Why the Erie Canal to Buffalo

Why did they build it from Albany to Buffalo? It seems by looking at a map, easier to build it from Albany to Lake Ontario then let the boats sail on the lake till and then build another short canal from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. Boom you’re in Buffalo.

Seems like a lot less diggin’.


The Erie canal was navigated by mule-drawn barges. You would have had to use actual ships on Lake Erie, which would probably have been more expensive and less reliable, as well as requiring cargo to be offloaded to and from canal transport at both ends.

Duh. I mean Lake Ontario, of course.

From “Engineering in History”, by Kirby, Withington, Darling, and Kilgour, Dover Publications, New York, 1990:

From “A Short History of Technology - From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1900”, by Derry and Williams, Dover Publications, New York, 1993:

If this helps…

This is a wag (you’ve been warned):
Lake Ontario also borders on Canada which was more friendly to Great Brittan then us (the canal being completed while the war of 1812 was still fresh in memory).
Again that’s a wag, but looks like it could be a factor. the alternative was to use the St. Lawrence river which again borders and runs through Canada.

Another wag - the erie canal probally needed people to maintain the thing and serve the users. There appears to be many small citys along it - now I don’t know if the path of the canal was chosen to run through small towns (at the time).

While k2dave brings up a good point, let’s turn it around. It was the building of the canal that led to the creation of most of those towns.

While the primary purpose of the canal was to allow New York City to “export” goods into the hinterlands of Ohio and Michigan and Illinois and “import” materials from the same places, a strong secondary purpose was to provide a simple thoroughfare that connected the opposite ends of the state at a time when many roads were basically trails hacked out of the forest that were not conducive to travel by coach or wagon. By opening the canal, Clinton basically created a 40- to 60-mile wide band of territory through the center of the state that was immediately opened for settlement.

A slight hijack …

Take a look at a map of Buffalo, if you can get access to one. Roads in most of the Buffalo area are based on Joseph Ellicott’s plan for the city, which used the Washington DC-like spoke-and-connector pattern for inspiration. On the city’s West Side, though, is a gridiron of streets that seems strangely out of place. It’s the former Village of Black Rock, which was competiting with Buffalo for the Erie Canal terminus. The Canal was built to Buffalo, and Black Rock was eventually absorbed into the city.

Today, the Buffalo neighborhood called “Black Rock” is nowhere near the original Black Rock village site – I have no idea how the name got transferred to a working class settlement further north.

Here’s something interesting – among Buffalo’s dusty pile of never-realized plans is the All-American Canal, which was intended to supplant the Welland Canal as a shipping route between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. There’s also the never-completed Love Canal, which was also intended to provide a shipping route that avoided Canada. We all know what happened there …

There is a connection between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario, opened in 1838. The Oswego Canal follows the course of the Oswego River from Three Rivers (near Syracuse) to Oswego. It required the building of several locks to make it navigable.

Work began on another short canal (the Sodus Canal) planned to link the Erie Canal near Lyons to Sodus Bay on the lake. It was never completed.

I’m assuming this question was brought about when you watched ‘Modern Marvels : The Erie Canal’ on TLC yesterday. As was mentioned before this was about the time of the War of 1812 although it seems you would have the same problems with Lake Erie as you would with Lake Ontario in respect to guarding against the enemy. On the other hand you could get sailing ships up the St Lawrence into Lake Ontario but not into Lake Erie which would make the chances of coming upon large warships much smaller on Erie than on Ontario.

As was mentioned by Tom the canal brought about much expansion. Rochester wasn’t even there until the Erie canal was built. Although since all the first year’s work was done by farmers along the canal (the start being the Rome area) I think we can safely say that much of the area was allready settled. You have to remember that for much of the Revolutionary War the fighting took place along the Mohawk Valley corridor and that there were many settlers allready in the area and many officers of that war were given land in Central and Western NY as payment for their service. So I don’t think it really “created a 40- to 60-mile wide band of territory through the center of the state for settlement”, it did give access to cheap land and expand economic oppurtunity. This was of course the intention of Clinton and the other politicians who supported it, not to mention the tolls they collected. This also put NY City past the other east coast cities as the best port.