History lost, history recovered. - Two Far 2018 - Trailing through the Rust Belt - CycleBlaze

History lost, history recovered.

The oldest section of the Erie Canal is between Rome and Syracuse. Because this section had relatively few geographic challenges, it was completed in a couple of years and was profitably operating while other sections were still under construction. 

The town of Chittenango lies on this section and was ideally located to provide services to canal boats. The facilities at Chittenango included 3 different drydock bays where boats could be repaired.

When the canal was expanded in 1918 the route was changed. The old canal was no longer used or maintained. Suddenly Chittenango was no longer on the canal and the drydocks were abandoned.

In the decades that followed the drydocks crumbled and we're covered with bushes and brambles, the New York equivalent of Mayan ruins being consumed by the jungle.

In 1985 the ruins were discovered. Volunteers have painstakingly excavated the site, creating an excellent canal boat museum in the process.

The shallow drydock had only 6 feet of water, so it could only handle lightly loaded boats.
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The middle drydock held 7 feet of water.
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The deep drydock held 8 feet of water and could handle fully loaded boats.
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A model of the 3 drydock bays.
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Repairs performed in the drydocks included patching leaks, caulking the hull, applying pitch, and rebuilding boats that had partially burned.

Seeing something, even a recreation, often makes a bigger impression than just reading about it. Something that somehow made life on the canal seem more real to me was seeing an outhouse perched on top of the ditch that was used to drain water from the drydocks. The canal water must have been unbelievably filthy. In the winter ice was harvested from the canal, but by law it had to be sold as "canal ice", not "lake ice".

Historians faithfully placed this outhouse in it's original position atop the ditch.
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For a short time horses were used to pull barges on the canal but very quickly they were replaced by mules. Why?

  • Mules are smaller, but can pull just as much as a horse.
  • Mules eat less than horses.
  • Mules don't get spooked by snakes the way horses do.
  • Mules live for 40 years, horses for 25.
  • Mules won't drink contaminated water, horses suck down anything wet.
  • Mules are smarter than horses.
This mule is no dummy.
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Anne AbbateThe Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, no longer used commercially, has parts restored with canal boats for tourist trips. These boats are mule-drawn, as were the originals. mario and I belong to a volunteer organization that, among other things, donated a mule to the C&O Canal.
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10 months ago
Alain AbbateTo Anne AbbateI'm not sure Granddad would have approved. I'm sure navy men prefer goats to mules.
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10 months ago
Boris FayferIs goats smarter than mules? Or granddad didn't like smart ass?
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10 months ago
Alain AbbateTo Boris FayferNobody likes a smart ass.
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10 months ago

Long before the Erie Canal, transportation over NY waterways was important. We are staying in Rome NY tonight, a few blocks from the site of Fort Stanwix. The British built the fort here because it lies on a portage route that connected the Oneida Lake watershed with the Mohawk River.

During the revolutionary war American patriots captured the fort. They held on to it, despite a siege by the British in 1777.

Fort Stanwix.
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Lou Harminextremely interesting. (lou h)
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10 months ago
DAVID FAULKNERinformative and interesting
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10 months ago
Alain AbbateTo Lou HarminIt sure was an interesting day. I'm very grateful for the volunteers all along the canal who donate their time and effort to keep the history alive.
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10 months ago