- Published: 13 December 2008
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Rachel Frank, age 9, of Asbury Park, N.J., for his question:
HOW MUCH DID IT COST TO BUILD THE ERIE CANAL?
The first important national waterway built in the United States
was the Erie Canal. The canal was completed in 1825 and it cost $7,143,789.
Construction costs were high in those days, just as they are today. But the Erie Canal quickly paid for itself and then some. From the time it opened in 1825 until 1882, when toll charges were abolished, the state of New York collected $121,461,891.
The Erie Canal crosses New York from Buffalo on Lake Erie to Troy and Albany on the Hudson River. It joined the entire Great Lakes system with the Atlantic Ocean.
The canal provided a route over which manufactured goods could flow into the West and raw materials could pour into the East. The Erie Canal helped New York City develop into the financial center of the nation.
The original canal was 363 miles long. It was 28 feet wide at the bottom, 42 feet wide and the top and four feet deep. It could carry boats that were 80 feet long and 15 feet wide, with a draft of three and a half feet.
A larger canal was soon needed and in 1835, the New York Legislature passed. a law providing for improvements of the canal. By 1862, the canal had been enlarged several times.
The development of railroads made the canal less important after the Civil War. Business began to fall off. In 1903, the people of New York voted a bond issue of $101 million to make the canal part of a great modern waterway.
The passing of the bond issue made it possible for the Erie Canal to be combined with three shorter canals in New York to form the New York State Barge Canal System. This system, which is 524 miles long, opened in 1918.
The man who planned the Erie Canal and carried the plans through was DeWitt Clinton. Those who opposed the canal laughingly called it "Clinton's Ditch."
Travel on the canal was very slow in the early days. The famous editor Horace Greeley once wrote that passengers traveled a mile and a half an hour on the Erie Canal for a cent and half a mile.
Building of the Erie Canal was paid for entirely by the state of New York. No federal funds were used because Washington turned down the idea when Clinton presented it in 1812.
Clinton wrote a petition in 1815 that the New York Legislature should undertake the building of the canal. The idea won wide support and in 1816 the governor appointed a canal commission and made Clinton its head.
Clinton became governor in 1817 and shortly after, on July 4, 1817, ground for the canal was broken in Rome, N.Y. Construction took eight years.
The first section was completed in 1820. As the canal grew, towns along its course prospered.
Clinton was governor again when the canal was completed in 1825. The first boat to make the entire trip along its route was called the Seneca Chief. Governor Clinton was on board.