A “little short of madness.” That is how Thomas Jefferson responded when two delegates from New York approached him with the idea to build the Erie Canal in January 1809.
Jefferson’s comment did not discourage New Yorkers. On January 4, 1817, New York State began building a 363-mile long canal to link the Hudson River and Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes and the Midwest.
Janice Fontanella, site manager of Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter, New York, joins us to discuss the Erie Canal, its construction, and the impact that this waterway made on New York and the United States.
This episode originally posted as Episode 028.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
Janice Fontanella, site manager of the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter, New York, leads us on an exploration of the Erie Canal.
During our conversation, Janice reveals why New York State built a 363-mile long canal between the Hudson River and Lake Erie; How laborers built the Erie Canal and the technological innovations that developed during its construction; And, how the Erie Canal impacted the economy, demography, and geography of both New York State and the United States
What You’ll Discover
- The location of Fort Hunter, New York
- Details about Janice’s job as Site Manager for Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site
- What you will find when you visit Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site
- Why Schoharie Crossing is the best place to view the history of the Erie Canal
- How Fort Hunter has been able to preserve its 19th-century buildings and Erie Canal history
- Why New York State wanted to build a 363-mile long canal between the Hudson River and Lake Erie
- How laborers built the Erie Canal
- Technological innovations brought about by the construction of the Erie Canal
- What proved the be the trickiest part of building the Erie Canal
- How the locks and aqueducts along the Erie Canal worked
- How the New York State Canal Commissioners determined which towns would receive the eastern terminus of the canal and the western terminus of the canal
- Why the geography of New York allowed for the construction of a long canal
- What the opening of the Erie Canal meant for the people of New York State and the settlers of the Old Northwest Territory
- Why the Erie Canal became known as “Mother of Cities”
- Details about canal boats and their accommodations
- What it was like for passengers to travel along the canal
- How the Erie Canal coped with the introduction of the railroad into New York State
- Why the Erie Canal has so many low bridges
- Information about DeWitt Clinton and his role in the construction of the Erie Canal
- Why Thomas Jefferson thought that building the Erie Canal was an idea “just short of madness”
- Overview of the Bonus Bill of 1817
- Details about special events and activities held at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site
- New York State Parks website
- Schoharie Crossing Facebook page
- Schoharie Crossing Email
- Episode 035: Michael Lord, Historic Hudson Valley & Washington Irving
- Episode 051: Catherine Cangany, Frontier Seaport: A History of Early Detroit
- Episode 071: Bruce M. Venter, Saratoga and Hubbardton, 1777
- Episode 113: Brian Murphy, Building the Empire State
- Episode 239: Joseph Adelman, Post & Travel in Early America
In your opinion what might have happened if President James Madison had not vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817? Do you think that New York would have still built the Erie Canal along the same route and would the substantial investment in nationwide internal improvements have affected the success of the Erie Canal?
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