Well, we didn’t leave the Niagara area quite as planned. We hadn’t communicated our travel plans well enough with our son and come to find out he was going to be out of town this week. We decided just to stay put awhile longer and enjoy some more Niagara.
We did another thing unique to the American side of the Falls. We visited the Erie Canal. We had seen various references to it in the travel literature and in our travels across New York State. The Erie Canal first opened in the 1820s and is still fully operational today, having undergone major modernizations twice since its original construction..
We played some Par 3 Golf in the morning and then took in the Canal in the town of Lockport, NY where there is an Erie Canal Visitor’s Center. The Erie Canal truly is an engineering marvel. It was dug with animal and human power only. Dynamite had not been invented at that time – they had to blast using volatile black powder.
The Canal is about 360 miles long, stretching from Buffalo on Lake Erie in the West to Albany on the Hudson River in the East which is navigable downstream to New York City. Originally there were over 80 locks in the system. One of the hugest challenges was right in Lockport – the Niagara Escarpment. This is a ridge of solid rock running through New York State into Ontario, Canada that forms the Northeastern end of Lake Erie. Great Lakes water must flow over the Escarpment – think Niagara Falls -- in order to flow to Lake Ontario, the Saint Lawrence River and out to the Atlantic Ocean. So to complete the canal from Lockport to Buffalo they had to build a system of locks through solid rock about the height of Niagara Falls. And then blast a channel in the top of this solid rock after the climb for the run to the Lake. The first two pictures are of remnants of the five “stair steps” up the escarpment.
The Erie Canal opened Western New York and beyond to grain farming. Gary remembers seeing remnants of the Wabash and Erie Canal near the Wabash River in his boyhood home in north central Indiana. That canal carried grain from the Wabash Valley to Lake Erie which could then access the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal system made New York City the great inland and ocean seaport of the day.
Canals were hugely economic but only until the advent of railroads at which time most of them were abandoned. The Erie Canal continued to be somewhat economic until the full opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959. Today, it is used mainly by pleasure boats which pay very little for using it. Tolls from the New York State Thruway now pay for the operation of the canal. The Erie Canal is a part of the Grand Loop for pleasure boaters such that they can navigate the Eastern and Gulf Intercostal Waterways, the Mississippi River, the Illinois River to Chicago and Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes system back to the Erie Canal.
We enjoyed our Erie Canal history lesson. No, we are not in the market for a boat to cruise the Great Loop. Below are a couple pictures of the present locks and canal.