On April 15, 1817, the New York State legislature voted to build the Erie and Champlain canals. Dignitaries turned the first shovel of soil in Rome on July 4, marking the start of Erie Canal construction. Eight years later, the canal opened from Albany to Buffalo. It's impact was immediate, profound and lasting.
The canal was enlarged three times since its grand opening in 1825 to accommodate larger boats and more traffic. With the advent of motorized vessels, mules and towpaths were no longer needed along the canal. New York State enlarged the canals and moved some sections into rivers and lakes to create the NYS Barge Canal System, now simply called the NYS Canal System. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the NYS Barge Canal System.
Many original documents, maps, journals, drawings, and architectural plans related to canal construction are available at the New York State Archives in Albany, the Albany Institute of History & Art, the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, and other historical institutions.
The original legislation passed by the NYS legislature to construct the Erie and Champlain Canals (1817) is housed in the NYS Archives in Albany.
Drawing of canal construction c. 1855 for Erie Canal enlargement
Map showing detail from The Noses in Montgomery County (NYS Archives)
Deep cut excavation in Lockport
Lockport Flight by Cadwallader Colden (NYS Archives)
Entrance of the canal into the Hudson River at Albany by historical artist James Eights (Albany Institute of History & Art)
Invitation to Wedding of the Water celebration in New York City, 1825 (Albany Institute of History & Art)
Construction of the Erie Canal began in Rome in 1817. Workers started first on the easiest, most level sections. In subsequent years, they tackled major engineering challenges at Cohoes, Little Falls, Rochester, and Lockport, where construction needed to overcome the most difficult elevation changes. Sections of the canal opened as they were completed, until the entire canal from Buffalo to Albany opened in 1825.
|April 15, 1817||NYS Legislature passes the act to construct the Erie and Champlain Canals|
|July 4, 1817||Ceremonial first digging for the Erie Canal takes place at Rome; real work begins six days later on July 10|
|October 22, 1819||Erie Canal opens between Rome and Utica|
|July 4, 1820 ||Syracuse celebrates completion of the Erie Canal from Utica to the Seneca River|
|November 18, 1821||The locks at Little Falls are complete, opening navigation from Montezuma to Schenectady|
|July 1822||Erie Canal navigable from east bank of the Genesee River in Rochester to Schenectady|
|Sept 10, 1823||Champlain Canal opens end to end|
|October 1, 1823||Genesee Aqueduct complete; Erie Canal is in operation from Brockport to Albany|
|September 1824||Erie Canal reaches the foot of the Niagara Escarpment at Lockport|
|October 26, 1825||Erie Canal complete; Gov. DeWitt Clinton departs Buffalo leading a flotilla of boats across the canal to New York City|
|November 4, 1825||Grand celebrations take place in New York City as Clinton performs the “Wedding of the Waters,” pouring water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean|
|November 23, 1825||The Atlantic Ocean meets the Great Lakes. The canal boat Seneca Chief returns to Buffalo to complete the "Wedding of the Waters."|