I've been fascinated with the history of the Erie Canal since 1996, when I lived briefly with relatives in Victor, NY, and then moving the family into a home in Macedon, NY. Macedon is a town that lies along the canal, East of Rochester, and West of Palmyra, NY.
New York State has published a history of the Canals, and I think these short documents are worth the time to read and understand their fabulous history, and the contribution to the growth of New York state and of America during the 1800s.
The Erie Canal grew into the New York State Barge Canal and now is named the New York State Canal System.
The Erie Canal: A Brief History (2 Pages) HTML / PDF
The Story of the New York State Canals (28 pages) HTML / PDF
(Below is an excerpt from the above... see the actual article for copyright information)
THE STORY OF THE NEW YORK STATE CANALS
GOVERNOR DEWITT CLINTON'S DREAM
“As a bond of union between the Atlantic and Western states, it may prevent the dismemberment of the American Empire. As an organ of communication between the Hudson, the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes of the north and west and their tributary rivers, it will create the greatest inland trade ever witnessed. The most fertile and extensive regions of America will avail themselves of its facilities for a market. All their surplus productions, whether of the soil, the forest, the mines, or the water, their fabrics of art and their supplies of foreign commodities, will concentrate in the city of New York, for transportation abroad or consumption at home. Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, trade, navigation, and the arts will receive a correspondent encouragement. The city will, in the course of time, become the granary of the world, the emporium of commerce, the seat of manufactures, the focus of great moneyed operations and the concentrating point of vast disposable, and accumulating capita, which will stimulate, enliven, extend and reward the exertions of human labor and ingenuity, in all their processes and exhibitions. And before the revolution of a century, the whole island of Manhattan, covered with inhabitants and replenished with a dense population, will constitute one vast city.”
UCH was Clinton’s dream concerning the original Erie Canal—the canal which seems so small to us not but which was the Grand Canal of our forefathers—the canal which for many years was the model for canal-building throughout the world—the canal which more than any other single agency was responsible for the unprecedented development and prosperity that came not alone to New York State but to the states beyond its western border and even to the whole country in the first half of the nineteenth century. When Clinton wrote these words they seemed to many as the vain imaginings of a most visionary dreamer. But the dream came true, and every loyal New Yorker has reason to feel pride in that the canals have done for his State.