History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 396
Bridge near Yost's Railroad Station.-April 7, 1820, an act was passed for a bridge between the towns of Johnstown and Charleston, to be known as the "Nose Bridge Company." Its location shows the large townships at that period: that point is now between Palatine and Root, and a little below the Nose. Directors named in the charter were Robert Yates, Abram A. Yates, Abram Gardinier, John P. Yates and John McKiernan. I name them, because it came to be called McKiernan's bridge. He was a business man, resided near its north end, where he had a store; having also stores at Stone Ridge and Corrystown in Root. The bridge was calculated to facilitate his business, and he was, no doubt, its greatest stockholder. The bridge was not constructed until several years after its charter was obtained: and November 24,1824. an act was passed extending the time of its completion to December 1, 1825, in which year it was completed. It had four stone piers, which obstructed the water and ice, and as the bridge was not set high enough it was, at the end of a year or two, swept away, and was never rebuilt. At an early day-as I have shown there were swing gates across the public roads, and one of these was at the Connelly place, near this bridge. There was another, some distance below, between the farms of Volkert and Abram Veeder, brothers. Travelers had to get ont of their wagons and open and close them, at the peril, if alone, of losing their team. At times-when there were public doings to increase the travel-children would be at such places to open the gates, to receive small change therefor; and not unfrequently women in the wagons gave children olecooks--doughnuts, round cakes fried in lard, with raisins in the center -for this voluntary service. In the winter, when the roads were not fenced, it was difficult to keep in them, especially in stormy weather.
Construction of the Erie Canal.-This was a grand stroke of State policy;
as it invited immigration and tended directly to the peopling and strengthening
the territory through which it passed; at the same time securing the carrying
trade of commerce to and from the west; which had a direct tendency to make
New York city the great commercial mart of the Union. The work was begun on
the middle section at Rome July 4, 1817, under the auspices of De Witt Clinton
as governor, and at the end of eight years was completed. In 1819 it was finished
from Rome to Utica, at which latter place Durham river boats unloaded. For
two seasons lading was exchanged at Frankfort, one season at Bellinger's,
above Little Falls; and in 1821, by the energy of its contractors, it was
navigable from the Genesee river to the foot
of the locks at Little Falls; at which time most of the river craft was there employed, exchanging freight two seasons near Andrew A. Fink's. Temporary store houses were there built, said Mr. Fink, by Degraff, Walton, & Co.; Meach, & Co.; and John Dows, Mc. Michael, & Co., between the canal and the River, where transfers were made from the canal to river boats. In 1823, for one season, Dows, & Co. erected a temporary warehouse at Roseboom's, below Canajoharie; and the other shippers also prepared near Sprakers Basin to tranship freight, as they had done at Fink's. The canal was 40 feet wide at the surface, 28 feet wide on its bottom, and 4 feet deep, with a towing path on its northerly shore 10 feet wide, raised several feet above the water and fenced in.
Completion of the Canal, How Celebrated.-Preparatory for the coming event, as it was intended to herald the completion with a grand feu-de-joie, cannon were stationed at intervals of 8 miles apart from Buffalo, on Lake Erie, to Sandy Hook below New York: along the canal and Hudson river some 544 miles. The cannon were of large calibre to insure sound, most of them being 24 and 32 pounders: very few of them were on carriages, but were simply blocked up for the occasion. The period of its construction was a busy one the whole length of the canal, .in the building of d we!lings, stores, wharehouses and boats. The latter were at first mostly line boats, with a cabin at each end to accommodate passengers, and amid ships intended to receive 40 or 50 tons of freight. Numerous scowboats with a small cabin at one end, were built by individual enterprise; which quite early also constructed a class of lake boats, for the transport of grain and merchandise. The first of this class of boats built in Montgomery county of about 80 tons burthen, was constructed in 1826 by Henry Lieber at Canajoharie, and called PRINCE ORANGE; at which time the writer was a clerk for that merchant. Another class of boats constructed at this period were packets, built solely to convey passengers from Utica to Schenectada, which, for a time, came in competition with stages. Later they went to Rochester.
On Monday the 24th of October, 1825, the great enterprise was completed from the Hudson river to Lake Erie, on Tuesday the water flowed its whole distance: and on Wednesday October 26th, at 9 o'clock, the signal gun boomed on its telegraphic mission-wHen the boat Seneca Chief drawn by 4 caparisoned grey horses, and containing the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Jesse Hawley, an early advocate of the canal policy, and numerous delegates from Buffalo and other places-started eastward, amid the salute of a rifle corps, the music of a band and the cheers of the multitude. Three other boats, the Perry, Superior and Buffalo, followed the Seneca Chief. The cannon signals reached New York in just one hour and twenty minutes; and were returned to Buffalo in about the same length of time. By a misunderstanding the Fort Plain gun was fired at the anticipated time when the signal would reach here; and without waiting to hear the gun west of it, it was discharged, as it proved, 17 minutes before that signal came. Consequently that length of time should be added to the time the signal went over the entire route, making the full time an hour and thirty-seven minutes. The venerable Jacob Lasher, of Root, who was beside the next gun east, says they discharged that on hearing the Fort Plain gun, and a while after they heard the boom of the gun west of Fort Plain. To get a just idea of the magnitude of this undertaking at that period, let the reader consider that only 34 years before its commencement, our republic had achieved her independence; had, in fact, but just emerged from a second war with the mother country, and that much of the district through which the canal passed, had been a howling wilderness not a quarter of a century before. To a reflecting mind the accomplishment of this stupendous enterprise, even at this day, seems a marvel; a wonderful advancement toward the acme of national aggrandisement. The reader must also remember that streams-some of magnitude-were to be bridged, dammed or crossed by aqueduct-bridges, hills were to be leveled, marshes to be raised, and all manner of unlooked for obstructions to be met and overcome.* But a noble emulation of pluck and energy, manifested the whole length of the line, overcame all obstacles, and gave New York the proud distinction of the Empire State. And why not justly so? For, although yet in her youthful vigor, she had constructed the longest canal in the world, it being 352 miles long.
Canal Locks at Lockport.-Here is a view of those locks, as seen in 1840, when the canal was being enlarged, and a double set of locks were being constructed, to meet the increasing business demand for boats of a larger tonnage. At this time the depth of the canal was increased from four to seven feet, and its surface from 40 to 70 feet; and, what is remarkable, the enlargement took place without much impeding its navigation.
On the day of the thundering telegraph-which, as I remember, was a cold, cloudy day-every little hamlet on the line of the canal made it a gala day, celebrated by festivals, speeches, bonfires and musical and military parades. Perhaps the enthusiasm
* The following incident is said to have transpired when the canal was being constructed, and at a time when boats went no farther west than Brockport. For some distance west of Rome, the canal was laid through a swamp; and, at a place called the Black Snake-because of certain crooks in the canal just above Wood creek aqueduct-a lad 12 or 13 years of age, driving a horse to tow a boat, was seized by a panther, dragged into the forest, and devoured, the frightened horse jumping into the canal. For a long time after this event, so terror stricken were canal drivers from hearing this story, that it was almost impossible to get any of them to drive through the swamp after dark; and many a boy ran off and left his team, rather than chance the leap of a panther. I cannot vouch for the truth of this story, but I well remember that for more than a quarter of a century after the period indicated, it was gravely told by old canal men as a matter of fact.
at Lockport* exceeded that of all other villages. At sunrise a salute of 13 guns was fired, and at nine o'clock a procession was formed and moved to the foot of the locks, where the president of the Clay, the Canal Commissioners, engineers, committee of arrangements arid others, embarked on board the packet William C. Bouck, the boat that had been selected as the first to pass the locks at that place (five in number), each of 12 feet lift to the Buffalo level. The boat Albany, of the Pilot line, followed the packet with over 200 ladies on board; other
Lockport, as seen just before the canal enlargement.
boats followed with the multitude. As the ascent was gained, the boats were greeted with the discharge of heavy artillery, very many rock-blasts prepared for the occasion-and the shouts of the spectators. The two .forward boats were drawn side by side, when a prayer was made by Rev. Mr. Winchell, and an address was delivered by Judge Birdsall. Stepping on an elevated position, said the speaker, in a felicitous part of his speech, "The last barrier is passed! We have now risen to
* See O. Turner's History of Holland Purchase.
the level of Lake Erie, and have before us a perfect navigation open to its waters." After the ceremonies the fleet moved west to Pendleton, where it awaited the Buffalo boats. On their arrival the Lockport boats escorted the flotilla to that place, amid the discharge of artillery, where a supper was served at the Washington House, after which the Seneca Chief and other boats went on their ocean voyage.
The fleet arrived at Albany on the second of November, at 1 P.M. The celebration there, it has been said, was on a scale of grandeur never attempted there since; but at New York--on Friday, the 4th-was the GRAND CELEBRATION of the great event. Here was a long procession, showing the different mechanical pursuits on wagons, some of which were unique and interesting. Two printing presses were busy in the procession printing an ode, which was distributed from the car. At 10 o'clock, at a given signal an aquatic procession of steamboats was started, the Washington, Capt. Bunker taking the lead, which was followed by the Fulton, James Kent, and Chancellor Livingston; with the safety barges Lady Clinton and Lady Van Rensslaer tastefully festooned with flowers, etc., and both appropriated to the use of ladies. These accompanied by canal boats proceeded down the bay. At Governor's Island the ship Hamlet decorated for the occasion joined the fleet, which proceeded to the schooner Dolphin, moored in Sandy Hook, where Gov. Clinton went through the ceremony of uniting the waters, by pouring a keg of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean. The keg was then filled with Ocean water to be taken back and emptied into Lake Erie, which was also done. As a part of the ceremony, Dr. Mitchell then poured the contents of several vials, said to contain waters from the Elbe and other foreign sources into the Atlantic, with an address. Salutes were then fired from the revenue cutter and other vessels, and the procession returned to the city. On the return under a clear sky, there were 26 of the water-craft, splendidly decorated, moving majestically, crowded with passengers and arranged in charming order. The packet ship Hamlet with her masts and rigging decorated with the flags of all nations, and towed by steamboats made a fine display. The fleet landed its passengers at 3 P.M. in time to join in the street parade already mentioned. Over 200 banners and standards were displayed at this time, many of them prepared for the occasion. Two British packets at anchor in the harbor, saluted and cheered the steamboats as they passed; and an American band in return played God save the King. The festivities were concluded in the evening by a rich display of fire works in different parts of the city; while at the city hall a large transparency represented the introduction of Neptune to the Lady of the Lakes by the genius of America. Said a writer on the occasion: "We cannot help expressing our gratification, at observing among the thousands we saw in the streets during the day and evening, hardly a single instance of intoxication, and not one unpleasant disturbance; and so far as we could learn, no accident happened to mar the festivities of the day."
Other Celebrations.-The festivities were not confined to canal villages, but cropped out all over the State where enterprise was a living element. In fact, the State authorities ordered all the artillery corps of the State to be out on that day and fire a national salute; and where villages were favored with military organizations, they generally had some befitting ceremony. At Cooperstown a splendid celebration took place, with Col. G. S. Crafts as Marshal. Maj. Benjamin's corps of Artillery fired a national salute from the summit of Mount Vision. A feu-de-joie by Capt Comstock's company of light Infantry followed the salute; to be succeeded by proceedings at the Episcopal church, where an address was delivered by Samuel Starkwheather, Esq. A public dinner was served at Maj. Griffith's hotel, where patriotic toasts washed the dinner down.-Freeman's Journal.
The Celebration at Fort Plain.-This village was then just springing into life, but here as at other embryo towns on the canal, the event was becomingly observed. Scarcely a dozen buildings then made up the village proper. In 1824, Henry P. Voorhees erected a store on the bank of the creek then utilized, in the rear of Lipe's crockery store. John I. Diefendorf the next season built one on the berme bank of the canal, where E. S. Gregory's drug store now is, and John Warner, also in 1825, erected the store now owned by John A. Walrath. The substantial citizens of the neighborhood assembled on the day of the general festivities on the canal, and celebrated the marked event. A long procession headed by Dr. G. S. Spalding as marshal, and fed with martial music marched from the public house of mine host, -Joseph Wagner, to Sand Hill, where, near the church a 6 pound cannon heralded the event of the day in thunder tones abroad. The patriotic crowd are said to have proceeded to the Hill and back two and two, and it was probably well that some of them did so. A report of this celebration published in the Johnstown Republican soon after, says: "An address with an appropriate prayer was pronounced in -Washington Hall, [which was in an upper room of the Warner store] to a crowded audience, by Rev. John Wack, who did much honor to his head and heart. After the address, the -company partook of a collation prepared by Mr. Joseph Wagner. Dr. Joshua Webster acted as president, and Robert Hall, Esq., as vice-president. The festivity of the day terminated with a ball in the evening."
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