Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal?
That’s nothing for this modern Erie Canal boat. I chased this one from Middleport to Medina. When I caught up with this beautiful Canalboat to take a picture it was doing close to ten knots. Cruising along the Erie canal Just west of Medina, NY, these folks looked like they were having the time of their life. OK, maybe that’s a bit too strong but they sure were having fun. I had to chase them along the canal in my car just to get ahead and get a good picture.This canal boat looks a lot like the English Narrowboats except that it’s much wider. This boat is about 12′ wide and 42′ long. The English canal boats are only 7′ maximum.
About the time, in 1905, when Thomas Allen wrote the popular song, “Low Bridge,” there were dozens of canal boats on the Erie canal. At that time the boats were being converted from mule power to internal combustion engines. And people were, even then, already looking back with nostalgia at the former century’s most popular way to move goods and people … the Erie canal. also (visit Ohio’s Erie Canal)
It was immediately an economic success. In fact, the cost of shipping grains and other foodstuffs from Albany in eastern New York to the western areas like Rochester and Buffalo was cut to a small fraction (10%) of its previous cost. But, as great as that was, someone always thinks they have a better idea. it was only 6 years later, in 1831 that the first steam train from Albany to Schenectady rolled up the line. Powered by wood, it was one of the first steam engines anywhere. The Mohawk and Hudson company was actually the first train in the State of New York. Later renamed the Albany & Schenectady Railroad it was the first real competition for the new Erie Canal. Building the “Grand Canal” as it was called was a feat of engineering genius in its day and while I could say more one of the best articles on the Erie Canal has already been written by Prof. F. Daniel Larkin. His Essay about the Erie Canal is a great start if you are interested in the actual “nuts and bolts” of the construction process.
Back in the 1800’s boats like the one above were pulled along the canal by mules and horses. The mules would walk along the “towpath” dragging the canal boats. Completed in 1825, it was originally nick-named “Clinton’s big ditch” after New York Governor DeWitt Clinton who promoted and built it. Very soon after it opened the worth of it became recognized. The ability to move goods and people from the Hudson river in the east to Lake Erie opened up the northwest territories in a way few could have imagined. I recently learned that Orleans county had a population of 25,000 in 1840. They only have 41,000 now. There must have been a lot of folks floating west on the flat bottom canal boats in the early 1800’s.
We were in town for the Medina High School Class of 1964’s 50th reunion and ran into people from all over the country. This area still has plenty of that “hometown” charm.
These days the boats have been replaced by trucks and the canal is more of a recreational asset. The boat pictured above is only one of several which can be rented for a week or two or just enjoyed for an afternoon. Also, many people enjoy the Erie Canal as part of a long boating adventure called the Great Loop. Folks leave the Great Lakes, travel down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, across Florida and up the Intra-coastal waterway to New York. Then its on up the Hudson valley and across the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes again. It takes about six months to make the trip. If you are interested in more about the “Great Loop” adventure visit CaptainJohn.org.
The boat above is part of a small fleet run by Mid-Lakes Navigation Company. Their website can give you all the details on renting a canal boat for a week or just going on a daily cruise. Midlakesnav.com.
The boat below is just floating by.