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Erie Canal

The Erie Canal, which linked the waters of Lake Erie and the Hudson River, was completed in 1825. Discussions surrounding such a canal had been going on for a long time and the War of 1812 caused many observers to back the canal as a means of preventing a Canadian monopoly on Great Lakes traffic. At the urging of supporters of the canal idea, De Witt Clinton took the lead in promoting its development in 1810. In 1812, Clinton and Gouverneur traveled to Washington DC to seek Federal funding, but without success. With the War of 1812 the primary preoccupation at the time, supporters were obliged to wait until 1815 to mass their efforts again. Clinton wrote a careful exposition of the costs and benefits of the canal. Governor Clinton finally succeeded in persuading the New York legislature to pass the canal bill in 1817. When construction on the $7,000,000 project began on July 4, 1815, the groundbreaking ceremony did not raise much interest. It was not until the major digging and earthmoving equipment started to work that the public began to realize that the canal was a construction marvel of its day. The first section was finished in 1820, and the first boat entered the canal from the Hudson River at Albany in 1823. On its completion in the fall of 1825, a gala celebration accompanied the trip from Buffalo to Albany, and downriver to New York City, which concluded with the pouring of a barrel of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic. Clinton's Ditch was a triumph. The $7,000,000 cost of the Erie Canal was soon repaid. Toll revenue amounted to close to a million dollars in the first year alone and provided New York with a surplus for many years. It also reduced tremendously the cost of transporting bulk produce from the West, and gave access for Easterners wishing to migrate West. Towns sprang up along its path and minor cities became major metropolises on its account. Only four feet deep and 40 feet wide at first, the canal could buoy up 30 tons of freight. It was enlarged over time as the demand for water transportation grew — first widened to 70 feet, then later to between 120 and 200 feet. The canal also was dug more deeply to accommodate larger boats. Even though it was only 12 to 14 feet deep, the canal could hold barges of more than 3,000 tons. The canal's use was diminished by competition from the less expensive railroad, and is used mainly by recreational boaters today. The modern New York State Barge Canal, begun in 1905, tracks closely along the original course of the Erie Canal.