Business, Central New York, Community, History, Jobs, Transportation

200 Years of the Erie Canal

Construction of the Erie Canal started on July 4th, 1817. NCC's Stephen Armstrong reports on how that project affected the prosperity of Central New York.

By Stephen Armstrong SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – You might walk right past it and never notice, but there’s part of a canal in Syracuse’s Clinton Square.

Beside the fountain there are two sunken pits – they’ve been dug out to expose the Erie Canal stones found below.

The Erie Canal cut right through Syracuse, splitting Clinton Square in half.

Started on July 4th, 1817, the project wouldn’t be finished until October 1825.

The canal followed the path of the current Erie Boulevard.

Natalie Stetson is the Executive Director of the Erie Canal Museum.

Stetson says Syracuse owes much of its success to the canal’s presence in the city.

“It was a swamp,” Stetson said, “There were 250 people that lived within the city, and they lived in houses on stilts.”

Within 75 years, Stetson said the population had expanded to 100,000.

The Erie canal was built in a time before railroads, when it was expensive and difficult to transport goods across the state.

The canal’s proximity to Syracuse meant goods like salt and Syracuse China could be shipped out and sold across the state.

That economic boom boosted cities like Rochester and Buffalo too.

“Upstate New York,” Stetson said, “Would not even look even close to how it does without the Erie Canal.”

The expansion of railroads in the late 1800’s provided a faster and cheaper transport option, so much of the canals’ freight business was lost to railroad companies.

Stetson says canals still have advantages for transporting certain types of freight.

“It’s great for moving things,” Stetson said, “That are either very, very heavy because things float quite nicely, or are very very large.”

That was seen recently when Genesee Brewing Company used the Erie Canal’s successor, the NYS Barge Canal to transport huge brewing tanks from Waterford to Rochester.

Stetson says commercial traffic is becoming less common, and recreational boating now makes up most of the traffic on New York’s canal systems.

Although the official anniversary is marked on July 4th, events will happen throughout the summer in honor of the Canal’s construction.

Symphoria has dedicated some shows in its summer concert series to the Erie Canal’s bicentennial, and will be playing at historic canal locations.

The Erie Canal Museum will be holding a”Happy Hour” every Wednesday evening, including free admission to the museum.