Staycations: Erie Canal Museum

07.14.17 | Traci Lynn Woolsey

The Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY allows visitors to explore the ways the canal system changed the lives of people in New York. Executive Director Natalie Stetson shares some of the museum's highlights with Family Life listeners. In 1817, the Erie Canal was established under the management of a New York State Commission. The original canal was dug from Albany to Buffalo, 4' deep and 40' wide, with stone locks 15' x 90'. The locks limited boat size and traffic flow.



Additional canals were dug from the Hudson River to Lake Champlain, from Montezuma to Cayuga and Seneca Lakes and from Syracuse to Oswego. This canal system proved to be so successful that almost every community in the state lobbied for a link to the system. In 1836, enlargement started on the main Erie Canal system. The canal was straightened a bit, the channel was increased in size to 7' x 70', and the locks were enlarged to 18' x 110'. This allowed for larger boats and diminished the importance of the smaller lateral canal. Most of the lateral canals were closed by 1878 with only the Black River Canal lasting until the eventual close of the entire system in 1917. The growth of steam power on the canal eliminated the need for a waterway as protected as the Old Erie. A twentieth century canal of grand dimension with cast concrete structures and electronic controls was begun. The Barge Canal system, utilizing canalized rivers and lakes and enlarged sections of the Old Erie, opened in 1918. Today it continues to use several of the old routes, Champlain, Erie, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego, and has been renamed the New York State Canal System.


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