The Erie Canal Opens

The Erie Canal opened on October 26, 1825, providing overland water transportation between the East Coast and the Great Lakes region.

Under construction for eight years, the project was the vision of New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. He convinced the New York state legislature to commit seven million dollars to the construction of a 363-mile ditch, forty feet wide and four feet deep. The canal flowed from Buffalo on the east coast of Lake Erie, through the mountains near the Mohawk Valley west of Troy, and terminated at the upper Hudson River at Albany. A tremendous success, the waterway accelerated settlement of the upper Midwest including the founding of hundreds of towns such as Clinton, in DeWitt County, Illinois.

Mr. and Mrs. Barre Stoen were among these settlers. After a fourteen-week journey from Norway to New York City, they immediately boarded a canal boat and traveled the length of the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then crossed the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, where they bought a team of oxen and headed further west. The Stoens eventually settled at Long Coulee, thirteen miles north of La Crosse, Wisconsin. The first settlers in this secluded region, the Stoens were joined shortly thereafter by other pioneers from Scandinavia. Nearly a century later, fourteen-year-old Melvina Casberg recounted the Stoens' experience including an account of the settlers' first encounter with the Native Americans of Wisconsin.

The Erie Canal is a man-made waterway in New York that runs about 363 miles from Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo at Lake Erie, completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. First proposed in 1808, it was under construction from 1817 to 1832 and officially opened on October 26, 1825.

It was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require Portage, was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York state, opened regions further west to settlement, and helped New York City become the chief U.S. port. It was expanded between 1834 and 1862. In 1918, the original canal was replaced by the larger New York State Barge Canal. Today, it is part of the New York State Canal System. Mainly used by recreational watercraft in the recent past, the canal saw an upsurge in commercial traffic in 2008.

One day a messenger on horseback rode over the prairie shouting fearful news to the pioneers. A band of Indians was coming directly there and they should seek places of safety. The women and children found refuge in one of the log cabins where they might be protected…The several men lay armed in the tall grass by the creek that was near their home. The tribe soon came and camped where the Holmen school now stands. After watching the Indians for a while the men decided to go and talk to them. The chief appeared very friendly, offered the peace pipe and presented various gifts. The next morning the Indians left and fear for them was gone.”

— Pioneer Days