Bicentennial

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Celebrate 200!

On April 15, 1817, the New York State legislature voted to build the Erie and Champlain canals. Dignitaries turned the first shovel of soil in Rome on July 4, marking the start of Erie Canal construction. Eight years later, the canal opened from Albany to Buffalo. The rest, as they say, is history.

Many original documents, maps, journals, drawings, and architectural plans related to canal construction are available at the New York State Archives in Albany, the Albany Institute of History & Art, the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, and other historical institutions.

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    The original legislation passed by the NYS legislature to construct the Erie and Champlain Canals (1817) is housed in the NYS Archives in Albany.

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    Drawing of canal construction c. 1855 for Erie Canal enlargement

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    Map showing detail from The Noses in Montgomery County (NYS Archives)

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    Deep cut excavation in Lockport

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    Lockport Flight by Cadwallader Colden (NYS Archives)

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    Entrance of the canal into the Hudson River at Albany by historical artist James Eights (Albany Institute of History & Art)

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    Invitation to Wedding of the Water celebration in New York City, 1825 (Albany Institute of History & Art)

"We are digging the Ditch through the mire; Through the mud and the slime and the mire, by heck! And the mud is our principal hire; Up our pants, in our shirts, down our neck, by heck! We are digging the Ditch through the gravel, So the people and freight can travel."
- Canal Digger's Lament

A Brief Timeline of Construction of the Erie Canal

Construction of the Erie Canal began in Rome in 1817. Workers started first on the easiest, most level sections. In subsequent years, they tackled major engineering challenges at Cohoes, Little Falls, Rochester, and Lockport, where construction needed to overcome the most difficult elevation changes. Sections of the canal opened as they were completed, until the entire canal from Buffalo to Albany opened in 1825.

April 15, 1817 NYS Legislature passes the act to construct the Erie and Champlain Canals
July 4, 1817 Ceremonial first digging for the Erie Canal takes place at Rome; real work begins six days later on July 10
October 22, 1819 Erie Canal opens between Rome and Utica
July 4, 1820
Syracuse celebrates completion of the Erie Canal from Utica to the Seneca River
November 18, 1821 The locks at Little Falls are complete, opening navigation from Montezuma to Schenectady
July 1822 Erie Canal navigable from east bank of the Genesee River in Rochester to Schenectady
Sept 10, 1823 Champlain Canal opens end to end
October 1, 1823 Genesee Aqueduct complete; Erie Canal is in operation from Brockport to Albany
September 1824 Erie Canal reaches the foot of the Niagara Escarpment at Lockport
October 26, 1825 Erie Canal complete; Gov. DeWitt Clinton departs Buffalo leading a flotilla of boats across the canal to New York City
November 4, 1825 Grand celebrations take place in New York City as Clinton performs the “Wedding of the Waters,” pouring water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean
November 23, 1825 The Atlantic Ocean meets the Great Lakes. The canal boat Seneca Chief returns to Buffalo to complete the "Wedding of the Waters."
"Well may New York rejoice in an achievement that would add glory to the most powerful nation on earth."
- Buffalo Emporium, 1825