Historical Timeline

  • 1790s


    Mohawk River canals and locks, built by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, allow freight boats to travel from Schenectady to Oswego and Seneca Lake.

  • 1817-1825


    New York State builds Erie and Champlain canals. Erie connects Hudson River with Great Lakes: 363 miles long. Champlain connects Hudson River with Lake Champlain: 66 miles. Both canals are 4 feet deep; locks 90 feet long, 15 feet wide; boat capacity 30 tons.

  • 1826-1836


    Fueled by its Erie Canal success, New York State builds the Oswego, Cayuga–Seneca, Chemung, Crooked Lake, and Chenango canals.

  • 1836-1862


    Success-choked Erie, Champlain, and Oswego canals are enlarged: 7 feet deep; locks 110 feet long, 18 feet wide; boat capacity 240 tons. Twinned chambers enable boats to lock through in both directions at once. Genesee Valley and Black River canals completed.

  • 1870-1896


    Peak Erie Canal tonnage, 1880; tolls end, 1882. By 1896 lengthened chambers let most Erie Canal locks pass two boats through in tandem. Chemung, Chenango, Crooked Lake, Oneida Lake, and Genesee Valley canals abandoned, late 1870s.

  • 1905-1918


    New York State Barge Canal System supersedes Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga–Seneca canals. Built for self-propelled vessels, it uses canalized rivers, lakes, and land-cut sections, minimum depth 12 feet. Electrically powered locks pass boats 300 feet long.

  • 1959


    St. Lawrence Seaway opens, a young Queen Elizabeth marks the occasion with a visit on the royal yacht. The new seaway allows ships to go from the Great Lakes directly to the Atlantic Ocean. Commercial traffic declines on New York canals.

  • 2000


    Congress establishes Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to help preserve and interpret New York State’s historic canal system and the communities along its banks.

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