I’ve lived by the Erie Canal for years but this question only recently occurred to me. Nowadays, the canal is mostly used for pleasure boating but it was obviously built for commercial reasons.
Now I understand the eastern part of the canal and how it was a good idea linking the Hudson River with the Great Lakes. But the canal runs parallel to Lake Ontario for about 150 miles from Syracuse to Buffalo before going into Lake Erie (most of this distance it’s about ten miles from the lake). Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to run the canal up to Oswego and then have a seperate short canal in western New York running between Lake Ontario and Erie (bypassing Niagara Falls) with the traffic between these canals sailing on the lake? The cost of digging a hundred miles of additional canal couldn’t have been negligable.
The possible explanations don’t make sense to me. The land between the canal and the lake is flat and wouldn’t have prevented excavation. Sailing on Lake Ontario wouldn’t have been that big a challenge to ships could cross the Atlantic. It is possible that Washington was worried about the British naval presense in Lake Ontario, but if so why weren’t the concerned about travel in Lake Erie? If I find it hard to believe a pork barrel project that size could have been enacted in Congress that early in the republic’s history.