felt today, as it is still in use, mainly for recreational watercraft purposes. However, in 2008, it was recorded that there was a noteworthy uptick in the use of the canal for commercial traffic purposes again. In the year 2000, the Erie Canal was honored by the Congress by having the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor designated. This was done to remark the national importance of the Erie Canal as the most influential and successful waterway that was human-built. It was also honored for being one of the most significant works of engineering and construction in all of North America.

The Erie Canal is barely two centuries old, but in that short time, it has made a huge impact on the US. This impact extends not only to commercial and traveling purposes, but also to implications of national heritage and engineering feats. Without the canal, commercial trade may not have caught on as quickly as it ended up doing in the US. This information is provided as a service to the public interested in learning more about the Erie Canal by Action Donation Services® who partners with the BoatUS Foundation. If you have a no longer needed boat or yacht, consider donating your vessel to the BoatUS Foundation who promotes maritime education and boating safety.

To learn more about the Erie Canal, consult the following links.

Erie Canal Information

  • New York State History: Basic history of the Erie Canal.
  • Erie Canalway Heritage and History: A history of the Erie Canal and the culture behind it.
  • Erie Canal Time Machine History: Website that divides the history of the canal into three periods.
  • Story of the Erie Canal Extension: Brief story of an extension to the Erie Canal.
  • 1825 Image of Erie Canal: Brief fact summary of Erie Canal as it existed when it first was constructed; includes a painting of the canal.
  • Erie Canal History Tour: Historic tour of the canal includes songs, maps, and historic facts to educate.
  • Museum of the Erie Canal: Museum featuring history information and exhibits relating to the Erie Canal.
  • Exploration of the Erie Canal: Erie Canal history from this premier website of history.
  • New York History Net Erie Canal Links: Web page that features many links to historical information about the canal.
  • History Resource of the Erie Canal: Educational website committed to chronicling the canal’s history.
  • History of the Politics behind the Erie Canal: Web page devoted to providing a glimpse into the political wrangling-history that led to the canal’s building.
  • History behind the Economics of the Erie Canal: Exploration of the economic history of the Erie Canal.
  • The Erie Canal Story: Retelling of fundamental facts surrounding the canal.
  • The History of the Erie Canal of New York: A short history of all that’s important with the canal.
  • History of the Erie Canal Pertaining to Ohio: Historical Implications of the Erie Canal to Ohio.

Erie Canal Education

  • Erie Canal Webquest Power Point Presentation: Assignment for students to prepare a Powerpoint presentation on the Erie Canal.
  • Teacher’s Guide on the Erie Canal: A teaching resource for teachers to use for their students.
  • Erie Canal Lesson Plan: Lesson plan for ninth and eleventh graders on the canal.
  • Erie Canal Lesson Plan for Social Studies: Social Studies lesson plan on the Erie Canal.
  • Last Great American Canal Lesson Plan: Lesson plan for younger students about the canal.
  • Constructing the Erie Canal: Lesson plan based on the building of the canal.
  • Midwest Erie Canal Lesson Plan: Lesson plan on the canal and how it helped settle the Midwest.
  • Erie Canal – Expanding the Nation: Lesson plan on how the canal helped to expand the US.
  • Lesson Planet – Erie Canal Lesson Plans: Series of lesson plans based on the Erie Canal.
  • Travels on the Erie Canal: Lesson for kids in the fourth to the eighth grade about the canal.
  • CyberQuest Lesson Plan of the Erie Canal: Lesson plan about finding Internet links to information about the canal.
  • Erie Canal and Market Economy: Lesson plan surrounding the connection between the canal and the market economy.
  • Erie Canal and the Transcontinental Railroad: Lesson plan that incorporates elements of the canal and the railroad.
  • Historical Erie Canal Lesson Plan: Lesson plan that advises teacher’s on how to use it on their students.
  • Erie Canal for Kids: Lesson that teaches information about the canal specifically to kids.
  • Erie Canal and Ohio Lesson Plan: Lesson plan that includes the Erie Canal and Ohio; geared at kids in elementary school.
  • Erie Canal – Big Apple: Short lesson tied in with New York City.

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