The Erie Canal turned small communities into bustling port towns and cities. It transformed New York City into the nation’s principal seaport and helped establish Wall Street as a global financial center. Historians credit the canal as a critical supply line which also helped the North win the Civil War. Amazingly, after just 10 years, the state recuperated its initial $7 million investment that it made to build the canal.
Following its success, communities lobbied the state to build more canals. Initially, the state was so focused on securing an economic stronghold with the west that the Erie Canal stretched to Buffalo, bypassing Lake Ontario. State and community leaders soon realized that a connection between Lake Ontario and the canal made strategic sense and the Oswego Canal was one of the state’s first lateral canals to be built. The Oswego Canal opened in 1829, about four years after the original Erie Canal was completed. Though it was one of the shortest segments, it provided for quick passage of goods from Canada and the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Coast and served as a vital connection from Lake Ontario to the Erie Canal in Syracuse. Because of its connections, the Oswego Canal was one of the few additional canals that was economically viable.
The original Oswego Canal was quickly found to be too small and was upgraded a few times until it was restructured under the Barge Canal Act in the early 20th century. At that time, it was also shortened and now starts at the Three Rivers juncture and then runs the length of the Oswego River north to Lake Ontario. It passes through Phoenix, Volney, Fulton, Minetto, and ends at the Oswego harbor. Today the canal and the locks are used less for transporting supplies and more for recreational boating, community gatherings, and events. Baldwinsville and Brewerton, also canal communities in my Assembly district, offer boaters and tourists many amenities. Although the primary use of the canal has changed, the economic impact the entire canal has on these communities is still present. It is estimated that about $1.5 billion is generated annually by events, boat tours, and historic site/museum tours related to the canal.
Many leaders have worked hard to preserve the history and keep the canal's significance and relevance alive. One of the most important boosts to tourism and the canal came in 2000 when the Erie Canal was named a national heritage area. President Reagan, who named the first national heritage area in 1984, noted the intent of these areas was to designate a new kind of national park that marries heritage, conservation, recreation, and economic development. The Erie Canal fit this definition perfectly and the designation was a triumph for many local leaders who had fought hard for the canal's preservation and the well-deserved recognition.
Today, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor spans 524 miles and encompasses the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals and their historic alignments and includes more than 230 canal communities. It encompasses 4,834 square miles in 23 counties and is home to 3.2 million people. Last year, during the canal's bicentennial year, the canal was also named a National Historic site by the U.S. Department of the Interior. These national designations help ensure it will be preserved for years to come. To learn more about the canal, its history and the impact it had on our localities, visit https://eriecanalway.org/ and http://www.canals.ny.gov/. If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also can friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.