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New York State Barge Canal

The Erie Canal, which is the principal member of this canal trinity, is 350 miles long, and had 72 locks. It was originally built with a depth of four feet, with locks 90 x 15 feet, being of a size to accommodate boats of but 80 tons capacity, and was completed in 1825. Tolls on the canal were high at first, but were gradually reduced, and for many years have been abolished altogether. It is a noteworthy fact that before they were finally abolished the tolls had more than paid for the canals of the State and their enlargement.

The small 80-ton canal was soon found inadequate, and it was enlarged to its present capacity—that is, for boats carrying 240 tons of freight. This work of enlargement was started in 1835, but was not completed until 1862.

When the canal was built, and when it was enlarged, the only known or successfully-developed method of canal-boat propulsion was by animal towing, and a tow-path was provided all along the canals. The necessity for this tow-path was one of the principal factors which caused the canal to be kept out of water courses and built in the upper portions of valleys. The development of steam canal-boat propulsion has changed the problem.

The Erie and main branches of the canal system were enlarged from time to time but still failed to hold their old popularity; and yet in 1882 it was found that the Erie had earned forty-two million dollars, over and above its original cost, expense of enlargement, maintenance and operation. At that time it had a depth of 7 feet and could float a boat big enough to carry 240 tons. In 1903, almost ninety years from the date of the beginning of Clinton's canal, the people of the State decided to again enlarge the canal and make it a Barge canal.

In 1897 a report to the New York state Government proposed, as the best solution of the problem, that the canals should be enlarged to enable them to be used by barges carrying 1,000 to 1,500 tons. Governor (later President) Roosevelt, appointed a Board of prominent New York business men soon after this to advise the State what to do with its canals, and this Board, after more than a year of investigation, and the careful consideration of everything that could be proposed, reported in favour of enlarging the Erie Canal to a capacity for barges of 1,000 tons, and a lesser improvement for the Oswego and Champlain Canals.

The Legislature caused surveys, plans, and estimates for the work to be made. All the canal people of the State finally came in under the banner of the 1,000-ton barge canal, and through their united efforts the Legislature at last passed a bill for the enlargement of the Erie, Oswego, and Champlain Canals, to enable them to be used by 1,000-ton barges, with all the locks of sufficient size to take two boats, coupled tandem, at one lockage.

The estimated cost of the work proposed was $101,000,000. At the fall election of 1902 this proposition was submitted to the people of the State, who approved it by a majority of about 250,000 votes. New York was thus committed to and has entered upon this tremendous work of canal improvement — by far the greatest work ever undertaken by any State.

The locks of the new canals which govern the dimensions of the boats that can be used are 28 feet wide, 310 feet long, and 11 feet deep. The canal prism has a depth of 12 feet and a general minimum width on the bottom of 75 feet in canal sections and 200 feet in rivers, pools, and lakes. Boats can be built which will pass through the canal carrying 1,000 tons of freight, but it will probably be found advantageous to sacrifice some of the carrying capacity to secure better models and greater clearance. The lift of the locks will be much greater than at present, and the number of locks will be greatly reduced. On the present Erie Canal there are 72 locks; on the new Erie Barge Canal there will be but 38 locks.

The new locks will take two canal boats, each of 150 feet length, coupled tandem, at one lockage; and this makes the lock capacity 2,000 tons, or about eight times that of the present canal.

A very decided change was made in the location of the canals. The Erie Canal is about 350 miles long, and the new canal followed the old canal for only about 100 miles; the other 250 miles is almost entirely by a new route. Large portions of the Champlain and Oswego Canals also follow new locations.

The existing canals may be called "hill-side" canals, as they go through the open country and along the upper portions of valleys above the rivers, from which they religiously keep away to the greatest extent possible. The new and greater canal is put in the valley bottoms and in the water-courses and lakes wherever practicable.

The principal advantage of the valley bottom location in the case of the greater canal are cheapness of construction, greater freedom and ease of movement by boats in the wider waters of the water-courses and lakes, greater rapidity and less cost of transportation, greater immunity from accidents that disable the canal, and less cost of maintenance.

The present existing canal was a "tow-path " canal, built with the distinct idea that all business on it should be done by animal towing. In the new and larger canal no tow-path was provided, and it is expected that navigation through it would be by means of steamboats properly adapted to it and towing other motorless cargo boats.

The Barge canal consists of four branches; the Erie, running across the State from Waterford on the Hudson river to Tonawanda, where the Niagara river is entered and followed to Lake Erie; the Champlain, running northward along the easterly boundary of the State from Waterford to Whitehall at the southern end of Lake Champlain; the Oswego, branching from the Erie canal north of Syracuse and running northward to Oswego on Lake Ontario; and the Cayuga-Seneca canal, leaving the Erie west of the Oswego junction and running southward, connecting with the two large lakes from which it takes its name. The enlargement of this last canal was not decided upon until 1909.

The Barge canal is one of the world's greatest feats of engineering. Is is about ten times as long as the Panama canal and has many more engineering works and some of the most notable locks in the world.

The old canals followed what is called a "land line" which means an artificial channel constructed by means of excavations and embank merits, avoiding the natural streams and lakes wherever possible so as to be above danger of flood. The new system, on the other hand, made use of all these rivers and lakes, whenever practical; it makes them into a canal (" canalizes them ") by the building of dams, locks, and other engineering works and obtains what is known as "slack water navigation." In fact, less than thirty per cent, of the Barge canal is built in "land line."

There were 446 miles of Barge canals, the Erie being 339 miles long, the Champlain 61, the Oswego 23, and the Cayuga-Seneca 23 miles long.

The dimensions of the Barge canal vary according to the locality, but in all places it was at least 12 feet deep. It is 125 feet wide in earth sections of the land line, 94 feet wide in rock cuts, and has a width of at least 200 feet in the beds of rivers and lakes through which it runs.

The Champlain canal was completed in 1917 and went into operation during the summer. The Oswego is finished, and the Erie canal was finished to the point where it met the Oswego, thereby making it possible to carry goods by Barge canal between Lake Ontario and the Hudson river. The Cayuga-Seneca was finished and in 1918 the entire canal was completed and in operation, and was able to float a barge of three thousand tons capacity.

The Barge canal locks are 328 feet long and 45 feet wide. They will lift at one time from one water level to another six such boats as are at present in use on the canals. The most wonderful of these locks are the five at Waterford, near Troy, which have a combined lift of 169 feet, the greatest series of high lift locks in the world. These locks cost about one-quarter of a million dollars each. The lock at Little Falls has a lift of 40'/2 feet; this is remarkable because it has a greater lift than any lock on the Panama canal. The siphon lock at Oswego has a lift of 25 feet, is the first lock of this type to be built in the United States and the largest of its type in the world.

In the construction of the Barge canal a greater variety of machinery was used than ever before used on any engineering undertaking; this machinery represented a cost of about $10,000,000.

This great inland canal cost $150,000,000 and was paid for by the people of New York State without any aid from the United States government.

There were no towpaths on the new canal, so that the big barges which will be used must be run by mechanical means. The State is also building Barge canal terminals at all the cities and important towns along the different channels. These will be provided with machinery to load and unload barges. It is quite certain that the Barge canal will serve to attract once more the inland shipping that once passed through the old canals and did much toward making New York the Empire State, and New York city the greatest metropolis in the American Union. DeWitt Clinton's dream became a reality.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:10 ZULU