April 21, 2001

Although Congress made Buffalo, New York, an official port of entry in 1805, the city could not provide mooring facilities for another 14 years. A group of nine citizens headed up by Judge Samuel Wilkeson, determined to rectify the situation, had started construction on a pier out into Lake Erie in 1819. The state agreed to a loan of $12,000, but only if the investors pledged their own property and income as collateral. The work had gone on for 221 days (excluding Sundays) and now, in the first week of September of 1820, it looked like they'd be missing the season and any possible income until 1821. Hadn't even had a chance to test it. Then on the 7th, nature provided the test. A vicious, early, pre-autumn storm blew up out of the lake. As did two vessels. Their captains managed to moor to the new structure. The judge and his fellow investors watched anxiously as the ships were tumbled back and forth. Men stood by to cut the lines if the whole thing began to crumble. Probably a few prayers were mumbled. If so, they worked. The pier held up. Not much income this year, but wait until next spring.

New York was coming to depend less and less upon pack animal and wheel in 1820. More people and goods were being carried on and below the decks of floating transport. Downlake from Buffalo a lighthouse was built at Dunkirk's Point (grass-e ut)Gratiot. New York's other Great Lake, Ontario, got a light on Galloo Island off Sackets Harbor. Buffalo might wait for profits, but Lake Ontario was already chugging along quite nicely. In spite of reduced clearance at the entrance to the Genesee, caused by three dry years in a row, Rochesterville's neighbor at Carthage was visited by 316 vessels carrying 67,468 bushels of flour, over 5300 barrels of pearl and pot ash, 26,743 barrels of beef and pork, and 709 barrels of whiskey. Ogdensburgh was visited by 18 schooners, 1 sloop and a steamboat, carrying flour, pork, beef, ashes, oil, hops, tar, as well as ploughs and plough-shares, whiskey, butter and lard, hams, and salt. 20 Durham boats bound for Canada had added to the totals. Non-spoilable items that made it down to New York could be reloaded on the steamer now in regular service to New Orleans.

Although it was still five years away from being completed, what there was of Clinton's Ditch was also humming. The section between Utica and the Seneca River opened for public use in May and by July tolls were being collected. You could soon walk aboard the canal boats Montezuma or Oneida Chief, leave Utica and Montezuma every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 8 o'clock, meet the other boat at Manlius; proceed the next day at 4 AM. and arrive at Utica and Montezuma at 6. $4, including provisions and lodging. Way Passengers 3 cents per mile. When you disembarked stages were waiting at most of the villages on the Canal to carry you to the Turnpike. Investors were active even at unbuilt sections. In the-future-Lockport a group of 15 far seeing men, mostly Quakers, had bought up most of the land. Toward the eastern end Queen Anne's chapel was torn down to make room for the Fort Hunter section. The state began selling off lots on the Onondaga salt spring reservation, with the proceeds to go to a Canal Fund. Bitten by the canal bug, investors in Canandaigua began planning an Ontario Canal Company, to connect their village with Lake Ontario. By the time early freezes in November locked up the ports at Albany and New York maritime interests were not looking back.

For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor



We New York kids didn't get out of the fourth grade without knowing about Clinton's Ditch, mules named Sal, and brawling "canawlers". And certanly not without hearing about De Witt Clinton, the main motive force behind the canal that made New York the Empire State. While Clinton wasn't the first to think of crossing the state with a canal, it was put through during his "watch". Fifteen years before the entire length was opened, he had been part of the commission that crossed the state to scout out a path for the planned canal. He reported on what he saw in 1810 in a journal; to get a detailed glimpse of some of the things going through his mind at the time, you can check out the journal on-line at
Bring your canteen, for, "I scarce do think we'll get a drink 'til we get to Buffalo-o-o."

The Game's Afoot !!

© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte