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The Erie Canal is an artificial waterway in New York that runs about 363 miles from Albanymarker on the Hudson River to Buffalomarker at Lake Eriemarker, completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakesmarker. First proposed in 1808, it was under construction from 1817 to 1832 and officially opened on October 26, 1825.

It was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage, was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York state, opened regions farther west to settlement, and helped New York City become the chief U.S. port. It was expanded between 1834 and 1862. In 1918, the original canal was replaced by the larger New York State Barge Canal. Today, it is part of the New York State Canal System. In 2000, the United States Congress designated the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to recognize the national significance of the canal system as the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America. Mainly used by recreational watercraft in the recent past, the canal saw an upsurge in commercial traffic in 2008.

1853 Map of New York canals including the Erie Canal


From the first days of the expansion of the English colonies along the coast of North America into the heartland of the continent, a recurring problem was that of transportation between the coastal ports and the interior. Close to the seacoast, rivers often provided adequate waterways, but the presence of the Allegheny Mountains a few hundred miles inland presented a great challenge. Passengers and freight had to travel overland, a journey made more difficult by the rough condition of the roads. That the principal exportable product of the Ohio Valley was grain did not help matters, as grain was a high-volume, low-priced commodity, frequently not worth the cost of transporting it to far-away population centers (this was a factor leading to the Whiskey Rebellion). In the 18th and early 19th centuries, it became increasingly clear to coastal residents that the city or state that succeeded in developing a cheap, reliable route to the West would enjoy considerable economic success, and that the port at the seaward end of such a route would see its business increase greatly. In time, projects were devised in Virginiamarker, Maryland, Pennsylvaniamarker, and elsewhere.

Proposal and logistics

The extraordinary success of the Bridgewater Canal in Britain, completed in 1761, led to a frenzy of canal building in England. The colonial idea of a canal or artificially improved waterway to tie the east coast to the new western settlements was in the air: Cadwallader Colden first proposed using the Mohawk Valley in 1724. George Washington led a serious effort to turn the Potomac River into a navigable link to the west, sinking substantial energy and capital into the Patowmack Canalmarker from 1785 until his death fourteen years later. Christopher Colles, who was familiar with the Bridgewater Canal, surveyed the Mohawk valley and made a presentation to the New York state legislature in 1784 proposing a canal from Lake Ontariomarker. The proposal drew attention and some action, but ultimately came to nothing.

Gouverneur Morris and Elkanah Watson were other early proponents of a canal along the Mohawk. Their efforts led to creation of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, which took the first steps to improve navigation on the Mohawk, but the company proved that private financing was inadequate.

In 1798, the Niagara Canal Company was incorporated.

The advocate who finally got the canal built was entrepreneur Jesse Hawley. He envisioned growing huge quantities of grain on the Western New York plains, then largely unsettled, for sale on the Eastern Seaboard. He went bankrupt, however, trying to ship it to the coast. While in Canandaiguamarker debtors' prison, he started pressing for the construction of a canal along the Mohawk Valley. He had strong support from Joseph Ellicott, agent for the Holland Land Company in Bataviamarker. Ellicott realized that a canal would add immense value to the land he was selling in the western part of the state. Ellicott later became the first canal commissioner.

The Mohawk River, a tributary of the Hudson, runs in a glacial meltwater channel across the Appalachiansmarker in New York state, separating them into the Catskills and Adirondacks. The Mohawk Valley was the only cut across the Appalachians north of Alabamamarker, and led almost directly from the Hudson River on the east to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie on the west. From there, much of the interior and many settlements would be accessible on the lakes.

Profile of the original canal

The problem was that the land rises about from the Hudson to Lake Erie. Locks at the time could handle up to , so at least fifty locks would be required along the canal. Such a canal would cost a fortune even today; in 1800 the expense was barely imaginable. President Jefferson called it "a little short of madness" and rejected it. Nevertheless, Hawley managed to interest New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. There was much opposition, and the project was scorned as "Clinton's Folly," or "Clinton's Ditch." But in 1817 Clinton got the legislature to appropriate $7 million for construction.

The original canal was long, from Albanymarker on the Hudson to Buffalomarker on Lake Erie. The channel was a cut wide and deep, with removed soil piled on the downhill side to form a walkway called the towpath. Canal boats, up to in draft, were pulled by horses and mules on the towpath. There was only one towpath, generally on the north side of the ditch. When canal boats met, the boat with right-of-way steered to the towpath side of the canal. The other boat steered toward the berm or heelpath side of the canal. The driver or "hoggee" (pronounced HO-gee) of the privileged boat brought his team to the canalside edge of the towpath while the hoggee of the other boat moved to the outside of the towpath and stopped his team. His towline would go slack, fall into the water and sink to the bottom while his boat continued on by momentum. The privileged boat's team would step over the other boat's towline, and then their boat would pass over the sunken towline without stopping. Once clear, the other boat's team would continue on its way.

The sides of the cut were lined with stone set in clay, and the bottom also was lined with clay. The stonework required hundreds of German mason, who later built many of New York's famous buildings.


Stonework of Erie Canal lock (abandoned because of route change), Durhamville, New York

Construction began July 4, 1817, at Rome, New Yorkmarker. The first , from Rome to Uticamarker, opened in 1819. At that rate the canal would not be finished for thirty years. The main problems were felling trees to clear a path through virgin forest and moving excavated soil, both of which took longer than expected, but the builders solved these problems. To fell a tree, they threw rope over the top branches and winched it down. They pulled out the stumps with an innovative stump puller. A pair of huge wheels were set loose on an axle. A large wheel, barely smaller than the others was fixed to the center of the axle. A chain was wrapped around the axle and hooked to the stump. A rope was wrapped around the center wheel and hooked to a team of oxen. The mechanical advantage obtained ripped the stumps out of the soil. Soil to be moved was shoveled into large wheelbarrows that were dumped into mule-pulled carts.

A three-man team with mules could now build a mile in a year, meaning that the problem now was finding enough labor.

The men who planned and oversaw construction were novices, both as surveyors and as engineers. There were no civil engineers in the United States. James Geddes and Benjamin Wright, who laid out the route, were judges whose experience in surveying was in settling boundary disputes; Geddes had only used a surveying instrument for a few hours. Canvass White was a 27-year-old amateur engineer who talked Clinton into letting him go to Britain at his own expense to study the canal system there. Nathan Roberts was a mathematics teacher and land speculator. Yet these men "carried the Erie Canal up the Niagara escarpment at Lockportmarker, maneuvered it onto a towering embankment to cross over Irondequoit Creek, spanned the Genesee Rivermarker on an awesome aqueduct, and carved a route for it out of the solid rock between Little Falls and Schenectadymarker—and all of those venturesome designs worked precisely as planned." (Bernstein, p. 381) Many of the laborers working on the canal were the Irish who had recently come to the United States as a group of about 5,000 from Northern Ireland, most of whom were Protestants and wealthy enough to pay for this caravan.

Construction continued at an increased rate as new workers arrived. But when the canal reached Montezuma Marshmarker (at the outlet of Cayuga Lakemarker west of Syracusemarker), over 1,000 workers died of swamp fever and construction stopped. Work continued on the downhill side towards the Hudson, and when the marsh froze in winter, the crews worked to complete the section across the swamps.

The middle section from Utica to Salinamarker (Syracuse) was completed in 1820 and traffic on that section started up immediately. The eastern section, from Brockportmarker to Albany, opened on September 10, 1823 to great fanfare.

The Champlain Canalmarker, a north-south route from Watervlietmarker on the Hudson to Lake Champlainmarker, opened on the same date.

In 1824, before the canal was completed, a detailed Pocket Guide for the Tourist and Traveler, Along the Line of the Canals, and the Interior Commerce of the State of New York, was published for the benefit of travelers and land speculators — possibly America's first tour guide.

After Montezuma Marsh, the next obstacle was crossing the Niagara Escarpment, an wall of hard dolomitic limestone, to rise to the level of Lake Erie. The route followed the channel of a creek that had cut a ravine steeply down the escarpment, with two sets of five locks in a series, giving rise to the community of Lockportmarker. These lift-locks had a total lift of , exiting into a deeply cut channel. The final leg had to be cut through another limestone layer, the Onondaga ridge. Much of that section was blasted with black powder. The inexperience of the crews often led to accidents, and sometimes rocks falling on nearby homes.
The modern single lock at the Niagara Escarpment

Two villages competed to be the terminus: Black Rock, on the Niagara Rivermarker, and Buffalo, at the eastern tip of Lake Erie. Buffalo expended great energy to widen and deepen Buffalo Creek to make it navigable and to create a harbor at its mouth. Buffalo won over Black Rock, and grew into a large city, encompassing its former competitor.

Work was completed on October 26, 1825. The event was marked by a statewide "Grand Celebration," culminating in successive cannon shots along the length of the canal and the Hudson, a 90-minute cannonade from Buffalo to New York City. A flotilla of boats, led by Governor Dewitt Clinton aboard the Seneca Chief, sailed from Buffalo to New York City in ten days. Clinton then ceremonially poured Lake Erie water into New York Harbor to mark the "Wedding of the Waters." On its return trip, the Seneca Chief brought a keg of Atlantic Ocean water back to Buffalo to be poured into Lake Erie by Buffalo's Judge Samuel Wilkeson, who would later become mayor.

The route

Aqueduct over the Mohawk at Rexford
The canal began on the west side of the Hudson River at Albany, and ran north to Watervlietmarker, where the Champlain Canal branched off. At Cohoesmarker it turned west along the south shore of the Mohawk River, crossing to the north side at Crescent and again to the south at Rexfordmarker. The canal continued west near the south shore of the Mohawk River all the way to Rome, where the Mohawk turns north.

At Rome, the canal continued west parallel to Wood Creek, which flows from Oneida Lakemarker, and turned southwest and west cross-country to avoid the lake. From Canastotamarker west it ran roughly along the north (lower) edge of the Onondaga Escarpment, passing through Syracuse and Rochester. At Lockport the canal turned southwest to rise to the top of the Niagara Escarpment, using the ravine of Eighteenmile Creek. The canal continued south-southwest to Pendletonmarker, where it turned west and southwest, mainly using the channel of Tonawanda Creekmarker. From Tonawanda south toward Buffalo, it ran just east of the Niagara River, where it reached its "Western Terminus" at Little Buffalo Creek (later it became the Commercial Slip), which discharged into the Buffalo River just above its confluence with Lake Eriemarker. With Buffalo's recent re-watering of the Commercial Slip, a water route from the eastern terminus at Albany to the western terminus at Buffalo is once again open.

The Erie made use of the favorable conditions of New York's unique topography providing that area with the only break in the Appalachiansmarker range south of the St. Lawrence Rivermarker, and thus allowing for east-west navigation from the coast to the Great Lakes within US territory. The canal system thus gave New York State a competitive advantage, helped New York City develop as an international trade center, and allowed Buffalo to grow from just 200 settlers in 1820 to more than 18,000 people by 1840. The port of New York became essentially the Atlanticmarker home port for all of the Midwest. It was because of this vital and critical connection that New York State would become known as the great Empire State.

Enlargements and improvements

Problems developed but were quickly solved. Leaks developed along the entire length of the canal, but these were sealed with a newly invented cement that hardened under water (hydraulic cement). Erosion on the clay bottom proved to be a problem and the speed was limited to 4 mph (6 km/h).

The original design planned for an annual tonnage of 1.5 million tons (1.36 million tonnes), but this was exceeded immediately. An ambitious program to improve the canal began in 1834. During this massive series of construction projects, known as the First Enlargement, the canal was widened to and deepened to . Locks were widened and/or rebuilt in new locations, and many new aqueducts were constructed. The canal was also straightened and slightly re-routed in some stretches, resulting in the abandonment of short segments of the original 1825 canal. The First Enlargement was completed in 1862, with further minor enlargements in later decades.

Today, the reconfiguration of the canal created during the First Enlargement is commonly referred to as the Improved Erie Canal or the Old Erie Canal, to distinguish it from the canal's modern-day course. Existing remains of the 1825 canal abandoned during the Enlargement are sometimes referred to today as Clinton's Ditch (which was also the popular nickname for the entire Erie Canal project during its original 1817-1825 construction).

Upstream view of the downstream lock (Lock 32, Pittsford, NY) showing gushing water.

Additional feeder canals soon extended the Erie Canal into a system. These included the Cayuga-Seneca Canal south to the Finger Lakesmarker, the Oswego Canal from Three Rivers north to Lake Ontario at Oswegomarker, and the Champlain Canal from Troy north to Lake Champlain. From 1833 to 1877, the short Crooked Lake Canal connected Keuka Lakemarker and Seneca Lakemarker. The Chemung Canal connected the south end of Seneca Lake to Elmiramarker in 1833, and was an important route for Pennsylvania coal and timber into the canal system. The Chenango Canalmarker in 1836 connected the Erie Canal at Utica to Binghamtonmarker and caused a business boom in the Chenango River valley. The Chenango and Chemung canals linked the Erie with the Susquehanna River system. The Black River Canal connected the Black River to the Erie Canal at Rome and remained in operation until the 1920s. The Genesee Valley Canal was run along the Genesee Rivermarker to connect with the Allegheny River at Oleanmarker, but the Allegheny section which would have connected to the Ohio and Mississippi was never built. The Genesee Valley Canal was later abandoned and became the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad.

In 1903, the New York state legislature authorized construction of the New York State Barge Canal as the "Improvement of the Erie, the Oswego, the Champlain, and the Cayuga and Seneca Canals".In 1905, construction of the Barge Canal began, which was completed in 1918, at a cost of $96.7 million.Freight traffic reached a total of 5.2 million tons by 1951, before declining in the face of combined rail and truck competition.


As the canal brought travelers to New York City, it took business away from other ports such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker, and Baltimore, Marylandmarker. Those cities and their states chartered projects to compete with the Erie Canal. In Pennsylvania, the Main Line of Public Worksmarker was a combined canal and railroad running west from Philadelphia to Pittsburghmarker on the Ohio River, opened in 1834. In Maryland, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran west to Wheeling, West Virginiamarker, also on the Ohio River, and was completed in 1853.

Competition also came from inside New York state. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad opened in 1831, providing a bypass to the slowest part of the canal between Albany and Schenectady. Other railroads were soon chartered and built to continue the line west to Buffalo, and in 1842 a continuous line (which later became the New York Central Railroad and its Auburn Road in 1853) was open the whole way to Buffalo. As the railroad served the same general route as the canal, but provided for faster travel, passengers soon switched to it. However as late as 1852, the canal carried thirteen times more freight tonnage than all the railroads in New York state, combined; it continued to compete well with the railroads through 1882, when tolls were abolished.

The New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railway was completed in 1884, as a route running closely parallel to both the canal and the New York Central Railroad. However, it went bankrupt and was acquired the next year by the New York Central.


The Erie Canal made an immense contribution to the wealth and importance of New York City, Buffalo, and New York State. Its impact went much further, increasing trade throughout the nation by opening eastern and overseas markets to Midwestern farm products and by enabling migration to the West. New ethnic Irish communities formed in some towns along its route after completion, as Irish immigrants were a large portion of labor force involved in its construction. Earth extracted from the canal was transported to the New York city area and used as landfill in New York and New Jersey. A plaque honoring the canal's construction is located in Battery Park in southern Manhattan
Packet dock in Syracuse c.

Because so many immigrants traveled on the canal, many genealogists would like to find copies of canal passenger lists. Unfortunately, apart from the years 1827-1829, canal boat operators were not required to record or report passenger names to the government, which, in this case, was the State of New York. Those 1827-1829 passenger lists survive today in the New York State Archives. However, there may be many untapped sources of traveler information. For example, after the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Joseph Smith, Jr. left Palmyra, New York for Ohio in 1831, his mother Lucy Mack Smith shortly thereafter led hundreds of followers westward on the Erie Canal, passing through Buffalo, and eventually settling in Salt Lake City and many towns along the way. Mormon records may list many such travelers.

The Canal also helped bind the still-new nation closer to Britain and Europe. British repeal of the Corn Law resulted in a huge increase in exports of Midwestern wheat to Britain. Trade between the US and Canada also increased as a result of the Corn Law and a reciprocity (free-trade) agreement signed in 1854; much of this trade flowed along the Erie.

Its success also prompted imitation: a rash of canal-building followed. Also, the many technical hurdles that had to be overcome made heroes of those whose innovations made the canal possible. This led to an increased public esteem for practical education.

Many notable authors wrote about the canal, including Herman Melville, Frances Trollope, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Samuel Hopkins Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette, and many tales and songs were written about life on the canal. The popular song Low Bridge by Thomas S. Allen was written in 1905 to memorialize the canal's early heyday, when barges were pulled by mules rather than engines. Chicago, among other Great Lakesmarker cities, recognized the commercial importance of the canal to its economy, and two West Loopmarker streets are named Canal and Clinton (for canal proponent DeWitt Clinton).

Concern that erosion caused by logging in the Adirondacks could silt up the canal contributed to the creation of another New York National Historic Landmark, the Adirondack Park, in 1885.

20th century

The modern Erie Canal has 34 locks, which are painted with the blue and gold colors of the New York State Canal System's parent authority, the Thruway Authority.
In 1918, the Canal was replaced by the larger New York State Barge Canal. The new canal replaced much of the original route, leaving many abandoned sections (most notably between Syracuse and Rome). New digging and flood control technologies allowed engineers to canalize rivers that the original canal sought to avoid, such as the Mohawk, Seneca and Clyde River, and Oneida Lake. In sections which did not consist of canalized rivers (particularly between Rochester and Buffalo), the original Erie Canal channel was enlarged to wide and deep. The expansion allowed barges up to 2,000 tons to use the Canal. This expensive project was politically unpopular in parts of the state not served by the canal, and failed to save it from becoming obsolete.

The new alignment began on the Hudson River at the border between Cohoes and Waterford, where it ran northwest with five locks, running into the Mohawk east of Crescent. While the old Canal ran next to the Mohawk all the way to Rome, the new canal ran through the river, straightened or widened where necessary. At Ilionmarker the new canal left the river for good, but continued to run on a new alignment parallel to both the river and the old canal to Rome. From Rome, the new route continued almost due west, merging with Fish Creek just east of its entry into Oneida Lake.

From Oneida Lake, the new canal ran west along the Oneida River, with cutoffs to shorten the route. At Three Rivers the Oneida River turns northwest, and was deepened for the Oswego Canal to Lake Ontario. The new Erie Canal turned south there along the Seneca River, which turns west near Syracuse and continues west to a point in the Montezuma Marsh ( ). There the Cayuga and Seneca Canal continued south with the Seneca River, and the new Erie Canal again ran parallel to the old Canal along the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment, in some places running along the Clyde River, and in some places replacing the old Canal. At Pittsfordmarker, southeast of Rochester, the Canal turned west to run around the south side of Rochester, rather than through downtown. The Canal currently crosses the Genesee Rivermarker at the Genesee Valley Parkmarker ( ), then rejoins the old path near North Gates. From there it was again roughly an upgrade to the original canal, running west to Lockport. This reach of 64.2 miles from Henrietta to Lockport is called "the 60-mile level" since there are no locks and the water level rises only two feet over the entire segment. Diversions from and to adjacent natural streams along the way are used to maintain the canal's level. It then runs southwest to Tonawanda, where the new alignment discharges into the Niagara River, which is navigable upstream to the New York Barge Canal's Black Rock Lock and thence to the Canal's original "Western Terminus" at Buffalo's Inner Harbor.

The growth of highways and railroads, and the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway caused commercial traffic on the canal to decline dramatically during the second half of the 20th century.

The New York State Canal System

In 1992, the New York State Barge Canal was renamed the New York State Canal System (including the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain Canals) and placed under the newly created New York State Canal Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority. The Canal System is operated using money generated by Thruway tolls.

21st century

Since the 1990s, the Canal system has been used primarily by recreational traffic, although a small but growing amount of cargo traffic still uses it.

Today, the Erie Canal Corridor covers of navigable water from Lake Champlain to the Capital Regionmarker and west to Buffalo. The area has a population of 2.7 million: about 75% of Central and Western New York's population lives within of the Erie Canal.

The Erie Canal is open to small craft and some larger vessels from May through November each year. During winter, water is drained from parts of the canal for maintenance. The Champlain Canal, Lake Champlain, and the Chambly Canal and Richelieu River in Canada form the Lakes to Locks Passage, making a tourist attraction of the former waterway linking eastern Canada to the Erie Canal. In 2006, recreational boating fees were eliminated to attract more visitors.

Travel on the Canal's middle section (particularly in the Mohawk Valley) was severely hampered by flooding in late June and early July 2006. Flood damage to the canal and its facilities was estimated as at least $15 million.

There were some 42 commercial shipments on the canal in 2008, compared to 15 such shipments in 2007 and more than 33,000 shipments in 1885, the canal's peak year. According to the New York Times, the new growth in commercial traffic is due to the rising cost of diesel fuel. Canal barges can carry a ton of cargo 514 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel, while a gallon allows a train to haul the same amount of cargo 202 miles and a truck 59 miles. Canal barges can carry loads up to 3,000 tons and are used to transport objects that would be too large for road or rail shipment. The system is served by several commercial towing companies.

The old Erie Canal

The Old Erie Canal and its towpath at Kirkville, New York, within Old Erie Canal State Historic Park
On the Erie Canal Aqueduct looking west below Broad Street, downtown Rochester
Another view looking west, Erie Canal Aqueduct, downtown Rochester, NY.
This is the south side of the Aqueduct.
The Aqueduct is divided by the concrete support for the Broad Street Bridge above.
Buffalo's Erie Canal Commercial Slip
Spring 2008

Sections of the old Erie Canal abandoned after 1918 are owned by New York state or have been ceded to or purchased by counties or municipalities. Many stretches of the old canal have been filled in to create roads such as Erie Boulevard in Syracuse and Broad Street and the Rochester Subway in Rochester. A 36-mile (58 km) stretch of the old canal is preserved by New York State at Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, and in 1960 the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Sitemarker, a section of the canal in Montgomery Countymarker, was one of the first sites recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

Some municipalities have preserved sections as town or county canal parks, or have plans to do so. Camillus Erie Canal Parkmarker preserves a stretch and plans to restore Nine Mile Creek Aqueductmarker, built in 1841 as part of the First Enlargement of the canal. In Camillus Park and some communities, the old canal has refilled with overgrowth and debris. Proposals have been made to rehydrate the old canal through downtown Rochester or Syracuse as a tourist attraction. In Syracuse, the location of the old canal is represented by a reflecting pool in downtown's Clinton Square and the downtown hosts a canal barge and weigh lock structure, now dry. Buffalo's Commercial Slip is the recently restored and re-watered segment of the canal which formed its "Western Terminus".

The Erie Canal acts as a tourism destination for tourists from all over the world. There is even an Erie Canal Cruise company in Herkimermarker that operates from mid-May until mid-October with daily cruises. The cruise goes through the history of the canal and also takes passengers through Lock 18.

In 2004, the administration of New York Governor George Pataki was criticized when officials of New York State Canal Corporation attempted to sell private development rights to large stretches of the Old Erie Canal to a single developer for US$30,000, far less than the land was worth on the open market. After an investigation by the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper, the Pataki administration nullified the deal.

The creation of a unified, statewide Erie Canal historic trail or greenway to attract tourism has been an elusive goal since it was first proposed in the 1990s. However, many communities along the old Erie Canal have made progress in establishing parks, improving towpaths and raising funds for restoration of old canal structures such as locks and aqueducts. Biking, hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, canoeing and fishing are among activities promoted.

The towpath is a good choice for an easy multi-day bicycle vacation. Many towns along the way have B&B, motels and campsites. The website of Parks and Trails New York Canalway Corridor has information on the canal, and sells a guidebook (latest edition 2007) with waterproof trail maps and information on nearby places to eat, sleep or visit spots of historical interest.

Records of the planning, design, construction and administration of the Erie Canal are vast and can be found in the New York State Archives. However, genealogists will be disappointed to learn that except for two years (1827-1829) the State of New York did not require canal boat operators to maintain or submit passenger lists.

Parks and museums on the old Erie Canal include (East to West):

See also:


The following list of locks is provided for the current canal, from east to west:

Note: There is no Lock 1 or Lock 31 on the Erie Canal. The place of "Lock 1" on the passage from the lower Hudson to Lake Erie is taken by the Federal Lock, located just north of Troy, NY, and is not part of the Erie Canal System proper.

Lock # Location Elevation(upstream / west) Elevation(downstream / east) Lift Distance to Next Lock(upstream / west)
2 Waterford E3,
3 Waterford E4,
4 Waterford E5,
5 Waterford E6,
6 Waterford E7,
7 Niskayunamarker E8,
8 Glenvillemarker E9,
9 Rotterdammarker E10,
10 Cranesville E11,
11 Amsterdammarker E12,
12 Tribes Hillmarker E13,
13 Randall E14,
14 Canajoharie E15, data unavailable
15 Fort Plainmarker E16, data unavailable
16 Mindenvillemarker E17, data unavailable
17 Little Falls E18, data unavailable
18 Jacksonburg E19, data unavailable
19 Frankfortmarker E20, data unavailable
20 Careys Cornersmarker E21, data unavailable
21 Romemarker E22, data unavailable
22 Romemarker E23, data unavailable
23 Brewertonmarker E24, data unavailable
24 Baldwinsvillemarker E25,
25 Mays Point E26,
26 Clydemarker E27,
27 Lyonsmarker E28A,
28A Lyonsmarker E28B,
28B Newarkmarker E29,
29 Palmyramarker E30,
30 Macedonmarker E32,
32 Pittsfordmarker E33,
33 Henriettamarker E34/35,
34 Lockportmarker
||   || E35,
35 Lockportmarker Black Rock Lock in Niagara Rivermarker,
36* Buffalomarker Commercial Slip at Buffalo River,
  • Note: The Black Rock Lock is in the New York State Barge Canal, and allows passage beside the Niagara River to the Erie Canal's "Western Terminus" at the Commercial Slip. Upstream and downstream water levels, as well as Black Rock Lock's lift, vary with the naturally fluctuating levels of Lake Erie and the Niagara River. Although a portion of the Erie Canal through Buffalo has been filled in, travel by water is still possible, from the Commercial Slip, through Buffalo's Inner Harbor and the Black Rock Lock, to Tonawanda, NY, Lockport, and eastward to Albany.

See also



  2. Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor
  4. Joel Achenbach, "America's River; From Washington and Jefferson to the Army Corps of Engineers, everyone had grandiose plans to tame the Potomac. Fortunately for us, they all failed". The Washington Post, May 5, 2002; p. W.12.
  6. Hints of Comeback for Nation’s First Superhighway
  7. Commercial Shipping on the New York State Canal system
  8. National Park Service, National Historic Landmarks Survey, New York, retrieved May 30, 2007.
  10. New York State Archives. However, research at libraries, churches and town halls of the ultimate destinations of canal travelers may yield passenger information. "Guide to Canal Records."
  11. Between Locks 33 and 34 the canal rises 2 feet

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