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Great American Infrastructure: The Erie Canal

Posted by Infra on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

This is the third in a series of entries celebrating infrastructure achievements in the United States.

Erie Canal

What: The Erie Canal is a man-made waterway connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River, traversing almost the entire breadth of New York State.

When: Construction began in 1817, and the canal was completed in 1825.  Three expansions have enlarged the canal — the last was finished in 1918.

Why: The canal was conceived in order to facilitate the transportation of goods and people westward past the Appalachian Mountains, from the already densely populated Northeast.

Cost: $7 million

Stats:

  • Length: 363 miles
  • Current width (initial): 125 feet (40 feet)
  • Current depth (initial): 12 feet (4 feet)
  • Current number of locks (initial): 35 (83)
  • Elevation from Hudson River to Lake Erie: 682 feet

Interesting Facts: Tolls were abolished in 1882, after they had already raised $113 million more than the initial $7 million cost of construction.

Thomas S. Allen wrote the song “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” in 1905.  Although most versions change the lyrics to “15 miles on the Erie Canal,” the original lyrics were “15 YEARS on the Erie Canal,” and celebrated the composer’s 15-year span working along the canal with the same mule (Sal, as named in the song).  Proponents of the “15 miles” lyric suggest that a mule could pull a boat 15 miles before needing rest.

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