Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Ride on the Erie Canal

I keep being more and more amazed at all we have to offer, in the way of tourism entertainment, to visitors to the Rochester area. Last week, with a housefull of  out of town visitors, we took a boat ride on the Erie Canal. This was a guided tour on a packet boat (the type that was used for commerce in the 1800's). The canal is very shallow. Packet boats were flat bottomed and were pulled along the waterway by mules who walked along the "tow path". These vessels had to pass under many low bridges. A famous folk song tells the story.

We arrived at the port of Pittsford for our 2 PM departure on the vessel The Sam Patch (that's another whole story). The main feature of our cruise was a visit to one of the canal's 57 locks.

Because the canal traverses landscapes of varying elevations, there had to be a method of coercing water to, very calmly climb mountains, travel down valleys, and cross  natural waterways. The solution was locks. 

Here are pictures of our vessel waiting inside of a lock for the water to fill so that we could travel the canal on a higher elevation. Coming back, the opposite happened. Our vessel was at a higher elevation. We entered the lock. The water level was dropped so we could travel back at this lower elevation.

I do hope I've explained this in an understandable way.

The Erie Canal was completed in 1825. It was all dug by hand, by immigrants. There were no civil engineers to design it or architects to lay out it's path, no cranes and mechanical earth movers to dig it. The walls of the canal were paved with small round stones called cobblestones. Many historic and beautiful New York state buildings (including homes) were built with the left over cobblestones. Today they are a treasure.

The canal traverses New York state from Albany to Buffalo. 363 miles!! The longest artificial waterway and greatest public works project in North America. The canal put New York state on the map. It opened up the interior to commerce, trade and settlement. Until that point in history, all major population centers were in the east coast states.

Our guests totally enjoyed this visit with history. Today the canal is part of the National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior. It is a treasure trove of adventure in so many ways. Today the old tow path that the mules pulled the packet boats along is now a bike path. This week (July 7-14) more than 500 riders of all ages and from all across the nation will participate in an 8 day, 400 mile bike tour from Buffalo to Albany.  

The towns or ports along the canal stage many local events along their shores. Many vacationers sail up in their watercraft and dock at the ports in these canalside towns, shop at their local boutiques and groceries. There are Philharmonic Orchestra Concerts, there's a rubber duckie race, local high school's crew teams practice on the canal, kayakers paddle. Many towns have boat launches where residents can park their cars and launch their boats. In winter, the water level is significantly lowered to protect the walls from ice damage. At that time, the canal becomes a huge ice skating rink. 

  And some people are lucky enough to have the canal in their backyard............


  1. Enjoyed this immensely. I love that you shared the history-wow! 1825 - the 'longest artificial waterway and the greatest public works project in North America'. That is amazing. Your part of the country is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Looked like a fun trip -- Loved the history of the canal.

  3. As soon as I read your title, I thought of the song! Mom used to play it for me on her acoustic :) I really love that song, but I never knew all of that history. How interesting and informing! I really love your blog posts :) Thanks for sharing.

  4. Very cool! I know that song too.
    I want to go on that bike tour - it would be very relaxing riding along the canal I think.

  5. Wow, so cool! We learned about the Erie Canal last year and I hope I can remember to show the kids you post later, they will be thrilled!

  6. I had a mule, her name was Sal... my brother would sing, "Low bridge! Everybody down!" when his son would ride on his shoulders and he had to dip through doorways. Thanks, Rita!

  7. I am glad you had a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing the history of the longstanding waterway. I've heard about the Erie Canal but didn't know much about it until now.