tv The Erie Canal in the 19th Century CSPAN September 29, 2018 4:54pm-6:00pm EDT
americans and foreigners have for that office where you don't feel like rolling out the president or taking him on the way you told your colleagues you were going to do. washen he was in china, he eventually called back to run the cia, something he did not want to do because he thought running the cia was a political career killer. then he says we should take him at his word, if the president of the united states ask you to do something for your country, the answer is yes. that sentiment embodies his , note sense of obligation to be a president in his own right, but to hold the presidency up and hope handed off to the next person. >> the director of southern methodist university center for presidential history discusses his book. sunday night at 8:00 p.m.
.astern on c-span's q an q&a canals construction began in 1817 and upstate new york. it ran from the hudson river in albany to lake erie in buffalo. next on american history tv, how the. canal was built and how the waterway became central to early 19th century events. including the first murder of the century, the birth of and the death of the first niagara falls daredevil. st. paul's church in mount vernon new york posted this event. it is just over one hour. >> ok, good afternoon, everybody. i am david. i'm the site manager. thank you for coming out today. again, we are open every saturday here through the end of .he year, 9:00 to 5:00
today we are pleased to welcome back jack kelly. he has written several books on onrican history, including canal.e he explores the fascinating andy of the machinations what went into building the famous canal between albany and buffalo. what happens in the building of it and the various people who came together. we will be talking about that, and i guess take questions at the end. [applause] thank you, david.
i want to thank everyone here at st. paul's church. it is great to come here and speak at such a historic spot. careered my writing writing crime novels. so when i switched over to history and got interested in i was drawn to an incident along the canal that was known as the crime of the century, a term thrown around quite loosely, but in its ramifications and the consequences of it, this really was one of the major crimes of the 19th century. it happened a year after the canal was opened, and the name of the victim was william, a swashbuckler. he claimed to have sailed with a pirate.
he had fought with andrew jackson in new orleans. he was a great talker. life, a womane in 26 years younger than him, pendleton, and they had two small children, and they moved up to canada originally and they lost their capital that he invested in a brewery that burned down. he found himself in debt. he moved down and probably worked on the erie canal. he was a brick mason by trade. he could never seem to catch on. he was a heavy drinker. he was particular he noted for his drinking. risecided that one way to in the world was to join the freemasons. the freemasons were of fraternity of men interested in the and enlightenment,
fornce, and so forth, and morgan, it was networking, a way to associate with the better people that tended to join the freemasons and make some contacts, so he asked he did make a contact and was hired to work on a building in new york, which was not on the canal will but south of the canal in far western new york state. in 1825,with his wife canal washe erie completed across the entire state. reason, we don't know why, he was thrown out of the freemasons. i think it had to do with the fact that he was an older man compared to those joining the .reemasons at that time
when you have heard the story but it is interesting, after the third or fourth time, it gets wearing, and for whatever reason he was thrown out of the freemasons. he decided to get even and was going to write a book that would reveal the secrets of the freemasons. they did have some secrets. they were pretty harmless rituals and initiation rites, and distress calls and so forth. reasons in addition to the revenge element imagined as many authors were that his book would become a bestseller. he would recoup his financial losses on it. he had some investors when he started writing the book and the freemasons told him not to write it. an -- an oath not to
publish secrets. he was harassed by freemasons. to turn down the printing shop where the book was being printed. in 1826, he was arrested on east, andaken back put in jail. he was then taken out of jail by a group of freemasons and transported to rochester then niagara.ay out to fort he was never seen again. that was the first phase of the case of william morgan.
i will come back to that in a few minutes but i want to set the stage for some of the other things going on the eureka now. i was interested in the role of imagination and the outburst of imagination and how they were responsible for a lot of the things that happened along the eureka now. dallas -- eureka now. the erie canal was a feat of imagination. they found the land was much more fertile than it was in new england. particularly from growing wheat. we don't think of western new york as being a wheat place. the problem was, how do you get the wheat and flour back to the
markets on the east coast? and thes were terrible appalachian mountains were in between. there was a man named jesse holley who was a broker and flour. and try buy flour cheap to sell it in new york. he went bankrupt because of the transportation cost. he could never make a profit -- profit. and heiness was failing had a vision. take the water of lake erie, the ditch across the state to albany and the hudson you would have a long gradual artificial river which had an unlimited supply of water
from the lake and you can ship your flowered into the market. when you went bankrupt in those days, you went to debtor's prison. inwas sentenced to 20 months debtor's prison. and hee on his hands, originally did not know anything about canals, but he studied up on can now. -- cap announced. he had a plan that predicted the root of the erie canal. whichn estimated the cost was in ballpark of what the erie canal cost. series of essays under the name hercules. for many decades, it was not known who produced these essays. the essays were met with a reaction that they were the writings of a maniac.
whoever had this idea had to be --adman, a full, or in a red it was said it was only short of madness to think about this. possible said it was in 100 years but not at that time. stateficials in new york saw what opportunity it would be for new york state if they could tap into lake erie and open up western new york and gain access to the great lakes. they found a champion for the man who had been the mayor of new york city and would later be the governor of the state. he promoted the canal. it was known as a tremendous risk to build the canal. invest a would have to
very large portion of all capital in the state in this project. nobody knew if it was possible. the new york state legislature to build the canal. they approved in april and began digging in july. the construction took eight years to build. on the you a perspective building of the canal, it is interesting to compare it to the panama canal. the panama canal was built 100 years later. the panel mock analysis 48 miles long. the erie canal is 360 miles long. the panama cow -- paramount
-- l the year he canal rises 640 feet. the pennant -- panama canal was designed by professional engineers. there were no professional can -- engineers at the time of the erie canal. they made it up as they went along. it was built at a time when they , noneeam shovels dynamite of those were available for the digging of the erie canal which was constructed by hand. that meant picks and shovels, wheelbarrows, a lot of irishmen. it was a remarkable achievement ,o take this one man's ideas and turne imagination, it into a reality. myself, of the
various movements i talk about which arek, many of these outbreaks of imagination, what was behind that? what did it happen at this place in this time? i think there are many factors, is that wethem sometimes think of life on the frontier as being romantic. fact, it was an intense drudgery, very tedious stressful work to take a forest or a scrubland and turn it into a farm. you had to cut down trees, plow around the stumps, hope you got a crop the first year. people, land was not free so they had a mortgage. they also had to come up with cash in order to pay the mortgage. tedious labor left
people with a hunger of the imagination. mind likes novelty and the spectacle. that, youived of develop a hunger for imagination. incan see that today distractions everywhere today. yet people still have their phones. the reason that these outbreaks were often expressed in terms of religion was simply that religion was fashionable at that time. america has always gone through ups and downs in terms of religious enthusiasm. in the 1740'sek called the great awakening. then there was a decline in the religion at the time of the
revolution. people were interested in the enlightenment and science and rationality. and there was a resurgence of the early 19th century in which people came back to religion. that was referred to as the second great awakening. it was natural that people with this hunger for imagination would attach it to these religious enthusiasms. we see this on the frontier. many of the isolated farmers who were trying to hack out a form out of the forests could not get to a village, could not get to a forest regularly. they would say we are going to have a revival of religion. this is your chance to come and hear the word. notice thatut out a there would be a revival in
certain spots and people would travel four days to get there. could not get home every night, they would camp out and this became referred to as camp meetings. the preachers who sponsored these meetings were experts at providing the food for the imagination that people were hungry for. they would describe heaven and hell in vivid terms. they would go into the stories from the bible and make them real for people. sometimes they would bring big canvases with images painted from the bible. they were appealing to people who had not seen an image of any kind for years and then they would see this image painted from the bible and it was quite remarkable for them. these preachers also knew how to work the emotions and they would
emphasize the urgency of getting saved and accepting god. they would work people up and start speaking in tongues or they would laugh or cry. sometimes they would get down on all fours and start working like a dog area the preachers would encourage this and say yes bark satan up a tree. the word would spread through the meeting that someone is getting the spirit on them. people will come running over and watched someone barking like a dog than they would get the same feeling. until it became a great enthusiasm and general wildness. the traditional preachers and new england thought this was utter blasphemy. this was fanaticism more than religion. the way to get saved to them,
was to pray to god and let him do the work. it was not to go out and try to get saved. the methodists and baptist preachers that went out to the frontier understood that that did not work. these people did not have the leisure to sit, pray, and contemplate. they talked to the people in their own language and told jokes and while the people in order to try to get them to have this emotional experience. a lot of the younger people who attended the meetings had not seen a member of the opposite sex other than someone in their family for a long time, it was sometimes said that there were more souls begotten then saved in these camp meetings.
this hunger for spectacle, another example that i talk mant, there was a young named sam patch. he had been a factory worker in a textile mill in rhode island and new jersey. he became one of the first professional daredevils and america. was, he would jump from high heights into water. the boys who worked in the mills would jump off of the mills into the rivers just for fun. sam developed a talent for doing it. he would jump 80 or 90 feet into water. interested and they wanted to see it. he became a professional daredevil. he would jump from ships. he went to niagara falls.
niagara falls had just become a large tourist attraction because of the year he canal. it was more accessible to travel to it. he jumped not over the falls that he set up a tower and jumped into the cauldron of the falls. that was a very popular show. people can to see it. he then went on to rochester. was thetime, rochester biggest flour milling city in the world. off of a bigked waterfall in the middle of town. right where the erie can now crossed the river. that waterfall was 90 feet high and sam but afterwards the word that he was going to jump over it. his act had three parts. one was the anticipation. he would build up the crowd.
then there was the jump itself. then there was a. of suspense while people waited for them to bob about the water. he jumped over the falls 90 feet and got a huge crowd. he announced he was going to do it one more time that season. people 10 and 12,000 came to see the spectacle. that is how desperate people were to see anything on the frontier. many more people than actually lived in rochester. a crowd that never would have been seen at the country before. andof those people gathered he put up a platform that was higher than ever.
cauldron ando the everyone waited, the suspense up,t for him to come back and he continued to build, and he never came back up areas people were shaken. they were stunned that they had just seen a man die. his body was found the next spring frozen into a block of ice on the river. the clergy jumped on this. they had opposed the spectacles all along. that he lost his life but he had gone straight to hell because he was known to be a drinker and a showoff. these people had encouraged him to lose his life and to lose his soul. they decided it was necessary to get up a revival of religion right in rochester. many of the cities along the canal were very rowdy.
of transientst from people along the canal. a lot of prostitution, drinking, fighting. tendency to try to get religion back into people's minds. the greatest revival preacher of the day, a man named charles finney. in 1830, the next year after sam patch is not customized. -- demise. he had invented all of the andniques that billy graham the revival preachers down the ages used in their own revivals. what he did was to take the enthusiasm and the vivid preaching of the camp meetings on the frontier and tone them
down for the middle-class audiences and the cities. he was a tremendously effective preacher. patriarchike a civil of a long beard and x-ray type eyes. he would preach and vivid terms. it's a look back there, souls are going to hell. people would turn around to look. even to say the word hell was not considered proper and conservative churches. he would not say you people are sinners. he would point to someone and say you, john smith ra center. if you walk out of here and die tonight you are going to hell. sign that the person was getting interested,
he would invite them down to the front pew. it was called the anxious bench. everyoneme down there, would focus on you and pray for you that you would get saved. there was a social pressure. thousands of people did get saved. he stayed in rochester for six months while the canal was during the winter. they always drained the canal and there was no business on it. night.d preach every doors during the day to get people to come to the revival. the conversions of people began to spread not only in rochester but up and down the canal and throughout the northeast. it was considered the greatest revival of religion in american history. the combination of the second great awakening.
in some ways, we still live in the afterglow of that movement because now one out of four americans identified as evangelical christian. the evangelical philosophy that he preached was different than what we understand today because he was what we call a liberal. he preached temperance but he also preached women's rights. he was in favor of education. he was opposed to slavery. in the 1830's, that was a .adical idea in the north it cannot even be mentioned in the south. early abolitionists came out of the revival movement that fenney had gotten going in rochester than along the erie canal. that is one of the reasons you
see frederick douglass settled in rochester and publishes newspapers in rochester because the first women's rights convention was in seneca falls. those were the moral crusaders that came out of the revivals. to what isurn probably the best-known and most imaginative of all of these characters. joseph smith. familyas from a poor like many of the settlers along the canal. they lived in new england. they had a farm in vermont and they lost their farm. i mentioned the tedious work that went into creating a farm out of a forest. if you could not pay your mortgage, you did not get credit for that work.
when you lost the farm, you lost up to 10 years of labor. suddenly it was gone. so they moved down to new york which straddles the canal. doing theyo work labor. -- day labor. oilcloth toainted to scrape up money for a down payment on a farm. joseph's contribution to the family funds in part came from acting as a scriber. powerss somebody who had to find lost objects. particularly, to lead a treasure hunts.
which wereure hunts very popular at the time, not just in the canal region but they weree northeast, part of religion, parts to superstition, partly for the fun of it. they would go out at night and would all start digging. there was a certain amount of drinking that went on. it was a little bit like playing the lottery today. you would hope that you would find some treasure. they often did not find any. that was in joseph smith's blood. the idea of treasure hunting. it sounds arcane these days but the american society of dowsers promotes the exact same thing. they had 2000 members today. it goes on.
20's,e was in his early justin smith was visited by a heavenly being -- joseph smith was visited by a being. he went the same day every year for three years before he was told he could now take this treasure and he came back with it. it was a stack of gold plates covered with a paragraph at -- hieroglyphic. that was the book of mormon. after he found this treasure, it was his destiny. was very excited. the next day, he went out and dug a well for a farmer. that is how poor they were. he translated the hieroglyphics from the gold plates. wife and then a secretary wrote down what he said. he dictated everything. he didn't need to look at the
plates, the words appeared in his mind. whether you look at it as a work of imagination or inspiration or revelation, it was one of the most extraordinary acts of imagination in the 19th century. perhaps in a magic -- american history. 600 pages. characters00 named told the story of how america had been populated. eden had been in missouri. and gotrica's role was planned for the world. -- god's plan for the world. he did not stop there. he then formed a church around .he book area he got a small group of followers along the canal.
he immediately began moving west down the canal to northern ohio. then further out to missouri and eventually settled in illinois. they formed the second-largest city in illinois. convertsf thousands of came pouring into this religion. his imagination continued to pour out revelations filling out the doctrine and theology of mormonism. moved more and more away from the orthodox beliefs of the day. his imaginative leaps was he read in the bible where king salman had a 700 wives. he also had 300 concubines. smith decided to incorporate polygamy into his
religion which he called plural marriage. this is now getting into the victorian era. followers,his male not only can you but you must take additional wives. straightlaced emily men who joined the church were appalled. joined a dissident group, they were still warm as the bedbug justin smith had gone over the top. smith was at his peak in those days. he was running for president of the united dates. the second-largest army on the north american continent. group ofd to send a followers down to smash the press of the dissident followers. he forgot he was still subject to civil law.
they pressed charges against put in was arrested, and jail with his brother. while he was awaiting trial, a group of non-mormons broke into the jail and killed him. he was only 39 years old when he was killed in 1844. years sincebeen 14 he had found and translated the book of mormon. created thisme, he new religion and the structures of the church which were very complex. the structures of the civil society of mormons, and all of the continuing doctrine and revelation. justin smith never made it to utah. we associate the mormons with utah but it was brigham young who was also from the cow region canal region who
let the mormons out to utah. backtrack to the case of william morgan. the crime of the century. we left morgan, having disappeared in fort niagara. his wife, of course, was frantic. her husband suddenly disappeared. she knew he had been taken away, but what happened to him, no one would say. his friends kept asking where he was and what had happened to him. there were some investigations by the authorities, but the the grand stonewalled jury. they just would not say anything. they would not testify against brother masons. there were some indictments, but kidnapping in those days was only a misdemeanor. these freemasons, who were known to have taken morgan up there,
got very light sentences. spread.an to the fact was many of the judges and sheriffs and magistrates at the time were freemasons. they were the type of people who joined the freemasons. this theory against the masons began to grow. masons fury against the began to grow. there were mass meetings of people, and they started their own political party, called the anti-masonic party. a little like the tea party we see today. grassroots, single-issue party. this was the original third-party of american politics. it began to coalesce around a conspiracy theory, and that was that not only had morgan been murdered, but there was a secretscy -- one of the that he was going to reveal was that the freemasons were going to take over, and it was
feasible at the time to imagine that freemasons -- the democracy was still very fragile. it was only 50 years after the revolution. it was feasible to imagine there was going to be this coup by the freemasons. people got that in their heads and became vociferously anti-masonic. there were fights in the streets. there was a lot of contention over this idea of the masons .aking over in october 1827, about a year after morgan disappeared, a body washed up on the shore of lake ontario. onre was no identification it. it was buried. the anti-masons rushed up to the place where it had been buried, had it dug up. morgan's wife was brought there to look at it. you could not recognize it it was so decayed, but she said she thought it was her husband
because of certain characteristics of the teeth and some scars. another woman showed up and said , no, it was her husband. she lived in canada and had been brought down by freemasons and said his clothes were exactly the clothes that her husband who had drowned in the niagara river was wearing. so it became very confused. one of the freemasons said because elections were coming up, it is a good enough morgan until after the elections, and he was right because most of the freemasons, the anti-masonic they did very well in election. they even shall he a candidate for president and -- they eventually ran a candidate for president, and they attracted to their cause -- people like john adams was anti-mason. who would beore president started out as an anti-mason. william seward who would have been president, but he got
beaten by lincoln, started his career in the anti-masonic party . the party was not long-lived. theas sort of merged with whig party and into the republican party in the 1850's. really, there was no plot. this was the conspiracy theory that was the focus of the anti-masonic party. was totally bogus. there was no plot. planningasons were not to take over, and i think the objection of william morgan was really an anomaly, but the movement was held up as an example with richard hofstetter as a political story in the 1950's. he said this was an example of the paranoid style of american politics, and he compared it to the mccarthyera --
phenomenon of his own era, of how americans are susceptible to these outbursts of paranoia and how that gets into politics. some might say that we are seeing that even today. morgan's wife lucinda waited for three years for her husband to came -- to come home, and he never came home. there were many stories about what happened to him, but none was ever proven one way or the other. she eventually married a man named harris and batavia -- in batavia. they moved up to indiana. they met one of the early morning -- early mormon missionaries. they both converted to mormonism. they moved out to illinois, and lucinda, the wife of william morgan, became the first plural wife of joseph smith, strange
coincidence, so small world in those days. just to give you an idea, the impact of the morgan case 56 years after morgan's death -- presumed death -- people got together, subscribed money, and put up a 37-foot granite monument to him in a cemetery in .atavia there's a statue of morgan on top. you cannot really see it because it is so high up there, which is kind of appropriate. inave a talk about the book a masonic hall at one point, and the masons had not sponsored it, but they ran this masonic hall, and one of the masons came up to me before i started the talk and ind me i had it all wrong
the book. he said, "i'll tell you the real story," and he told me the real story of william morgan, which was one of the stories that have been circulated for years, but it shows, at least among freemasons, the morgan story is still alive today, and the same thing with the mormons. a growing religion of 15 million people. as i always point out, it is a hit broadway musical. -- it's sort of humorous, but it also makes you think. the imagination of this young farm boy in the 1820's produced something that still fascinates people today. the erie canal was a great commercial success. it was enlarged and deepened during the 19th century, continued to make money even after the railroads arrived, but it began to decline in the 20th century. in 1979, they opened the st.
lawrence seaway, which allowed oceangoing ships to come down into lake ontario and then through the welling canal into lake erie. these ships are vastly larger the a canal barge, so commercial potential for the canal pretty much declined after that. in 1900, it was still considered viable. new york state invested a large amount of money to modernize the completelythey abandoned the eastern part of the erie canal, made the mohawk river into a canal through oneida lake and modernized the western part along the same route. one of the changes that took mealsin 1900 was that the -- the mules that had always
pulled the canal barges were to be phased out. they would start using tugboats and motorized barges. oh five, a man named thomas allen wrote a song that many of us learned in the third grade -- in 1905. about the canal and about the mules and the canal. even then it was a nostalgic song about a time that was already gone past. i think it was the simpler time that we all remember from when we were young because america was different in those days. it was a time when you always knew your neighbor and you always new york how. at least you did if you navigated on the era canal. so, thank you very much. -- at least you did if you navigated on the erie canal. so, thank you very much. i would be happy to answer any
questions. yes? >> [inaudible] >> when they began the ,onstruction on the eastern end there were plenty of farmers and people with a population willing to work seasons on the canal. the farther west they went, the less population there was. .t was very sparsely populated at first, they brought in welch because theyhaps had a lot of mining and these people were used to digging. i don't know. as they got farther and farther out, they started first irish from the five points of new york, the slums where the irish had settled, and then word got back to ireland, and people started coming back over. things were very difficult for the irish at that time in
history. that they paid on the canal were not high, but they were a lot higher than what they could in there, so they came and most of the western part of the canal was dug by the irish. theways point out a lot of irish laborers that came to work on the canal did not speak english. they were from the western part of ireland is still spoke only , and they were looked on by people here as total barbarians. they could not understand what they were saying, and they were catholic. people did not like catholics. they sort of kept to themselves. they formed communities in all the cities. rochester had a community called dublin. lockport was very heavily irish. >> [inaudible] mr. kelly: there was really not the access. we think of the chinese laborers
on the railroads of little bit later, but the west coast or up --as so remote from you know, because the country had this blank spot in the middle of it, and to go out west or to come from the west was really impossible. yes? >> [inaudible] mr. kelly: i'm not that familiar with the actual mechanics of it. i know it took place out in far western new york. >> is a community where creatures had an audience, had , and inspirational
religious talks were done there, and then it developed into a and syracusellect, university has a branch there, and it became a summer resort. they have hotels, and it is a fenced in community where you could arrived by car. were permitted in the community to deposit your luggage, but then the car is a place outside the community so int only walking was done the community. members of the various of canada, the united states, and others, first and second chair cellists and so forth become the orchestra of chautauqua, so should talk what is famous for its orchestra. all of these things, the
religious and the music attract many, many people. mr. kelly: i believe it is more secular now than religious. is that correct? >> yes, i would say so. mr. kelly: and it also did not start until the 1880's. >> yes, quite a remarkable place. as kelly: there is also a town lily dale,ion called which was another movement that came up a little bit later in the 1850's along the erie canal region, and there's not a lot left. still a popular phenomenon, but that's another town occupied by people with spiritual powers. yes? >> [inaudible] it is all yes, today,
most recreational use. there is a debate over if the state should be putting the money in to maintain it and to have those guys to open the locks. >> from the original starting [inaudible] hudson mr. kelly: yes, it is still continuous, but the original canal started in albany and went up the south side of the mohawk river. when they did the big renovation moved around 1900, they the entry to the canal to the north side of the mohawk river and once it got up to the level, there's a big waterfall out , just a little bit to the left of the hudson river river. once they got up to the levels itund schenectady, then
merges with the mohawk river, so they put dams in the mohawk river to bring up the water level, and they have locks to get around those dams. that goes all the way up almost to rome, and they have a new canal which goes into oneida lake aroundis a big syracuse, and then you come back to the original route of the canal. ofre is some commercial use these ships, big windmill blades on barges. they recently had a gigantic vat for brewing beer that was , buted out of the canal recreational boats. a lot of biking, hiking, and a lot of communities along the canal have developed it as a waterfront, so they have bars and restaurants, and this
kayaking and canoeing and so is of greatt historical value, i think. i think it is worth keeping and going, not only for the tourist attraction, but just to maintain this set of history. >> [inaudible] was just: the first outside of rome, which is up sort of in the middle of nowhere, and they picked that spot because it's a long level, so they can build a good stretch of the canal without having to were nots because they really sure how they were going to make a lock to bring it down to a new level, so they dug this up in that region, and then started really going both directions at once, but obviously, it took a lot longer to go out west because there was a lot farther to go, and they
could dig pretty quickly where it was level when they had to down,uct locks to move and locks only move you down eight feet, so if you had a bigger drop than that, it would take a lot of work to build these locks out of stone and they cut the stone and so forth. they got out to lockport, which was an interesting aspect of the canal. though there was no town there at the time, it was a place to rise upanal had about 60 feet, and a lock could only rise of about eight feet, so they had a whole flight of locks, each opening into the next. it looks like a flight of stairs. that was a very intensive construction project out there. >> [inaudible] mr. kelly: i think there's
80-some now. originally, there were more than 100. when they populated this monetization, they could go more than eight feet, and i think they could drop a vote up or down about 15 feet. locks there. two to get sort of stepped-up backlist. >> [inaudible] do you know if that canal is pretty well usable during 12 months of the year? mr. kelly: the erie canal? well, they never use it 12 months of the year. that was one of the drawbacks of any canal in the north. they originally had the idea they could use icebreakers, but that did not work.
freeze over in the winter, so they drained it in the winter, and they would spend the winter repairing all the leaks. >> [inaudible] mr. kelly: they still drain it, yeah. it is drained from -- i think, usually, november through april maybe. -- not sure exact dates, but even today, you know, they have to do quite a bit of repair work on it to keep everything functioning, and that is when they do it, during winter. yeah? >> blessed him i was here to do for three years ago, the motors and gears opening up the locks are 100 years old. -- the last time i was here, two or three years ago come the motors and gears
opening of the locks were 100 years old. mr. kelly one thing that's interesting about what you just one of the problems of running a canal is to make sure there's enough water coming in. as just ank of it ditch. it's actually a very dynamic hydraulic system, and there's all this water coming in, all this water flowing along the canal because you need water each time you use the locks, the water is being flushed out. plus, it leaks. rivers and streams are going underneath it, so it is a pretty dynamic hydraulic system that had to be planned out to make sure that any given section did not run out of water. unlike what jesse holley, the man who had the idea for the you could run, lake erie water all the way down, that turned out not to be
the case because there were too many ups and downs in between, each of the levels of the canal had to have a source of water to tap into streams, and now they have huge reservoirs to fromthe mohawk river filling with water as a canal. yeah? canal the erie revolutionary? i know the romans had canals. [inaudible] mr. kelly: you are correct that there had been plenty of canals built in france and england had quite a few canals, so it was not -- the basics of it was known, but it was the longest , ial in america at that time think, was 27 miles long, and that was built through a settled area, not the wilderness, out near boston to connect the
charles and middlesex river. the scope of it was revolutionary and the fact that it was being built in the wilderness. just like the farmers trying to carve a farm out of forest to run a canal through, you had to cut down the trees and get rid they had tos,'s and build through swamps where they would did all day, and it would cave in and night, so eventually, they had to build up both sides. it was an engineering achievement. there's a college of in rensselaer, rensselaer polytechnic institute, that was formed by the engineers of the canal. they were not big into engineering when they started, but when they finished, they knew a lot about engineering canals. the erie canal is a great
contributor to american engineering in general. yeah? >> [inaudible] plus, who financed it? new york state state or the federal government? [inaudible] how did they have the courage to do that? mr. kelly: that is an interesting question. when the idea was being circulated, they went down to washington to get funding. any big public works project, federal funding. a master politician was able to convince congress to pay for the canal, so they were set, but james madison was president at the time, and three days before he left office, he vetoed the
bill that would provide the money for the canal, and he said it was unconstitutional for the federal government to pay for a project like that. the people from new york, who were livid, said "wait a minute, madison is from virginia. virginia was also competing to get access to the interior. maybe that's why he vetoed the ill." but because medicine had written the constitution, essentially, it was hard to argue with the guy. so new york was left to either go it alone or not at all, and you are absolutely correct -- it was a really courageous, bold idea, particularly given how they did not really know if it was going to work or not.
>> [inaudible] reallyly: they do not have taxes. most of it was done through bonds. they started a savings bank. the first savings bank in new york state was the new york bank for savings in new york city to allow middle-class people to invest in the canal bonds, which were pretty expensive. they would put their money in the savings bank. the savings bank would invest in the canal bonds, which was a pretty good deal. these bonds paid back very healthy returns. after a few years when the canal matured, it took in in tolls in more than the entire cost of the canal. the tolls were just a minor of the -- minor portion of the great economic boon of the canal.
i raise that question sometimes about our infrastructure problems today. there seems to be a lack of gumption these days to take the risks or just to invest in something that is going to pay off, pretty likely to pay off. is also true that many canals were built around the same time as the erie canal or in the wake of the erie canal that did not pay back their costs. a sort of mania of canal building that a lot of money was wasted, but these big projects, we seem to have trouble getting up the nerve to do them these days. yeah, i will just take one more question. >> it's not a question. just that now they use the canal
as [inaudible] i was there when they had the whistle competition. it seems each barge has a distinctive whistle so people on the canal knew who was coming by .istening to the whistle mr. kelly: interesting. that's great. ok, well, thank you, everybody, for coming. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, announcer: this weekend on american history tv on c-span three. tonight at 8 p.m. eastern on elections in history, brandeis university professor abigail cooper talks about african-americans during the reconstruction.
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