| Builders of Our Country: Book II|
|by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth|
| A lively account of American history told through 31 biographies, beginning with Patrick Henry at the start of the Revolution and ending with Andrew Carnegie at the close of the 19th century. The biographies are so chosen as to acquaint the reader with the chief personages and events in our national life, by including many vivid pictures of each. Ages 10-12 |
DE WITT CLINTON AND THE ERIE CANAL
 THOUGH United States Senator, Mayor of the City
of New York, three times Governor of the State of New
York, De Witt Clinton is remembered to-day principally
from his connection with the Erie Canal.
In the first years of the nineteenth century those who
dwelt in the western part of New York State were shut
away from Albany by days
or even weeks of travel.
A water route, it is true,
connected Cayuga and
Seneca lakes with Schenectady; and rough roads
ran across the state. It
took fully three weeks
and cost fully ten dollars
to haul a barrel of flour
over them from Albany to
Seeing what a gain it
would be to the state if the
rich farming country to the
west could be put in touch
with the markets of Albany
and New York, one and another had schemes to suggest.
But it was left for De Witt Clinton to champion the building
of a canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson River at
 Albany. Every possible objection was raised to his plan;
and the more he tried to convince people of the
advantages a canal would bring, the more they
scoffed. "Clinton's ditch," it was called in ridicule.
Because such a canal connecting the Great Lakes with
the Atlantic would benefit many states besides New York,
the United States Government was asked to pay the cost
of building. Congress would have nothing to do with the
In spite of all opposition, Clinton held fast to his faith
in the canal, and year after year worked away to persuade
the New York legislators and the farmers to favor it. At
last his efforts were rewarded, and the Legislature voted
in favor of the Eric Canal.
DE WITT CLINTON.
The digging was begun at Rome, on July 4, 1817. It
seems curious that the first part of the canal to be built
was the middle section. One of the reasons for this, it is
said, was because the friends of the canal thought that,
with the middle section built, the people at either end
would insist that their section be finished. And this would
make it harder for the enemies of the canal to block the
These old-time diggers must have known how to make
the dirt fly. In a little over eight years they had dug a
canal forty feet wide and four feet deep, the whole length
of the three hundred and sixty-three miles between Lake
Erie and the Hudson.
By the end of October, 1825, the last rock had been
blasted from the canal bed; the last lock had been finished
to lift the boats up and down the grades, and the canal
was ready for use.
A great celebration was planned for October 26th,
and on that day the waters of Lake Erie were let into
"Clinton's ditch." With their first rush into the canal,
 a cannon's boom started the news across the state. Five
miles off the firers of another cannon heard the sound.
The second cannon boomed the tidings to a third, the
third repeated them to a fourth, and so cannon
telegraphed to cannon till New York City heard the sound
and knew that the canal was open.
At ten o'clock in the morning a gay procession of boats
left Buffalo. In the lead came the Seneca Chief towed by
four gray horses, and carrying the exultant Governor
Clinton and other noted men.
After the Seneca Chief followed a brightly decorated
flotilla of canal boats. Two eagles, two fawns, some fish,
a bear, and two Indians rode in Noah's Ark. All were
headed for New York.
Everywhere along the route cheering crowds welcomed
the procession. On the 2nd of November, Albany, the
eastern end of the canal, was reached. From Albany
steamboats towed the fleet down the Hudson to New York,
where a splendid reception was awaiting.
Aecompanied by boats large and small, Governor
Clinton was taken out to sea that he might empty into the
Atlantic a keg of Lake Erie water. This signified the
 uniting of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, and
the completion of De Witt Clinton's great undertaking.
The Erie Canal has proved an astonishing success.
Great as was the cost of building it, more than the amount
was realized in tolls within its first ten years.
A QUIET SPOT ON THE ERIE CANAL.
The charge of ten dollars for carrying a barrel of flour
across the state was reduced to thirty cents after the canal
was opened. And in 1906 a bushel of wheat could be sent
all the way from Buffalo to New York by water for from
four to five cents.
The canal also aided the growth of towns along its
course. Of the seven cities through which the canal runs,
only Albany and Schenectady boasted that title in 1825.
Mica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo were mere
villages, or settlements.
The Erie Canal is a worthy memorial of De Witt Clinton.
It is a good lesson of what patience, ability, and energy can
accomplish in the face of almost unsurmountable
difficulties. It is a striking example of a gigantic undertaking,
bravely and boldly begun and successfully accomplished.
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