The Erie Canal
On October 26, 1825, a floating parade led by the canal packet Seneca Chief left Buffalo, New York, in a grand opening of the newly finished, 363-mile Erie Canal. Cannons spaced an earshot's distance apart boomed the message east: the procession had begun. Cheering crowds lined the banks, with bands, speeches, and fireworks welcoming the flotilla at every town. "Our brightest hopes are all consummated," the Rochester Telegraph proclaimed. "Let the shouts of triumph be heard from Erie to the Atlantic."
At Albany, the boats headed down the Hudson River to New York City, arriving on November 4. There Governor De Witt Clinton poured a keg of Lake Erie water into the harbor, symbolizing the "Wedding of Waters" between the Great Lakes and the ocean.
The Erie Canal had taken nearly nine years to construct. Skeptics had called it Clinton's Ditch after the governor who championed the most ambitious engineering feat yet attempted in the United States. Workers had felled thousands of trees, leveled hills, blasted rock, dredged mud, dug through earth. They built 83 locks to raise and lower boats a total of 565 feet between Albany and Buffalo, and 18 aqueducts to carry the waterway across rivers.
The canal proved a howling success, moving freight in thousands of mule-towed boats. The produce of the Midwest floated east, while immigrants and manufactured goods floated west, spurring the growth of the country. Along the canal, towns such as Syracuse and Rochester boomed, while New York City thrived as the busiest port in the nation.
Railroads brought an end to the canal's heyday. The waterway was enlarged several times, but business gradually fell off. Today it carriest mostly recreational traffic and memories of a time when the Erie Canal was the nation's main street to the West.
(The American Patriot's Almanac)