Relation to the Origin


John Rutherford [i.e.: Rutherfurd]

(New York : N.B. Holmes, 1825)

ON the completion of the Erie Canal, the question appears to be revived, as to the author of this magnificent project: an attempt will therefore be made to investigate the subject by a plain statement of facts, to give the credit of the design to the person who is justly entitled to it, to explain the manner in which the canal was proposed to be constructed, the plan which has since been adopted, the disadvantages attending the alteration, and the expediency of resorting to the original scheme, with the modifications which were subsequently proposed.

It must be within the memory of those who are natives of the State, and of sufficient age to recollect ancient facts, that the improvement of the inland navigation of the province, while yet a colony of Great Britain, was a favorite subject of conversation with our ancestors, and there are many now living, who can recollect that their fathers spoke with fond anticipations of the intercourse which would take place at a future day, with the western country by means of inland navigation, after the manner of the Netherlands: among others, Peter Van Brugh Livingston and Philip Livingston made frequent observations on the subject after the return of one of the brothers from the Netherlands, about the year l738. Their father, Philip Livingston, Esq. of the Manor of Livingston, resided for many years at Albany, and was the most eminent in the Indian trade there.

The French government of Canada, very early attempted to prevent our participation in the Indian trade, by their establishments on Lake Ontario, at Fort Frontinac in the year 1672, and at Fort Niagara in the year 1725, and on Lake Champlain by their Fort St. Frederick, built near Crown Point, in the year 1731. -- Our favourite route therefore. was by the portages of the Mohawk and Wood Creek, partly to Oswego, but chiefly by the Onondago and Seneca rivers, to the country of several of the six nations, then a populous and powerful confederacy, and uniformly our faithful allies against our hostile neighbours the French--this country of the six nations approached by the Onondago and Seneca rivers and Mud creek, embraced the shores of the Gennessee river, the Canandaigua, Seneca, Cayuga and other small Lakes, was the seat of a very valuable trade, and was frequently visited by the traders of Albany and Schenectady.

After the treaty of Paris in 1763, the improvement of our inland navigation attracted the attention of the colonial government of New-York; and Sir Henry Moore the then Governor of the province, in a message to the house of assembly on the 16th of December 1768, stated that

"the great inconvenience and delay, together with the expense attending the transport of goods at the carrying places, have considerably diminished the profits of the traders, and called for the aid of the legislature, which if not timely exerted in their behalf, the commerce with the interior parts of the country may be diverted into such channels, as to deprive this colony of every advantage which could arise from it"

The Governor therefore recommended to the house of assembly "the improvement of our inland navigation as a matter of the greatest importance to the province, and worthy of their serious consideration." The house of assembly immediately referred this message to the consideration of a committee of the whole house, and continued to act on a subject of much importance to them, of "drawing up proper and constitutional resolves asserting the rights of his majesty's subjects within the colony, which they conceive have been greatly abridged and infringed by several acts passed by the last parliament of Great Britain."

These resolves were the subject of long and frequent discussions, and finally passed the house on the 31st December [1768]. The Governor on 3d of the ensuing month, required the immediate attendance of the assembly in the council chamber, when by virtue of his prerogative he dissolved the house, and the proposition for the improvement of our inland navigation, with other business, was not acted on.

It will thus be seen, "that the improvement of our inland navigation at the carrying places, and the commerce with the interior parts of the country," were subjects with engaged the public attention some time before the revolutionary war.

In the year 1784, Mr. Christopher Colles presented a memorial to the Legislature, containing proposals for removing obstructions in the Mohawk river, and in the year 1785 the Legislature appropriated $135, to enable Mr. Colles to make an essay towards effecting the object. In the year 1791 an act was passed, authorizing the commissioners of the land office to cause a survey to be made between the Mohawk River at Fort Stanwix, and Wood Creek, with an estimate of the probably expense of making canals sufficient for loaded boats to pass, and $250 were appropriated to defray that expense. In pursuance of this law, Major Abraham Hardenberg and Benjamin Wright, Esq., made the necessary surveys and estimates of the probable expense, and laid the same before the commissioners of the land office, who reported to the Legislature, that the objects were not only practicable but attainable at a very moderate expense; and the commissioners paid Major Hardenberg and Mr. Wright $149.73 for the services of themselves and their attendants, out of the $250 allowed by the act.

In the year 1792, an act was passed incorporating a company for opening a lock navigation, from the navigable part of Hudson's River to be extended to Lake Ontario, and to the Seneca Lake. This law was enacted chiefly through the instrumentality of Elkanah Watson Esq., and General Philip Schuyler. Mr. Watson had in the preceding year made a voyage in a batteaux, on the old route of the traders of the Mohawk River, through Wood Creek, the Oneida Lake, and Onondaga and Seneca Rivers to the Seneca Lake:--he saw the necessity of improving the navigation, by removing obstructions, constructing canals and locks, and rendering Wood Creek boatable for lighters of five tons burthen, by erecting sluices at given distances, so as to continue a head of water from sluice to sluice. Mr. Watson supposed the whole expense necessary to carry into complete effect all the improvements suggested, would not exceed $75,000. -- His essays in the newspapers on the subject, and his communications with the members of the Legislature, had an excellent effect in promoting the passage of the law. General Schuyler, then an active member of the Senate, of distinguished talents and of great weight and influence, drew the bill, and paid unremitted attention to it until it finally became a law. It will be observed that by this law nothing further was contemplated than lock navigation from the navigable part of Hudson River, to be extended to Lake Ontario and to the Seneca Lake. In the year 1798, an act passed incorporating the "Niagara Canal Company," for the purpose of opening a canal and lock navigation between the waters of Lake Erie, and those of Ontario, the act reciting "that such an establishment would tend greatly to facilitate and advance the internal commerce of this State, and promote the convenience and prosperity of the people thereof." At this period it is evident that there was no other mode in contemplation for a commercial intercourse with Lake Erie, than by the route of Lake Ontario.

In the year 1799, Mr. Gouverneur Morris returned from Europe, where he had been employed as Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to France, and in other important and confidential situations. In the year 1800 he made a visit to the falls of Niagara and Lake Erie, and first conceived the gigantic plan of bringing the waters of Lake Erie into the Hudson, which when completed in the manner he contemplated, will be justly considered one of the greatest undertakings ever performed by th eexertions of a free people, uninfluenced by the commands of despotic authority. In December 1800, Mr. Gouverneur Morris in a letter describing his journey to a friend in Europe, mentions, that on proceeding to Fort Erie,

"in turning a point of wood, the Lake broke on my view: I saw riding at anchor nine vessels, the least of them one hundred tons! Can you bring your imagination to realize this scene! Does it not seem like magic? Yet this magic is but the early effect of victorious industry. Hundreds of large ships will in no distant period, bound on the billows of these inland seas. At this point commences a navigation of more than a thousand miles. Shall I lead your imagination to the verge of incredulity. I will: -- Know then, that one tenth of the expense borne by Britain in the last campaign, would enable ships to sail from London, through Hudson's River, into Lake Erie; as yet my friend we only crawl along the outer shell of our country, the interior excels the part, we inhabit, in soil, in climate, in everything. The proudest empire in Europe, is but a bauble compared to what America will be, must be, in the course of two centuries, perhaps of one."

Mr. G. Morris returning from the above-mentioned visit, to the falls of Niagara and Lake Erie, communicated his plan to several persons, from whom he expected he might obtain information on the subject, among others to Mr. Charles C. Broadhead, then an intelligent land surveyor at Utica, who has since been employed as one of the engineers of the Erie canal; Mr. Morris inquired of him if he could estimate the probable height of the summit level of the country between Lake Erie and the Hudson; on Mr. Broadhead's answering in the negative, and inquiring the reason of the question, Mr. G. Morris stated that he was desirous of information, in relation to a plan he head, of an immense inland navigation by bringing the waters of Lake Erie into the Hudson. On Mr. Broadhead's expressing his surprise at the magnitude of the project, doubting its feasibility and practicability, and treating it as visionary, Mr. G Morris assured him that he would live to see the day, when this communication would be effected. -- Mr. Broadhead is now living at Utica.

Simeon De Witt, Esq. Surveyor General of the State, a gentleman of universally acknowledged merit, who has held that office uninterruptedly, through all the various changes of parties, for above forty years, states

"that the merit of first starting the idea of a direct communication by water between Lake Erie and Hudson river, unquestionably belongs to Mr. Gouverneur Morris. The first suggestion I had of it was from him. In 1803, I accidentally met with him at Schenectady; we put up for the night at the same inn, and passed the evening together: among the numerous topics of conversation to which his prolific mind and excursive imagination gave birth, was that of improving the means of intercourse with the interior of our state. He then mentioned the project of tapping Lake Erie, as he expressed himself, and leading its waters in an artificial river directly across the country to Hudson river. To this I very naturally opposed the intermediate hills and vallies as insuperable obstacles. His answer was in substance, labor probus omnia vincit, and that the object would justify the labor and expense, whatever it might be: considering this as a romantic thing, and characteristic of the man, I related it on several occasions."

Mr. James Geddes one of the principal engineers of the Erie canal, has on a former occasion thus expressed himself:

"canals between the Hudson and northern Wood Creek, and between the Mohawk and western Wood Creek, must have been contemplated by the first navigators of these waters, things so obvious must have early struck every one, but the idea of the Erie canal is of very modern origin. In the winter of 1804 I learnt for the first time, from the Surveyor General, that Mr. Gouverneur Morris in a conversation between them in the preceeding autumn, mentioned the scheme of a canal from Lake Erie across the country to the Hudson River. The idea of saving so much lockage by not descending into Lake Ontario, made a lively impression on my mind, by which I was prompted on every occasion to inquire into the practicability of the project, and entered with enthusiasm on the task assigned by the Surveyor General in 1808, of expending the small sum of six hundred dollars, then granted by our Legislature for making levels, &c."

The improved intercourse with Lake Erie had been always contemplated to be effected by removing obstructions in the steams, and in some places constructing canals and locks, on the route of the ten actual in course, by the Mohawk River western Wood Creek, Oneida lake, Onondago and Oswego Rivers, Lake Ontario, and Niagara River. But when Mr. G. Morris's project of constructing a canal across the country the whole distance from Lake Erie to the Hudson, was made known and discussed in the interior, the scheme was adopted there, and spread with inconceivable rapidity: Mr. Jesse Hawley of Ontario, engaged in giving publicity to the proposed route with great zeal, and in 1807, published a number of essays in the newspapers, which had an excellent effect in making the inhabitants of the western district familiar with the subject, and engaging their steady co-operation in promoting a plant which was to them of such vast importance.

Matters being thus prepared, a resolution was adopted in the house of assembly in February 1808, for the appointment of a joint committee of the Senate and Assembly,

"to take into consideration the propriety of exploring, and causing an accurate survey to be made of the most eligible and direct route for a canal, to open a communication between the tide waters of the Hudson and Lake Erie' to the end that Congress may be enabled to appropriate such sums as may be necessary to the accomplishment of that great national object."

The resolution was concurred in by the Senate, a joint committee was accordingly appointed, who reported

"That they were of opinion that speedy measured ought to be adopted on the part of this State for ascertaining the best route of communicating by canals between the tide waters of Hudson's River and the great western lakes, and for making accurate surveys and charts to be transmitted to the President of the United States:"

which report, as a resolution founded thereon, being unanimously adopted in the house of assembly and concurred by the Senate, a law was passed on the 11th of April following, authorizing the Treasurer to pay to the Surveyor General a sum not exceeding six hundred dollars in the whole, for executing the duties enjoined on him by the said resolution.

In pursuance of the foregoing resolution and law, the Surveyor-General appointed Mr. James Geddes to explore the country, and make the necessary surveys. Mr. G. shortly after entered on the duties of his appointment, and on the 20th of January, 1809, made a report on the subject, in which, after examining the usual route by Lakes Oneida and Ontario, and the Niagara River, he noticed an interior route, to be laid out without descending to, or passing through Lake Ontario. This route Mr. Geddes proposed to plan from the Oneida Lake, along the course then pursued by the navigation to the Cayuga marshes, thence up the valley of the Mud Creek, and across the country to the Genessee River, thence up Black Creek to the Tonnewanta swamp, and down the Tonnewanta Creek to Niagara River, and up the same to Lake Erie. Mr. Geddes had not then entered into the beautiful plan of bringing the water of Lake Erie into the Hudson by descending lockage. He appears to have been satisfied by proposing a route which avoided a lockage of 523 feet between Lake Erie and Rome, by the way of Lake Ontario; and if he could attain that advantage, he acquiesced in an extra lockage of 144 feet, as he thought, to and from the Cayuga marshes, without further exploring the country to avoid it; more especially as he had already expended the sum appropriated for the service. To be able to follow the old navigation of Seneca River and Mud Creek, on a water route to Lake Erie, appeared to be a great point gained, and no alteration of that part of the route was inquired into. The part from Genessee River, up Black Creek to the Tonnewanta swamp, and thence down the Tonnewanta swamp to Niagara River, Mr. Geddes appears to have adopted from a mistake in the information he received from Mr. Ellicott, who supposed that the highest ground on that route was not more than ten feet above Lake Erie, but which was afterward found to be above 74 feet.

On the 15th March, 1810, a resolution passed both branches of the Legislature, appointing Gouverneur Morris, Stephen Van Renssellaer, De Witt Clinton, Simeon DeWitt, William North, Thomas Eddy, and Peter B. Porter, commissioners. And on the 6th of April following a law was passed authorizing the Treasurer to pay to the order of the said commissioners, a sum not exceeding in the whole $3000; for the purpose of exploring the route between Hudson's River and Lakes Erie and Ontario, and reporting thereon to the Legislature.

On the 2d of March, 1811, Mr. Gouverneur Morris and the other commissioners made a long and very luminous report on the subject, showing very clearly the advantages of an interior route, in preference to that by Lake Ontario; and proposing the construction of a canal with an uniform descent of the water of Lake Erie at the rate of six inches to a mile, to a reservoir near Hudson's River. This bold and magnificent project, described with the pen of Mr. Morris as the first design on the subject, being thus located on the spots and points of passage, for the distance of three hundred and fifty miles, struck every one with astonishment and admiration, and excited the most animating sensations.

The report was followed by a law which was passed on the 8th of April, reciting that

"Whereas a communication by means of a canal navigation between the great Lakes and Hudson's River, will encourage commerce and manufactures, facilitate a free and general intercourse between parts of the United States, and tend to the aggrandizement and posterity of the country, and consolidate and strengthen the union, that Governeur Morris, Stephen Van Renssellaer, De Witt Clinton, Simeon De Witt, William North, Thomas Eddy, Peter B. Porter, Robert R. Livington, and Robert Fulton, be appointed commissioners for the consideration of all matters relating the said inland navigation."

On the 14th of March, 1812, Mr. Gouverneur Morris and the other commissioners made another report to the legislature, in which they strongly insist on the superior advantages of an interior route, between Lake Erie and Hudson's River. In opposition to the arguments of those persons who were in favour of the old route by Lake Ontario, they quote with pride and pleasure communications from Mr. Weston, an engineer of great and acknowledged talents and experience, who had already been employed in that capacity both in New-York, and Pennsylvania. "Should your noble and stupendous plan" says Mr. Weston,

"of uniting Lake Erie with the Hudson be carried into effect, you have to fear no rivalry. The commerce of the immense extent of country bordering on the upper lakes is yours for ever, and to such an incalculable amount, as would baffle all conjecture to conceive. Its execution would confer immortal honour on the projectors and supporters; and would, in its eventual consequences, render New-York the greatest commercial emporium in the world; with perhaps the exception at some distant day of New-Orleans, or some other depot at the mouth of the majestic Mississippi. From your perspicuous topographical description, and neat plan and profile of the route of the contemplated canal, I entertain little doubt of the practicability of the measure; perhaps this is the only question which the Legislature should be particularly anxious to have resolved.

"The expense, be it what it may, is no object when compared with the incalculable benefit arising therefrom, though doubtless it will deserve attention, that the money granted liberally, be wisely and economically expended. As the survey already made is only what is technically called a running level, much allowance ought to be made, with respect to the eligibility of the route and amount of descent. Indeed to determine the proper line of canal, will require the utmost skill of the professional engineer. Its due performance is of vital importance. A small mistake therein, from whatever cause arising, may occasion the needless waste of thousands. Too much care cannot be taken in the first instance, in exploring the country in every practicable direction, that the final decision may be founded on the result of a comparison of the different routes: as combining shortness of distance with cheapness of execution. The extraordinary regularity in the third or western division, induces me to concur without hesitation, in the plan recommended by the commissioners, of cutting the canal with an uniform descent, in preference to the usual mode of carrying it on a level. It is true, that the latter custom has almost invariably been adopted in Europe, but the inducements thereto have generally been the scanty supply of water on the respective summits, the shortness of the different levels, and the tolerably equal amount of tonnage conveyed in opposite directions. None of these circumstances occur in the instance before us; for the supply of water, as is justly observed, is pure and inexhaustible.

"The length of the line from the mouth of the Tonnewanta to Cayuga River, is upwards of one hundred and twenty miles, an extent of canal without lockage, unequalled by any now in existence, and the chief amount of tonnage will be always downwards. For these reasons I strongly recommend the adoption of the plan."

Notwithstanding the strong recommendation of the plan on the part of Mr. Weston, Mr. Gouverneur Morris and the other commissioners continued to examine every part of it with minute exactness; and finding that a canal with an uniform descent from Lake Erie, would be 130 feet above the outlet of the Cayuga lake, and that the expense of an embankment would be greater than they at first estimated, they were constrained to admit that the course by an inclined plane, could not be pursued throughout, and that it would become necessary to descend eighty or ninety feet, so as to cross the Cayuga, by an embankment of moderate height.

In March 1814, Mr. G. Morris and the other commissioners made a further report, in which they say

"they suspended all surveys during the last summer on account of military operations, which are not favorable to internal improvement. They have however the satisfaction to state that every examination tends to show, not only the practicability but the facility of this enterprise, so far as the term facility can reasonably be applied to a work of such magnitude. The commissions beg leave to remark that they are much misunderstood, when it is supposed they recommend exclusively a canal descending according to the level of the country, like an inclined plane. On the contrary, their project embraces the system of locks as well as the other, and their opinion is that the operation must be regulated by the nature of the country: taking into view the diminution of expense and the shortening of distance."

Mr. G. Morris and the other commissioners also stated that they had applied to companies and individuals for grants of land in aid of the enterprise, and that they had obtained 106,632 acres as a free gift to the people of the State, for promoting the execution of canal navigation from Lake Erie to the Hudson, of which quantity 100,632 acres were given by Paul Busti, Esq., agent of the Holland land company, in behalf of the company.

On the conclusion of the war in 1815, the project of the Lake Erie and Hudson canal was very naturally revived, the want of such a communication having been severely felt during the war, and immense sums having been expended for land transportation; some of the stockholders of the western Inland Navigation Company finding that their stock was not as productive as they expected, were also anxious for the revival of the scheme, and took measures to promote it, with a view of being remunerated by the State for the sums they had expended.

In February and March 1816, above thirty petitions, memorials, and resolutions were presented to the legislature from the inhabitants of cities, counties, towns, and villages of the State, praying that the improvement of the internal navigation of the State, should engage the early attention of the legislature, and that vigorous measures should be adopted for its completion. Among the petitions and memorials which were presented to the legislature on the subject, there was one from the city of New-York, said to be drawn up by Mr. De Witt Clinton, which was a very able and useful document; it comprised the late information on canals, from Rees' Cyclopedia and Philips' Inland Navigation; it took up and enlarged on the very interesting essays of Mr. Watson, which were published in the newspapers in the year 1792; noticed the information contained in Mr. Secretary Gallatin's report on canals and roads, made in pursuance of a resolution of the Senate of the United States, founded on a motion of Mr. John Quincy Adams; and extended the subject to embrace Mr. Morris's plan of bringing the water of Lake Erie into the Hudson; making ample use of the preceding reports of the commissioners, and including a number of additional remarks. These petitions and memorials were referred to a committee of both houses, who prepared and reported a bill, which, after many alterations, was finally passed into a law on the 17th of April 1816, whereby Stephen Van Renssellaer, De Witt Clinton, Samuel Young, Joseph Ellicott and Myron Holley, were appointed commissioners, to adopt such measures as shall be requisite to effect the communication by means of canals and locks, between the navigable waters of Hudson's River and Lake Erie, and the said navigable waters and Lake Champlain. It will be observed that the names of Gouverneur Morris, Simeon De Witt, William North, Thomas Eddy, and Peter B. Porter, were omitted in this bill, as commissioners, and Samuel Young, Joseph Ellicott, and Myron Holley substituted: contrary to the former practice of having the first named commissioner president of the Board, it was declared "that the commissioners shall choose one of their number president of their Board, who shall have power to call a meeting of the same, Whenever in his opinion the public interest shall require it;" and the Treasurer of the State was authorized to pay $20,000 to the order of the said commissioners, for which they were to account to the Comptroller of the State.

The scheme being thus prepared, and the law enacted in conformity by the Senate and House of Assembly, the new commissioners held a meeting shortly after their appointment and chose Mr. De Witt Clinton their president; at a subsequent meeting they determined that the dimensions of the Erie Canal should be 40 feet on the water surface, 28 feet at the bottom, and four feet depth of water, the length of a lock 90 feet, and its width 12 feet in the clear.

Mr. Joseph Ellicott, the commissioner, was the sub-agent of the Holland Company, under Mr. Busti; he was the advocate of the route through the Company's land, for the distance of forty miles; being the route which was formerly suggested by Mr. Geddes. William Peacock was appointed engineer to explore this route under the superintendence of Mr. Ellicott, from Buffalo on the south side of the mountain ridge to the east line of the Holland purchase. Mr. Peacock having explored the route, Mr. Ellicott made a report on the business committed to his charge, by which it appeared that if the canal took the direction proposed by him, it would he raised 74 feet above the level of Lake Erie; of course that the water of the lake could not follow, nor be used, but that other sources of supply must be resorted to for the lockage into the lake, and into the Genessee river, together with the other water requisite for leakage, soakage, and evaporation. In addition to these defects there would be an increase of lockage amounting to 148 feet; nevertheless, Mr. Ellicott approved of the plan.

The exploring of the route from Lake Erie, originally proposed by Mr. Gouverneur Morris, became the task of Mr. Geddes; as this route never rises above the level of the lake, but is always below it, it would therefore derive its water from that never failing reservoir; and a limpid stream from that copious supply, managed according to the plan of Mr. G. Morris, would arrive at a basin near Hudson's River. Mr. Geddes was now sensible of the advantages of Mr. G. Morris's plan of departure from Lake Erie, and abandoning his predilection for the route he formerly proposed, he explored the passage on the bed of one of the branches of Eighteen-mile Creek; availed himself of the descent where Lockport is now situated, and in his plan conducted the water of Lake Erie in safety across the Genessee River; but arriving there, he continued in his former route of the year 1808, through the valleys of Mud Creek and Seneca River. On the 15th of April 1817, an act passed the Legislature of the State, declaring in full confidence, that the Congress of the United States and the States equally interested with this State, in the commencement, prosecution, and completion of these important works, will contribute their full proportion of the expense; the commissioners appointed by the act of April 1816, were authorized and empowered to commence making the said canals, by opening communications by canals and locks, between the Mohawk and Seneca rivers, and between Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

In pursuance of this law Mr. De Witt Clinton and the other commissioners, proceeded to take measures for the accomplishment, of those parts of the routes of the canal which were thus authorized; and on the 4th of July 1817, the Erie canal was commenced by beginning the excavation on the Utica summit.

By an act passed on the 17th of April 1819, Mr. De Witt Clinton and the other commissioners were authorized to open communications, by locks and canals, between the Seneca River and Lake Erie, and between the termination of the canal on the Mohawk River and the Hudson River; thus giving full authority to the commissioners, to construct and complete the whole line of canal from Lake Erie to Hudson River.

On the 12th of April 1824, Mr. De Witt Clinton was removed from the office of canal commissioner, by the Senate and House of Assembly: by a concurrent vote of twenty-one to three in the Senate and of sixty-four to thirty-four in the House of Assembly. It would be foreign to the purpose of these sheets to discuss the propriety or impropriety of the measure; it will be sufficient to remark, that while they omitted to publish the cause of the proceeding, the removal was an impolitic step. Party dissensions have been generally disapproved by the temperate and reflecting part of the community, since the commencement of them, at the memorable sitting of the council of appointment in the year 1801. In the present instance both parties in the Senate appeared to unite in the removal, and they may therefore say that it was not a party measure but it is rather supposed that some of the senators were fearful of their popularity with their party, if they supported Mr. De Witt Clinton; and therefore declined voting, or joined in the vote against him, though contrary to their sentiments. It is not thought that retaliation for displacing Mr. Gouverneur Morris, was the cause of the proceeding.

Several other changes of canal commissioners have taken place, at different times, by resignations and new appointments. The Board now consists of Stephen Van Renssellaer, president, Samuel Young, Henry Seymour, and William C. Bouck.

On the 26th of October 1825, the enterprising General Peter B. Porter, one of the heroes of the New-York militia in the campaigns in Upper Canada, entered the canal from Lake Erie harbour, in the canal boat Niagara, and on the lst of November arrived on the tide water of the Hudson. The Niagara being the first vessel that made the entire passage of the canal.

Having thus, with the dull details of a chronologist, related those facts which are necessary to give a right understanding of the origin and progress of the undertaking, we shall in a plain, familiar, and desultory manner, state our observations on the course, and consider the effects which have been produced by the plan of proceeding. In this contemplative mood, we cannot refrain from sincerely regretting that Mr. Gouverneur Morris was displaced as President of the Board of canal commissioners; had he continued in that situation, there is no doubt, that with the assistance of the other gentlemen appointed in the law, the canal would have been completed of larger dimensions, and with descents and locks, bringing the water of Lake Erie into Hudson River; although his first idea of eight feet depth of water, would perhaps have been abandoned, a canal fifty feet wide at top, and five feet deep, would in all probability have been adopted, pursuant to the opinion of Mr. Wright, the principal engineer; and although there would not have been an uniform flow of water from Lake Erie to a basin near the Hudson; still, the water of the Lake would have flowed into that river. The canal would have proceeded through the Mountain ridge, with a greater descent from Lake Erie to Lockport, and a descent by locks of about 54 feet there thence by an uniform descent to the grounds between Palmyra and Canandaigua, and a descent by locks of 60 feet there; thence by an uniform descent, or nearly so, receiving the water of Seneca Lake near its outlet, crossing the Cayuga Lake with an embankment of about 55 feet, and continuing a descent of the Lake Erie water to Utica; whence it would naturally flow, by the valley of the Mohawk, into Hudson's River: Or, the canal would have proceeded through the Mountain ridge, as at present, with a descent of 62 feet at Lockport; it would then have pursued the level through Rochester, to the grounds between Palmyra and Canandaigua, where there would have been another descent of 78 feet, and thence another level receiving the water of Seneca Lake, and crossing the Cayuga Lake with an embankment of only 45 feet, to a level junction with the summit level of Utica.

This sublime idea of Mr. Gouverneur Morris, of commanding the waters of our mediterranean seas, containing above fifty millions of acres, leading them in any requisite quantity over a space of three hundred and sixty miles, applying them to inland navigation, hydraulics, irrigations, and other commercial, manufacturing, and agricultural purposes, and finally discharging them into the tide water of the Hudson, would then have been realized; and the beauty and utility of the design would not have been destroyed by the canal dipping into and rising from lower levels, after discharging the water of the summits.

Although Mr. Gouverneur Morris' plan has been adopted of bringing the water of Lake Erie through the Mountain ridge to the Rochester level, in preference to the proposition of Mr. Ellicott, of raising the canal 74 feet above the level of the lake; still, Mr. De Witt Clinton and the other commissioners, have unfortunately deviated in another part, and have descended with the route of the canal, from their commanding Rochester level, into the valley of Mud Creek, and adopted a course in the vicinity of the old river navigation, through the Cayuga marshes. This has obliged them to descend unnecessarily 45 feet into the mire of the marshes, which are two feet under water in the spring, and three feet above water in the summer, when miasmata are generated, which are frequently productive of diseases to the voyager, and sometimes of death; while the necessity of keeping water in the canal, will forever prevent the draining of the marshes, and converting above forty thousand acres of mire into the most fertile land, and the tract with the surrounding district into a healthy country.

It is true that a plan has been proposed by Mr. Thomas, one of the engineers, for deepening the Erie canal, between the Canandaigua outlet and the east side of Seneca river, and of raising the marsh level west of the Canandaigua outlet, with an addition of a new lock at the outlet; but it is conceived that this alteration, while increasing the lockage, will only be imperfectly mending a plan originally defective, and which ought to be abandoned; or, at least, only continued for boats of the immediate neighbourhood.

Mr. Thomas must recollect that the quantity of water discharging at the marshes is much greater now, than before the construction of the canal; that there is an addition of water by the canal from Lake Erie, Oak Orchard Creek, and the Tonnewanta in the same channel, and Genessee River, all of which disembogued into Lake Ontario west of the Irondequot, but now contribute part of their streams to the overflowing of the marshes; and although the quantity from each is small, still the effect is very visible, and will continue to increase with the increase of the navigation. In the same way there is an influx from the Jordan summit in the east, of water which heretofore flowed into the Seneca River below the marshes, and which will also increase in the like proportion with the navigation. From these considerations it must be apparent that the desired effect cannot be fully produced, unless the Erie Canal is removed from the marshes and located on higher ground. To rise from the Cayuga marshes, a lockage of thirty six feet has been constructed to the Jordan summit level which is only twelve miles in length, between the Skeneateless and Nine mile creeks. From the Jordan summit there is a descent to the Salina level of seventeen feet, and thence a rise of twenty-six feet to the Utica level, thus making seventy-nine feet of unnecessary lockage, in addition to the forty five required to descend into the marshes; thus expending five times the quantity of lockage water which would otherwise be requisite. This last consideration is of the utmost importance; all the lockage water of Lake Erie and Rochester level, is now lost in the Cayuga marshes. The Jordan summit level locking down both ways into the Seneca and Salina levels, requires double the quantity of lockage water, which is expended for the same purpose from the Lake Erie and Rochester levels; while the Utica level has also a double expenditure into the Salina level and into the Hudson. But by Mr. G. Morris' plan the only expenditure of lockage water for the whole length of canal would have been at the Hudson. From the foregoing considerations we repeat that the entire plan of descents and locks, should have been adopted, or the Rochester level should have been continued between the Canandaigua outlet which is too high, and the Palmyra level which is too low, until a descent of 78 feet would have become expedient; or if necessary, two descents dividing the height, might have been effected at different places; the canal thus descending would have acquired the level of the Seneca Lake, and received its water near Geneva. It would then have proceeded to the Cayuga outlet, and crossing with a moderate embankment, would have continued its course to the Utica summit. In these cases the delay of the numerous single locks between Utica and Rochester would cease. There would be but two or three places for passing locks between Lake Erie and the east end of Utica level, a distance of 263 miles, and only two or three superintendents of locks would be necessary instead of 19 or 20, the present number. By the first plan there would not have been more than 114 feet of lockage; and by the second only 140; instead of 267 feet, the present amount between Utica and Lake Erie! By either plan, only one fifth part of the lockage water, would be required throughout the entire distance, which is now necessary. There would be descending lockage the whole way, and the Lake Erie water would have continued in the Canal until it arrived at the Hudson!

The commissioners have ascertained that by doubling the locks as proposed, 360 boats can be passed daily without much inconvenience at the locks; and they have estimated that toll may be received from the canal in one year to the amount of above nine millions of dollars. If these are facts, of how much importance will it be to lessen the lockage between Lake Erie and Utica, to reduce the quantity of water used for lockage to one fifth of the present amount, and to have an inexhaustible reservoir to apply to. The ordinary quantity of water flowing in the streams is from several causes annually diminishing, and the evaporation is annually increasing. In future we must expect that the size of streams, during the season of navigation will be far less than at present. If there is a want of water on one of the summits, it will necessarily impede the whole navigation. The Jordan summit being only twelve miles, in length, 360 boats passing through each end in one day, will require almost 720 locks full of water, or above three millions of cubic feet to be taken from it daily. This enormous demand, nearly equal to one half the water on the summit exclusive of the requisite amount for leakage, soakage, and evaporation, and the surplus quantity necessarily expended at the filling and discharging of the lock, must of course draw down the water on that short line of canal, render it shallow, and its navigation impracticable unless it is supplied in never failing quantities, from sources which it is believed will not continue to exist. But by making the proposed alterations, every drop of water received from Lake Erie and from every feeder and inlet on the whole route, may be used as lockage water, at the only outlet at the lower end of the canal on the Hudson.

Although Mr. De Witt Clinton and the other commissioners originally determined that the locks should be twelve feet wide, it is believed that they afterward directed them to be constructed fifteen feet wide; we do not disapprove of the increase of width, but when they determined on it, they should have also agreed to increase the width of the canal. A boat we will say, for the sake of illustration, of the dimensions of the lock 15 feet wide and 4 feet deep, would contain a bulk more than four tenths, and nearly equal to one half of the bulk of the canal, of 40 feet wide at top, 28 feet at bottom, and four feet deep; but if the boat is twelve feet wide, its bulk will then be but little more than one third of the bulk of the water in the canal; and since it is found that the force applicable to the trackage of vessels in canals is in proportion to the quantity of fluid compared to the bulk of the vessel, the slow progress of boats on the canal is easily accounted for. Those who have passed on the canal above Schenectady, must have observed how soon the horses change from a slow heavy drag to a quick lively trot, on their arriving at deep water. This is more obvious on the Tonnewanta. where the canal is from 150 to 200 feet wide, and from 15 to 20 feet deep; there, two horses draw a boat at the rate of six miles an hour with ease; and I have been informed that they have gone twelve miles in an hour and a quarter; but on the other side of the Mountain ridge, while Oak Orchard creek was the only feeder, and the water of course low, three horses drew a boat three miles in an hour with great difficulty. With boats fifteen feet wide, the canal should have been fifty feet wide at top, and five feet deep ; the water would not then be collected at the bow of the boat as at present. There would be no counter-current near the stern to destroy the banks, no agitation to render the water muddy; but the whole would remain pure and transparent; a less number of horses would be sufficient for the draft, they would undergo less fatigue, and the boat would proceed with greater velocity.

In extending the Rochester and Utica levels to a desirable place for a junction by locks, the necessity of some embankments and deep cuts may occur, but since the Irondequot embankment of seventy-two feet in height and nearly two miles in length, and the Holley embankment of seventy-three feet in height, have been constructed with success, the proposed Cayuga embankment of forty-five or fifty-five feet in height, and one and a half miles in length will be considered a trifling operation; and since Humboldt's accounts of deep cuts in Mexico for the passage of rapid streams, and our own knowledge of the cut now excavating as a part of the Delaware and Chesapeake canal, seventy-three feet in depth; a deep cut through a hill 150 feet in height with a valley on each side for an embankment, will not be considered an undertaking of appalling difficulty.

The commissioners have stated that the amount of articles carried east on the canal, is about five times greater than the amount carried west; that boats proceeding east with an average freight of forty tons, will return west with an average of eight tons only. It is supposed the like proportions will be continued in the future navigation; as the same number of horses will return with the eight tons which proceeded with the forty, it is evident that on a level canal great waste of power will necessarily take place; but where an eastern descent is given to the water, it may be so adjusted that horses may proceed with the same velocity, and no greater exertion of strength, moving eastward with forty tons, than they will do when returning westward with eight tons. By attending to this circumstance in the proposed alterations, a diminution of power by lessening of number of horses, or an increase of velocity will obtained, while the same amount of tonnage will be transported. If it shall be found expedient to give a greater descent to the water from Lake Erie to Lockport, the excavation of the lock of the Mountain ridge may be effected, when the water of the canal is drawn off in the winter; the stones excavated may be placed in heaps along tbe sides of the canal, and removed by boats in the spring, or early part of the summer, to places where they may be wanted for walling the sides ; thus in two or three winters the work may be accomplished with less expense and greater utility, than if the additional excavation had been part of the original plan, and the stones removed by horses and cranes, or by buckets and wind lasses.

If the preferable plan of descents and locks, is not adopted, we will repeat the second proposition; to extend the Utica and Rochester levels to the meridian of Palmyra or Lyons, or between them ; and to construct double locks there to connect them. Though we have no personal knowledge of the ground ourselves, on inquiry from intelligent persons, we are informed that the plan is very practicable.

If the experienced Mr. Wright should undertake the task from the Utica level, he will double the length of "the longest summit level in the world," locate the site for the double locks, make the necessary ascent, and pursue another level, to a level junction with that of Rochester: or if Mr. Geddes be called to the business, with the skill and knowledge he has acquired, since his first exploration in the year 1808, there is no doubt, that starting from the Rochester level, he would shun the old navigation and the marshes, overcome difficulties which the former scanty appropriation would not permit him to examine, make the necessary descent, direct his course for the outlets of the Seneca and Cayuga, and form a level junction with the level of Utica: or Messrs. Wright and Geddes, could pursue their respective levels, and effect a junction at the second Lockport. Or if they should decline the business, there are others who will undertake to perform it. At any rate the low level of Salina, the Jordan summit, and the Cayuga marshes ought not to be endured in the line of canal: this new line of canal of about one hundred miles in length, could be constructed at much less expense than would at first be supposed ; the increased skill of the contractors, would enable them to perform the work for less sums, than on the original line. The canal would be constructed from the Utica and Rochester levels to the spot where the locks are to be built, and the materials transported there by water, along the new line of canal at a small expense. In some instances it will be cheaper to build and complete new locks, with more suitable stone and water lime cement, than to repair the old ; the same with respect to some of tbe aqueduts and culverts. The proposed additional width and depth of canal may be attended to, in the new line; and the dimensions attained at much less expense, than in the old line. If the recommendations of Mr. DeWitt Clinton, relative to retractile bridges and an additional towing path are to be adopted, they can also be contracted with much less expense, in a new line of canal, than in the old. By the proposed alteration of the route, the canal will pass more through the heart of the State, and be nearer to Canandaigua, Geneva, Waterloo, Auburn, and other important towns.

If the canal should pass the Cayuga outlet with an embankment of fifty feet ; it may be worthy of inquiry whether the level may not be pursued on the side of the Lake to Ithaca. If it be found practicable to construct a canal from thence to Owego, 100 feet of lockage will then be saved between that place and the Erie canal. Boats will proceed from Ithaca to Utica without passing a lock, and the Ithaca voyagers may start with their boats and horses, for the tide water of the Hudson, without applying to the captain of the steam boat for a tow on the Lake. The canal may pass through the quarries of gypsum, boats may be loaded without land carriage, and farmers may receive the article on the canal, at one half the present price. By approaching the Seneca Lake, a new trade will be opened with the branches of the Tioga ; the inhabitants of that country will make improvements to enable them to resort to the Erie canal, instead of descending the Susquehanna for a market, and if any citizens of New-York prefer bituminous coal to anthracite, they may be gratified with a selection.

While enumerating the advantages, which will result from the proposed alterations of the canal, we ought also to notice that there will be an entire command of the water of the great lakes, and of almost every stream crossing the line of canal ; and as there will be no discharge of lockage water, except at the Hudson, there will be an abundant supply along the line of canal for grist-mills, saw-mills, factories, and other hydraulic machines. The sites to be let by the State in aid of the revenue : the irrigations while supplying the farmer, will likewise enrich the treasury.

In giving scope to the imagination many things occur, which though they may appear visionary at present may not be thought so hereafter. Who will say that at a future day Lake Erie will not supply New-York with pure and wholesome water! When the canal has received its alterations, and the water of the lake shall be received on the banks of the Hudson pure and limpid, and no longer turbid from the narrow shallow passage, a canal or aqueduct will, at the expense of a million or a million and a half of dollars, deliver the water in the city of New-York, which will then be supplied like Philadelphia, where the water is taken from the Schuylkill canal of one hundred miles in length, and like London from the New river and the Thames. If this aqueduct should be a navigable canal, through one of the cloves of the mountains, thousands of families whose knowledge of the country extends only a short distance, would, as in China, become temporary inhabitants of the water. They would visit the ocean, the most populous city of the United States, and the emporium of the commerce of the Western Hemisphere. This voyage would be performed in boats, which they will procure for the trip on the canal, and with their own horses taken from wagons, bringing their provisions, produce, and manufactures from the interior. If a failure of the crop of any particular article should take place, from any unpropitious cause near the Atlantic, farmers would immediately supply the deficiency by proceeding to the canal with their wagons, putting their horses to canal-boats, and delivering in the city the articles in demand. Produce also arriving at maturity earlier or later, than that raised in the vicinity of New-York, would be brought from other places, and a continued and equable supply thus ensured to the city.

While we dwell on the great benefits which may be derived from the proposed alterations, let us not omit minor advantages; the delicate fish of the great lakes will be introduced into the small lakes and the waters of the Mohawk and Hudson, and a prolific supply obtained for the inhabitants to ensure plenty, variety, and good living.

It is presumed to be fully shown that the deviation from the plan of Mr. G. Morris, with bis subsequent modifications, occasions extra lockage, waste of water, slow motion, heavy draft, extra horses, caving banks, muddy water, loss of time, disease, and sometimes death! The question is, whether it is proper to continue to labour under these disadvantages, or to obtain relief when it is in our power, by applying to the legislature to give the necessary authority to Mr. Stephen Van Rensaellaer and the other commissioners, to cause surveys, descents, and levels to be made, and alterations to be effected of such parts as are susceptible of improvement. It must be acknowledged by all, if the whole cannot be accomplished, that very material parts may be altered without great expense; but it is contended that it would be good economy to expend one or two millions in the immediate alteration and completion of the whole plan. The present canal commissioners, being men of good sense and free from selfish prejudice, would immediately adopt such of the proposed alterations as they esteemed to be proper, and would prefer the work being done under their administration. They are fully competent to it, and it would be cheaper and better to continue them in the management of it, than to form a new commission. In the same way with respect to the engineers, architects, and contractors; and it is fortunate that the state has such an excellent corps to select from. It is not contemplated to construct the part proposed to be altered, of greater dimensions than fifty feet wide and five feet deep ; an attempt at more would mar the whole; but most assuredly the time will come when a canal from Erie to the Hudson, ninety feet wide and nine feet deep, will convey the Vessels of Michigan in safety to tide water.

33]It may be urged by some that although the proposed alterations are expedient and will be attended with many beneficial effects, still there is no necessity for their immediate completion, but that they may with propriety be postponed, and the energies of the State directed to other objects. In reply, it is insisted that the alterations should be immediately made in preference to all other propositions. The many causes assigned for a change of the plan and route should not be disregarded, nor the citizens permitted to continue to labour under the losses and inconveniences they at present sustain; these may appear small to some, who contrast their present situation with what it was before the canal was constructed, but intelligent men, who are enabled to look forward to the additional benefits which may be so easily conferred on them, will see the propriety of immediately accomplishing the work.

In addition to these advantages, which will accrue to the citizens residing near the line of navigation, there are others of much greater importance in relation to the commerce of the State. The canal will then be in complete order to receive the trade of the western States, and the inhabitants of those States, gratified and delighted with the improved facilities and accommodations, will not seek other routes to the tide water, but cheerfully bend their course to the Hudson. The present consolation of those who are in favour of other routes, is, that the Erie canal will be preoccupied by the citizens of the State, that there will be no room for the inhabitants of other States, who must therefore seek tide water in other places. The advocates of the Welland canal, constructing with an expectation of cutting off the trade of the Hudson, and connecting the interior with the merchants of a foreign country beyond the control and fiscal regulations of the United States ; and the revivers of the project of the Niagara canal, to enable the sloops of Lake Erie to descend into Ontario, and thence on a destination unknown, all have their hopes and expectations, while many of our citizens are striving to direct the trade from the Hudson to the tide waters of the Delaware, Susquehannah, Potomac, James River, and the Mississippi.

Colonel John L. Sullivan one of the most experienced civil engineers of the United States, who is now in the employ of the central government as a member of the board of internal improvement, says, in a report dated February 3d, 1825,

"the apprehension of a want of income proportionate to the cost of public works, is dissipated by the success of the Erie canal, thronged with navigation even before it has reached the lake. And although the capacity of that canal for business may be increased by parallel locks and other means, there are limitations to its power, set by the command of water it possesses. Ever since the commencement of that work, the western counties of New-York have been increasing greatly in population; and there will be no necessity for business from Ohio and Michigan to ensure a competent revenue from the Erie canal. The very facts which show the wisdom of that undertaking, prove that the western States may find it preoccupied. The nearest customers must always have the preference - the are in possession."

In a review on Baltimore, published as late as January 1825, it is said,

If a water communication is opened from the Western to the Atlantic States, nearly the whole trade of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana will flow in this direction. The New-York canal will draw through the lake, for the present, the produce of the northern parts of Ohio and Indiana, but when the magnificent project of threading the Alleghanies with a canal, and uniting the Ohio, nay, the great lakes themselves with the Chesapeake, shall be put in execution, which, since the recent surveys would seem to prove it practicable, may he expected at no distant day ; then the entire trade of these three states will flow into this channel, as being the shortest and most expeditious route to the tide waters of the Atlantic. In this event Baltimore will inevitably become become the chief mart of western produce, and possess an almost exclusive privilege of sending over the mountains, supplies of home manufacturcs and foreign products. Georgetown, Washington, and Alexandria will doubtless be greatly benefitted by such a communication to the west, but the local situation of these towns is not such as to enable any one or all of them to gain the ascendancy already held by Baltimore.

In a report of a committee of the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania, on inland navigation made in February 1825, they say that,

"from her position, Philadelphia under a wise policy will ever a great commercial city and the real centre of the manufactures and wealth of the union."

These are some of the latest sentiments which have been expressed on the effects of the canals from the tide water to the interior, and on the positions and future Importance of the commercial cities, and are founded on the facts which have been lately developed. The citizens of New-York ought not to disregard them, on the contrary, they should carefully examine the probable results of the proposed plans of improvement, and take every prudent precaution, and adopt every active measure which which may be necessary to enable them to preserve the advantages which they derive from their highly favourable position. It is conceived that it is in their power to invite to their port, through the Erie canal, not only the trade of their own State, but also part of the trade of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, of disricts of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois, and of Michigan and the Northwest Territory. It has been ascertained the surveys of the U. S. engineers, and is stated in their report of February, 1825, that there is a practicable route for a canal, from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, by the valleys of the Big Beaver Creek and the Astabula which will be only 104 miles in length, and with a lockage of only 557 feet, thus making the lockage from Pittsburgh to the tide water of the Hudson, if the proposed alterations in the Erie canal are effected, only 1095 feet ; of which 330 feet will be descending lockage, while the route from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia by the Susquehanna, will have 3358 feet lockage, and to Baltimore and Alexandria by the Potomac, 3837 feet. These considerations will give the Lake Erie and Hudson route a decided superiority, provided there are no limitations set to its power by the command of water it possesses, and "the western States do not find it preoccupied, as the nearest customers must have the preference, they being in possession." The wary miller, who finds that there will be shortly more grist brought to his mill, than one run of stones can grind, does not wait until the fact proved, his customers turned away, and other mills erected in opposition to him, but he immediatefy projects further improvements, to prevent the loss, competition, and disappointment which would otherwise ensue; he increases his command of water, he husbands and prevents waste of it and constructs additional runs of stones, commensurate with his means and the demand for employment. This course of proceeding, it is suggested, should be the policy of the Legislature of New-York, and immediate measures by adopting the proposed improvements, to be prepared to forward without delay and with increased velocity the passage of every boat, which may hereafter apply for admission on the Erie canal.

We hope that our readers are by this time convinced, that it is the duty and policy of the people of New-York, to provide for the contingencies which have been mentioned before they occur; and that it is in their power to prevent the transit of articles from being arrested and diverted into other channels. By careful provisions, the State of New-York may enjoy the whole of the intercourse between the Atlantic and western States, and the vast advantage of being the entrepot of the commerce of the union.

When the canal is completed in the manner proposed it may then be worthy of the consideration of the Legislature, whether it would not be expedient to renew the offer of making it the property of the United States, in the manner originally intended. The general government reimbursing with interest the sums which have been expended in the construction of it, and engaging to demand no more toll, than will be sufficient to pay the interest of the expenditure, the cost of the superintendance, and the repairs of the work. The sums to be received from the United States over and above the payment of the canal debt, may then be applied to the construction of branch canals connecting with the Erie and Champlain canals, and with the tide waters in other places; but the transfer of the canal is a subject of such magnitude in its various ramifications and different bearings, and of such vast importance to the State, and the United States, that it will require a separate discussion, distinct from this essay, and is therefore most respectfully referred to abler hands. Being confident if they have the good of their country at heart, and are governed by the principles of Washington, that they will not be long in determining on the policy which ought to be adopted.

Return to the Historical Documents page   |   Go to the Erie Canal home page

Please send comments, suggestions, etc. to Dragon Design Associates