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The Canal that Once Was

>> Monday, February 8, 2010

On Sunday, my husband and I took a stroll along a section of the Erie Canal path that we had never walked before.  It's a stretch not too far from our house, but I guess just far enough that we'd never walked there.  It was a cloudy, gray, cold day, and there wasn't much wildlife out and about (aside from snowmobilers).  The tracks in the snow were hard to read because the snow was so fluffy.  So, instead of reading traces of wildlife and wood, we wound up reading the impressions left behind by humans instead.

Along the trail we stumbled on the ruins of some old buildings.  Two of the structures looked like they were supports for some kind of trestle, although whether for a road or railroad or even something else, we could not tell.  The insides of the square structures were completely full of crisscrossed steel cables, so it looked like their sole purpose was structural support.  The date "1891" was chiseled in one of the stones.

We could not have gotten through the undergrowth to prowl about the buildings during another time of year. For one thing, the number of poison ivy vines was staggering and made me twitch a little. For another, the brush must be very thick in summer months. Plus, the snow helped fill in some of the rough terrain and covered over some of the garbage, of which there was a lot.

Mixed in among the supports that looked like trestles were some other buildings that looked like they had once had some kind of industrial purpose.  I could not even guess what that might have been, although surely there are plenty of locals who must know what they once were.

If I figure out what those were, I'll update this.

The length of the Erie Canal must be filled with old houses and industrial buildings, abandoned when the Canal stopped being the major thoroughfare across the state.

Further down the trail we ran into old structures from the Erie Canal itself.  In Memphis, Carpenter's Brook runs into and crosses the Canal.

A number of the old structures are still standing and in good condition, although whether they actually date from the Canal (which was originally completed in 1825 and expanded several times after that) is unclear. They may have been rebuilt far more recently.

It's amazing to me that these are in such good condition, considering the velocity of the water coming in from Carpenter's Brook. Those structures take a beating.

Looking at these made me want to go take a look at the aqueduct in Camillus, so we drove over there after our walk. When I was a kid, my family often walked the stretch of the Erie Canal east of Sim's Store in Camillus to the Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct. For some reason I was fascinated by the whole concept of an aqueduct, which struck me as being a very Roman sort of thing to build. The aqueduct was in ruins, and looked like it is shown here:

The canal was full of water to the west of the aqueduct, but was just a little swampy and filled with weeds to the east. It was a great area for bird watching, incidentally. But I always desperately wanted to know what it would have looked like if the aqueduct were still working.

To my delight, the aqueduct has recently been reconstructed, as much as possible using historically accurate materials and methods. The canal now lies smooth and full across the aqueduct.

I'm completely fascinated by it. The thing that impresses me the most is how watertight it is. Here's an original drawing of the aqueduct plans:

That's wood holding up all that water. Just wood and some glue! And darned if it doesn't work extremely well. You can see from this shot that it does leak some (see the icicle) but not much!

It was great fun to see history recreated, and actually know what it was like back when it was new. Usually I'm just left to use my imagination.

Anyway, poking through ruins generally got me thinking about the traces we humans leave behind. Tomorrow I'll put up another post reflecting on the sometimes very fine line between human construction and nature, and the way we humans tend to look at our own history as reflected by what we build.


Holly February 8, 2010 at 8:42 PM  

Love Erie Canal history. Beautiful pics.

Ellen Rathbone February 9, 2010 at 11:13 AM  

Isn't it amazing what you can find near home? Sometimes I think that large parks, like the Adirondacks, are too big - they can be overwhelming. Small parks usually highlight one or two special things and visiting them is usually an eye-opener.

Sneaksleep February 9, 2010 at 2:28 PM  

I used to be fascinated by the aqueducts out near DeWitt, too. What a wonderful thing it was to grow up near the Erie Canal!

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