The Erie Canal: The Road West

Harvey-banner

by Mary Jo 

I've got an old mule and her name is Sal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal!

She's a good old worker and a good old pal,

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal!

We've hauled some barges in our day,

Filled with lumber, coal, and hay,

And every inch of the way I (we) know,

From Albany to Buffalo!

 

 



ErieCanal1840Did you grow up singing this Erie Canal work song, usually known as "Low Bridge?"  Or do I know it because the Erie Canal was a part of my childhood?  I grew up in Western New York in the farm country between Rochester and Buffalo, and the Erie Canal was an important piece of the New York State history we studied somewhere around 6th grade.  I'll bet most kids who grew up in New York State can tell you that DeWitt Clinton was the visionary governor who built the canal.  It was called "Clinton's Big Ditch," but it changed the world.

Erie_canal_lockport_c1855  Herrmann J. Meyer

The Erie Canal had a major role in making New York City a great world city because it was the first economical means of transportation from the interior of America to the East Coast.  Before the canal, pack mules and carts pulled by draft animals were the main form of bulk shipping.  They were slow and expensive. 

With the Erie Canal, barges could carry grain from the Great Lakes to Buffalo and across Upstate New York to the Hudson River and down to New York City.  Shipping costs were cut by 95% and it became feasible to transport grain from America's rich heartland to a port where it could shipped around the world.  Because grain is heavy and didn't bring high brices, it was hard to transport very far unless processed into a higher value product such as whiskey. <G>  Built between 1815 and 1825, the Erie Canal is celebrating a 200th anniversary that runs for seven years.  It's a good time to reflect on its importance.

Chorus:

Low bridge, everybody down,

Low bridge 'cause we're coming to a town.

And you'll always know your neighbor,

And you'll always know your pal,

If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal!

Several years ago, the Mayhem Consultant and I took a trip up to see Niagara Falls, and we made a side trip on the Erie Canal from a site in Lockport, NY.  (This solves the mystery where there are a number of towns across the state that have "port" in the name even though they're inland. SwansErie Canal

Our short journey on the canal was a fun way to experience history, and I remember seeing a private yacht sailing in the opposite direction with a life jacket wearing dog on the deck. <G>  We saw six geese a'swimming, too!

f you're ever in Western New York, I recommend visiting the modern, updated canal that has evolved from the original, literally ground breaking canal.  And if you're there, you can sing to Sal, the mule who was a good old gal!

Mary Jo, adding a picture of Niagara Falls since that was also part of this little holiday:

NiagaraFallwBoat

125 thoughts on “The Erie Canal: The Road West”

  1. I grew up in Michigan, but I do remember singing “Erie Canal,” Mary Jo. Probably on long school bus expeditions, or maybe around Girl Scout campfires. We learned a lot about the Great Lakes, but not so much about the Erie Canal, so this was interesting.

    Reply
  2. I grew up in Michigan, but I do remember singing “Erie Canal,” Mary Jo. Probably on long school bus expeditions, or maybe around Girl Scout campfires. We learned a lot about the Great Lakes, but not so much about the Erie Canal, so this was interesting.

    Reply
  3. I grew up in Michigan, but I do remember singing “Erie Canal,” Mary Jo. Probably on long school bus expeditions, or maybe around Girl Scout campfires. We learned a lot about the Great Lakes, but not so much about the Erie Canal, so this was interesting.

    Reply
  4. I grew up in Michigan, but I do remember singing “Erie Canal,” Mary Jo. Probably on long school bus expeditions, or maybe around Girl Scout campfires. We learned a lot about the Great Lakes, but not so much about the Erie Canal, so this was interesting.

    Reply
  5. I grew up in Michigan, but I do remember singing “Erie Canal,” Mary Jo. Probably on long school bus expeditions, or maybe around Girl Scout campfires. We learned a lot about the Great Lakes, but not so much about the Erie Canal, so this was interesting.

    Reply
  6. I think it may have been 7th grade we took a short trip on the canal. Mrs. Hillman. I remember the songs and so does Bill. That says we are still alive.

    Reply
  7. I think it may have been 7th grade we took a short trip on the canal. Mrs. Hillman. I remember the songs and so does Bill. That says we are still alive.

    Reply
  8. I think it may have been 7th grade we took a short trip on the canal. Mrs. Hillman. I remember the songs and so does Bill. That says we are still alive.

    Reply
  9. I think it may have been 7th grade we took a short trip on the canal. Mrs. Hillman. I remember the songs and so does Bill. That says we are still alive.

    Reply
  10. I think it may have been 7th grade we took a short trip on the canal. Mrs. Hillman. I remember the songs and so does Bill. That says we are still alive.

    Reply
  11. Once when my husband and I were in the Finger Lakes region, we took a drive to go see the canal. It had loomed so large in our grammar school days when we were doing New York State history and geography. Plus we could sing the song!

    Reply
  12. Once when my husband and I were in the Finger Lakes region, we took a drive to go see the canal. It had loomed so large in our grammar school days when we were doing New York State history and geography. Plus we could sing the song!

    Reply
  13. Once when my husband and I were in the Finger Lakes region, we took a drive to go see the canal. It had loomed so large in our grammar school days when we were doing New York State history and geography. Plus we could sing the song!

    Reply
  14. Once when my husband and I were in the Finger Lakes region, we took a drive to go see the canal. It had loomed so large in our grammar school days when we were doing New York State history and geography. Plus we could sing the song!

    Reply
  15. Once when my husband and I were in the Finger Lakes region, we took a drive to go see the canal. It had loomed so large in our grammar school days when we were doing New York State history and geography. Plus we could sing the song!

    Reply
  16. LOL about singing the song! If you grew up in New York State, you’d be studying the same history, maybe from the same book. The Finger Lakes are lovely to visit, and a side trip to the Erie Canal is and excellent complement to the holiday.

    Reply
  17. LOL about singing the song! If you grew up in New York State, you’d be studying the same history, maybe from the same book. The Finger Lakes are lovely to visit, and a side trip to the Erie Canal is and excellent complement to the holiday.

    Reply
  18. LOL about singing the song! If you grew up in New York State, you’d be studying the same history, maybe from the same book. The Finger Lakes are lovely to visit, and a side trip to the Erie Canal is and excellent complement to the holiday.

    Reply
  19. LOL about singing the song! If you grew up in New York State, you’d be studying the same history, maybe from the same book. The Finger Lakes are lovely to visit, and a side trip to the Erie Canal is and excellent complement to the holiday.

    Reply
  20. LOL about singing the song! If you grew up in New York State, you’d be studying the same history, maybe from the same book. The Finger Lakes are lovely to visit, and a side trip to the Erie Canal is and excellent complement to the holiday.

    Reply
  21. Fun post, Mary Jo! As another native of Upstate NY, it’s a very familiar song–and now it’s stuck in my head all day! 😉
    I have a real fondness for NY State history (having also studied it in 6th grade!) so I really enjoyed this virtual trip along the ol’ canal.

    Reply
  22. Fun post, Mary Jo! As another native of Upstate NY, it’s a very familiar song–and now it’s stuck in my head all day! 😉
    I have a real fondness for NY State history (having also studied it in 6th grade!) so I really enjoyed this virtual trip along the ol’ canal.

    Reply
  23. Fun post, Mary Jo! As another native of Upstate NY, it’s a very familiar song–and now it’s stuck in my head all day! 😉
    I have a real fondness for NY State history (having also studied it in 6th grade!) so I really enjoyed this virtual trip along the ol’ canal.

    Reply
  24. Fun post, Mary Jo! As another native of Upstate NY, it’s a very familiar song–and now it’s stuck in my head all day! 😉
    I have a real fondness for NY State history (having also studied it in 6th grade!) so I really enjoyed this virtual trip along the ol’ canal.

    Reply
  25. Fun post, Mary Jo! As another native of Upstate NY, it’s a very familiar song–and now it’s stuck in my head all day! 😉
    I have a real fondness for NY State history (having also studied it in 6th grade!) so I really enjoyed this virtual trip along the ol’ canal.

    Reply
  26. I remember that song. They taught that to us in school when we were kids. And then they told us the canal’s current name was The New York Barge Canal. So, whenever my sister and I sang the song, we substituted “New York Barge Canal” for “Erie Canal”.

    Reply
  27. I remember that song. They taught that to us in school when we were kids. And then they told us the canal’s current name was The New York Barge Canal. So, whenever my sister and I sang the song, we substituted “New York Barge Canal” for “Erie Canal”.

    Reply
  28. I remember that song. They taught that to us in school when we were kids. And then they told us the canal’s current name was The New York Barge Canal. So, whenever my sister and I sang the song, we substituted “New York Barge Canal” for “Erie Canal”.

    Reply
  29. I remember that song. They taught that to us in school when we were kids. And then they told us the canal’s current name was The New York Barge Canal. So, whenever my sister and I sang the song, we substituted “New York Barge Canal” for “Erie Canal”.

    Reply
  30. I remember that song. They taught that to us in school when we were kids. And then they told us the canal’s current name was The New York Barge Canal. So, whenever my sister and I sang the song, we substituted “New York Barge Canal” for “Erie Canal”.

    Reply
  31. Learned the song in Missouri — it’s not limited to New York State even though the canal was).
    Bur — wait a minute; the last statement isn’t quite true. After the success of this original canal, other canals were built. And they were called the Erie canal system. There is such a canal in northern Indiana (around/in? Wabash county). My great great grandfather helped to haul logs for building that canal (or so goes family history). I was driven to a part of that canal during many of our trips to Wabash county. I always felt that the family was a part of the system — if not of the original canal.

    Reply
  32. Learned the song in Missouri — it’s not limited to New York State even though the canal was).
    Bur — wait a minute; the last statement isn’t quite true. After the success of this original canal, other canals were built. And they were called the Erie canal system. There is such a canal in northern Indiana (around/in? Wabash county). My great great grandfather helped to haul logs for building that canal (or so goes family history). I was driven to a part of that canal during many of our trips to Wabash county. I always felt that the family was a part of the system — if not of the original canal.

    Reply
  33. Learned the song in Missouri — it’s not limited to New York State even though the canal was).
    Bur — wait a minute; the last statement isn’t quite true. After the success of this original canal, other canals were built. And they were called the Erie canal system. There is such a canal in northern Indiana (around/in? Wabash county). My great great grandfather helped to haul logs for building that canal (or so goes family history). I was driven to a part of that canal during many of our trips to Wabash county. I always felt that the family was a part of the system — if not of the original canal.

    Reply
  34. Learned the song in Missouri — it’s not limited to New York State even though the canal was).
    Bur — wait a minute; the last statement isn’t quite true. After the success of this original canal, other canals were built. And they were called the Erie canal system. There is such a canal in northern Indiana (around/in? Wabash county). My great great grandfather helped to haul logs for building that canal (or so goes family history). I was driven to a part of that canal during many of our trips to Wabash county. I always felt that the family was a part of the system — if not of the original canal.

    Reply
  35. Learned the song in Missouri — it’s not limited to New York State even though the canal was).
    Bur — wait a minute; the last statement isn’t quite true. After the success of this original canal, other canals were built. And they were called the Erie canal system. There is such a canal in northern Indiana (around/in? Wabash county). My great great grandfather helped to haul logs for building that canal (or so goes family history). I was driven to a part of that canal during many of our trips to Wabash county. I always felt that the family was a part of the system — if not of the original canal.

    Reply
  36. Canal – Ms. McCormick is correct. The canal was/is here in northeast Indiana. In fact we still dig up parts of it when we are paving streets. There used to be all kinds of mills built along the waterways here.
    Back to the state of New York. My favorite aunt lives in Rochester NY and I love that city! When we visit her, we love to walk along the canal. Unlike ours, it’s not under the streets. I also love driving through the north western part of New York state – what lovely scenery.

    Reply
  37. Canal – Ms. McCormick is correct. The canal was/is here in northeast Indiana. In fact we still dig up parts of it when we are paving streets. There used to be all kinds of mills built along the waterways here.
    Back to the state of New York. My favorite aunt lives in Rochester NY and I love that city! When we visit her, we love to walk along the canal. Unlike ours, it’s not under the streets. I also love driving through the north western part of New York state – what lovely scenery.

    Reply
  38. Canal – Ms. McCormick is correct. The canal was/is here in northeast Indiana. In fact we still dig up parts of it when we are paving streets. There used to be all kinds of mills built along the waterways here.
    Back to the state of New York. My favorite aunt lives in Rochester NY and I love that city! When we visit her, we love to walk along the canal. Unlike ours, it’s not under the streets. I also love driving through the north western part of New York state – what lovely scenery.

    Reply
  39. Canal – Ms. McCormick is correct. The canal was/is here in northeast Indiana. In fact we still dig up parts of it when we are paving streets. There used to be all kinds of mills built along the waterways here.
    Back to the state of New York. My favorite aunt lives in Rochester NY and I love that city! When we visit her, we love to walk along the canal. Unlike ours, it’s not under the streets. I also love driving through the north western part of New York state – what lovely scenery.

    Reply
  40. Canal – Ms. McCormick is correct. The canal was/is here in northeast Indiana. In fact we still dig up parts of it when we are paving streets. There used to be all kinds of mills built along the waterways here.
    Back to the state of New York. My favorite aunt lives in Rochester NY and I love that city! When we visit her, we love to walk along the canal. Unlike ours, it’s not under the streets. I also love driving through the north western part of New York state – what lovely scenery.

    Reply
  41. Sue, you’re right, the Erie Canal was early and very important, and it led to other canals being built. The same thing happened in England, though earlier. British canals were key to the Industrial Revolution because they made it possible to transmit goods to market. Distances were shorter there, which meant a wide network of canals.

    Reply
  42. Sue, you’re right, the Erie Canal was early and very important, and it led to other canals being built. The same thing happened in England, though earlier. British canals were key to the Industrial Revolution because they made it possible to transmit goods to market. Distances were shorter there, which meant a wide network of canals.

    Reply
  43. Sue, you’re right, the Erie Canal was early and very important, and it led to other canals being built. The same thing happened in England, though earlier. British canals were key to the Industrial Revolution because they made it possible to transmit goods to market. Distances were shorter there, which meant a wide network of canals.

    Reply
  44. Sue, you’re right, the Erie Canal was early and very important, and it led to other canals being built. The same thing happened in England, though earlier. British canals were key to the Industrial Revolution because they made it possible to transmit goods to market. Distances were shorter there, which meant a wide network of canals.

    Reply
  45. Sue, you’re right, the Erie Canal was early and very important, and it led to other canals being built. The same thing happened in England, though earlier. British canals were key to the Industrial Revolution because they made it possible to transmit goods to market. Distances were shorter there, which meant a wide network of canals.

    Reply
  46. Mary Jo, according to family legend, my great-grandfather drove tow mules on the Erie Canal. I’ve never found any corroboration, and I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t really his father instead, since my great-grandfather was born in 1848, in Brockport — another of those inland “ports”.

    Reply
  47. Mary Jo, according to family legend, my great-grandfather drove tow mules on the Erie Canal. I’ve never found any corroboration, and I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t really his father instead, since my great-grandfather was born in 1848, in Brockport — another of those inland “ports”.

    Reply
  48. Mary Jo, according to family legend, my great-grandfather drove tow mules on the Erie Canal. I’ve never found any corroboration, and I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t really his father instead, since my great-grandfather was born in 1848, in Brockport — another of those inland “ports”.

    Reply
  49. Mary Jo, according to family legend, my great-grandfather drove tow mules on the Erie Canal. I’ve never found any corroboration, and I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t really his father instead, since my great-grandfather was born in 1848, in Brockport — another of those inland “ports”.

    Reply
  50. Mary Jo, according to family legend, my great-grandfather drove tow mules on the Erie Canal. I’ve never found any corroboration, and I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t really his father instead, since my great-grandfather was born in 1848, in Brockport — another of those inland “ports”.

    Reply
  51. I’ve done a lot of car tripping in upstate New Yrok, so I’ve criss-crossed the Erie Canal many times. We once did a car trip through New York on State Route 5, which is the scenic route running from Albany to Buffalo, the main highway before the Interstates were built. And then we drove around the Finger Lakes collecting waterfalls, there are a number of beautiful and quite tall ones there. I think the most scenic is Watkins Glen, really worth a visit.

    Reply
  52. I’ve done a lot of car tripping in upstate New Yrok, so I’ve criss-crossed the Erie Canal many times. We once did a car trip through New York on State Route 5, which is the scenic route running from Albany to Buffalo, the main highway before the Interstates were built. And then we drove around the Finger Lakes collecting waterfalls, there are a number of beautiful and quite tall ones there. I think the most scenic is Watkins Glen, really worth a visit.

    Reply
  53. I’ve done a lot of car tripping in upstate New Yrok, so I’ve criss-crossed the Erie Canal many times. We once did a car trip through New York on State Route 5, which is the scenic route running from Albany to Buffalo, the main highway before the Interstates were built. And then we drove around the Finger Lakes collecting waterfalls, there are a number of beautiful and quite tall ones there. I think the most scenic is Watkins Glen, really worth a visit.

    Reply
  54. I’ve done a lot of car tripping in upstate New Yrok, so I’ve criss-crossed the Erie Canal many times. We once did a car trip through New York on State Route 5, which is the scenic route running from Albany to Buffalo, the main highway before the Interstates were built. And then we drove around the Finger Lakes collecting waterfalls, there are a number of beautiful and quite tall ones there. I think the most scenic is Watkins Glen, really worth a visit.

    Reply
  55. I’ve done a lot of car tripping in upstate New Yrok, so I’ve criss-crossed the Erie Canal many times. We once did a car trip through New York on State Route 5, which is the scenic route running from Albany to Buffalo, the main highway before the Interstates were built. And then we drove around the Finger Lakes collecting waterfalls, there are a number of beautiful and quite tall ones there. I think the most scenic is Watkins Glen, really worth a visit.

    Reply
  56. I remember Watkins Glen from a trip we made in 1941. We saw Niagara and the Whirlpool first and of course I remember them, but they didn’t leave the same impact that Watkins Glen did.

    Reply
  57. I remember Watkins Glen from a trip we made in 1941. We saw Niagara and the Whirlpool first and of course I remember them, but they didn’t leave the same impact that Watkins Glen did.

    Reply
  58. I remember Watkins Glen from a trip we made in 1941. We saw Niagara and the Whirlpool first and of course I remember them, but they didn’t leave the same impact that Watkins Glen did.

    Reply
  59. I remember Watkins Glen from a trip we made in 1941. We saw Niagara and the Whirlpool first and of course I remember them, but they didn’t leave the same impact that Watkins Glen did.

    Reply
  60. I remember Watkins Glen from a trip we made in 1941. We saw Niagara and the Whirlpool first and of course I remember them, but they didn’t leave the same impact that Watkins Glen did.

    Reply
  61. Interesting, Sue! I knew that other canals were built but didn’t know any were called part of the Erie Canal system. Maybe the people who managed the Erie Canal were involved in financing and/or managing the later canals?

    Reply
  62. Interesting, Sue! I knew that other canals were built but didn’t know any were called part of the Erie Canal system. Maybe the people who managed the Erie Canal were involved in financing and/or managing the later canals?

    Reply
  63. Interesting, Sue! I knew that other canals were built but didn’t know any were called part of the Erie Canal system. Maybe the people who managed the Erie Canal were involved in financing and/or managing the later canals?

    Reply
  64. Interesting, Sue! I knew that other canals were built but didn’t know any were called part of the Erie Canal system. Maybe the people who managed the Erie Canal were involved in financing and/or managing the later canals?

    Reply
  65. Interesting, Sue! I knew that other canals were built but didn’t know any were called part of the Erie Canal system. Maybe the people who managed the Erie Canal were involved in financing and/or managing the later canals?

    Reply
  66. I hope you weren’t harassed as a kid by the name similarity! I wonder if the Union Canal restaurant was related to a canal connecting to the Susquehanna River? Interesting things, canals.

    Reply
  67. I hope you weren’t harassed as a kid by the name similarity! I wonder if the Union Canal restaurant was related to a canal connecting to the Susquehanna River? Interesting things, canals.

    Reply
  68. I hope you weren’t harassed as a kid by the name similarity! I wonder if the Union Canal restaurant was related to a canal connecting to the Susquehanna River? Interesting things, canals.

    Reply
  69. I hope you weren’t harassed as a kid by the name similarity! I wonder if the Union Canal restaurant was related to a canal connecting to the Susquehanna River? Interesting things, canals.

    Reply
  70. I hope you weren’t harassed as a kid by the name similarity! I wonder if the Union Canal restaurant was related to a canal connecting to the Susquehanna River? Interesting things, canals.

    Reply
  71. Jane, it could have been your great grandfather. The high point of the Erie Canal traffic was in 1855 and it continued on for many years, so that could include your great-grandfather when he was young. I don’t know when the barges became motorized, but mules could have been around for a long time.

    Reply
  72. Jane, it could have been your great grandfather. The high point of the Erie Canal traffic was in 1855 and it continued on for many years, so that could include your great-grandfather when he was young. I don’t know when the barges became motorized, but mules could have been around for a long time.

    Reply
  73. Jane, it could have been your great grandfather. The high point of the Erie Canal traffic was in 1855 and it continued on for many years, so that could include your great-grandfather when he was young. I don’t know when the barges became motorized, but mules could have been around for a long time.

    Reply
  74. Jane, it could have been your great grandfather. The high point of the Erie Canal traffic was in 1855 and it continued on for many years, so that could include your great-grandfather when he was young. I don’t know when the barges became motorized, but mules could have been around for a long time.

    Reply
  75. Jane, it could have been your great grandfather. The high point of the Erie Canal traffic was in 1855 and it continued on for many years, so that could include your great-grandfather when he was young. I don’t know when the barges became motorized, but mules could have been around for a long time.

    Reply

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