The waters announced their engagement in 1817 but would not be wedded until 1825. Upon the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, concert tours by water will ring celebratory along the route credited with shaping the economic and political destiny of the United States. Historians say the Erie Canal may have been inspired by Robert Fulton, of steamboat fame, who admired the Canal des Deux Mers in France. Once the engagement’s union was fulfilled, in the “wedding of the waters,” the Erie Canal was an instant success. Shipping goods from Buffalo to New York City before, required two weeks; via the canal, three days. Similarly, the cost of transporting goods by land, formerly $100 per ton, was now reduced to $10 per ton. What are the waterways of the future? Such considerations will be explored at the World Canals Conference, convening this year in Syracuse, New York, on the Erie Canal.
“Green River of Wyoming.” Artist, Thomas Moran, 1878. Image: wikimedia commons
A golden opportunity may be dawning, not only for energy but for employment, from coal to wind. There’s precedent: many workers on the Transcontinental Railroad were “navvies” – a term coined to describe those who built navigable waterways including the Erie Canal. Skills in technologies, combined with the ability to work in remote locations: these are the same valuable traits that may now transform the coal industry. Carbon County, Wyoming, is launching a job training program for coal miners to become wind farm technicians. Wyoming produces more coal than any other American state; but geography makes it ideal for wind, with 850 turbines planned, perhaps leading to a change in tax policy. Job training is free, offered by Goldwind, a leading wind turbine manufacturer in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China, famous hub of the Silk Road. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal: will the celebration include the training and development of workers who changed the American economy? Might the future feature transformation from coal to wind, as skilled workers take on new industries to rebuild energy and environment?
Baeumier, Axel, Ede Ijjasa-Vasque, Shomik Mehndirrata, eds. Sustainable Low-Carbon City Development in China. The World Bank, 2012. ISBN: 9780821389881 (ebook).
For more, “Carbon choices determine US cities committed to futures below sea level.” by Benjamin H. Strauss, Scott Kulp, and Anders Levermann, edited by James Hansen. PNAS, 3 November 2015, vol. 112, no. 44. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/44/13508.full.pdf.
“Ceres,” vessel of Vermont Sail Freight Project, found resonance in many river communities and in New York City. Image: Vermont Sail Freight Project.
While the tiny nature of this initiative was evident to us as we passed under the huge Hudson River bridges like the George Washington and Tappan Zee, each of which was carrying thousands of times our cargo capacity per minute over the river in trucks, we still found it meaningful, and discovered that our initiative had surprising resonance in many river communities and in New York City. The river and harbor were once the preeminent conduit of life and trade, yet are now almost entirely overlooked for everything except recreation. With the addition of fairly modest docks and warehouses suited to this type of trade, we can envision not so much a re-enactment of our past, but more a carrying forward to meet contemporary challenges. The Vermont Sail Freight Project is now exploring avenues for the continuation and expansion of this work in the 2015 season, with some exciting new partnerships.
– Eric Andrus, founder of Vermont Sail Freight Project
At the core of the project is the idea that individuals within a small community can pool their skills and labor to pull off a project of surprising scope and complexity. As project director, it was very inspiring to be at the center of this, and helped to dispel my fear that we have become a nation of passive consumers of products and answers. Together our team built and launched the “Ceres,” a commercial sail-powered vessel with 15 tons cargo capacity in a handful of months on a tiny budget. Our goal was to transport durable food goods from Vermont and upstate New York down the Hudson to the lower valley and New York City, and in so doing tie together the concepts of sustainable agriculture and sustainable transportation.
“An about-face on the subject of transportation and infrastructure,” Erik Andrus, founder of Vermont Sail Freight Project. Photo above: vessel “Ceres.” Image: courtesy of www.vermontsailfreightproject.com.
Infrastructure. The word implies awesomeness, technical complexity, hard hats, and the oversight of engineers. For those not involved in its planning or creation, our built environment can seem largely the individual’s ability to participate or comprehend. The Vermont Sail Freight Project was conceived as an about-face on the subject of transportation and infrastructure, an attempt to borrow heavily on historical patterns and to utilize public commons to perform a service of contemporary economic relevance, and in so doing to set a mold for an alternate way of transporting and doing business that is more in tune with the limitations of our planet.
~ Erik Andrus, Founder, Vermont Sail Freight Project
DeWitt Clinton pours water from Erie Canal into Atlantic Ocean, marking “the wedding of the waters.” Artist: C.Y.Turner, 1905. Image credit: eriecanal.org
Connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River, the Erie Canal created a trade route from the Great Lakes region to the Atlantic coast. The waterway facilitated development of the Midwest and accelerated leadership of New York City, located at the mouth of the Hudson on the Atlantic Ocean, as a world urban center. Credit for building the canal goes to DeWitt Clinton, political leader who served as a state senator, U.S. senator, and mayor of New York City, before becoming governor of New York State. On April 15, 1817, the New York State Legislature provided funding for Navigable Communications between the Great Western and Northern Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. How does the Erie Canal link to Atlantic Studies and to the Atlantic Rim Network, whose mission serves “global issues, local solutions, and regional connections?” What other areas of the world, with powerful lakes and rivers that could be connected to oceans, might arrange a beneficial “wedding of the waters?”
For more on the Atlantic Rim Network:
James H. Barron, Jessica C. McWade, “Toward a New ‘New Atlanticism’,” Parallax: Journal of International Perspectives, Vol. No 1, Fall 2003, pp. 75-89.
Popular with the ancient Greeks, who called its main river Borysthenes, favored by the Romans, Bulgars, Goths and Huns, the Crimea offers port access on the northern border of the Black Sea, with the advantage of also being on the western shores of the Sea of Azov. In medieval times, the Crimean Khanate united the area, but later it became the Taurida Oblast in 1783, and still later the Soviet Crimean Oblast, transferred to Ukraine in 1954. Finally, in 1991, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was born, only to be challenged in 2014. Why so many changes ? Advantageous port territory, milder winters, access to the Dnieper River (fourth largest in Europe). Today operating more than 12 seaports, the Crimea demonstrates the power of ports. The importance of waterways and ports can also be seen in the Canal des Deux Mers and the Erie Canal. Another famous port, St. Petersburg, once the capital and Russia’s largest seaport, still carries the cultural imprint of its founder, Czar Peter the Great, in 1703. Can present day Crimea take inspiration from aspects of St. Petersburg’s success, including business monopolies? Perhaps in partial explanation of why the game’s greats are often Russian, St. Petersburg was once the only source of chessboards. What strategies for economic and cultural success should the Crimea envision for coordinates 45.3N by 34.4E?
Worker on the Erie Canal, From Library of Congress, at loc.gov.
Linking Lake Erie via the Hudson River to New York City, the Erie Canal changed the economy of the United States. Internal waterways have stimulated advances in culture and exchange dating back to China’s Grand Canal. Many jobs were created; workers flocked to construction sites along the route. They lived together in camps, developing team organizational skills that would characterize American business. Innovation flourished; Erie saw the first hydraulic cement used in the United States. Open for business in 1825, the waterway was an instant success. Before it cost $100 per ton to transport goods over land; now, $10 per ton. A museum dedicated to the Erie Canal is housed in the only existing weighlock building in the United States (http://eriecanalmuseum.org). The Erie Canal could be called the Internet of its day: both were connection routes financed by government but developed by the private sector. Entrepreneurial ventures sprang up, soon exceeding initial cost of building the route. How does connection stimulate innovation? What’s beyond the Internet?
Perhaps you sang it in music class in elementary school, but “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal” is not a song about a pet mule. This song commemorates a time in the Erie Canal’s History when mule barges were a common way of moving products down the canal. Later, like in most of the United States, steam became the best way to perform this task.