Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Erie Canal Museum - Lecture Series, Part 2

Yesterday I took my oldest grandson, Mike, to the Erie Canal Museum. I rarely get to spend time with my grandchildren individually, so it was a wonderful day for me.

The topic was Canal Basics, presented by Assistant Director/Curator, Andrew P. Kitzmann.

I grew up in Syracuse and having studied the canal in school and more recently in the course of my family history research I wasn't expecting to learn anything new. I was wrong. In the course of an hour and a half I learned quite a few things and it was an enjoyable lecture.

Mr. Kitzmann was kind enough to include Mike, the only child in attendance, by talking about the roll children played on the canal. Boys as young as eight were expected to work two 6 hour shifts each day traveling with the mules on the towpath. Adding an hour before each shift to feed the animals and an hour at the end of the shift to clean and care for them resulted in 16 hour days. When asked if he'd rather work on the canal or go to school Mike was quick to vote for school. Something that I was not previously aware of was that men would meet the immigrant ships in New York City to find boys to work on the canal. This has me rethinking the family story that has been handed down that Michael Camfield was indentured to a farmer and then went to work with horses on the towpath.

In 1800 New York was a wilderness of old growth forest, something that is nearly impossible to envision now. Prior to the building of the canal it took 6 - 8 weeks to travel from Albany to Buffalo. The canal shortened the trip to 6 - 8 days. I can now drive from Albany to Buffalo in 6 hours or less.

If you had ancestors that migrated across New York at any time in the 1800's there is a good chance that the Erie Canal and/or one of the feeder canals played an important part in their lives. My ancestors worked on the building of the canal. Later they owned businesses or worked along the canal.

There are three more lectures left in the series:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.
Art Cohn, executive director of Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

Saturday, March 11, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.
Randy Duchain, author of "New York Waters," with book signing to follow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 10:30 a.m.
Andrew Kitzmann, Erie Canal Museum, "Canal Inspired Architecture."

Erie Canal Museum
318 Erie Boulevard East
Syracuse, NY 13202

Mon.- Sat. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sun. 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.


Thomas MacEntee said...

a great post - while I haven't found a direct family connection to the Erie Canal yet - I am anticipating one soon. I've been discovering some relatives in Lewis County, NY who arrived from Wales around 1800-1820 and their skills seem to be the sort demanded during the construction of the canal.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Hi Thomas,
Part of the lecture was about Cotton White who went to Europe to study those canals. The Irish were specifically mentioned in that they had built the Irish canals and then the workers went on to England to work on the canals there. He supposedly recruited these men to come to NY to work on the canal here. It is quite possible that he also recruited Welsh canal workers.

You may also want to look at the the Black River feeder canal which ran through Lewis county.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

The University of Rochester has placed online The History Of The Canal System Of The State Of New York, by Noble E. Whitford. 1906 It includes chapters on the various feeder canals, a good state map showing where the various canals were, and other maps, diagrams and tables.


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