Buffalo (New York)

On the Road: The Erie Canal

Travel the entire 363 miles of the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany, as you learn about the canal’s history and how it helped shape the small communities of upstate New York.
Program No. 23523RJ
8 days
Starts at

At a Glance

Although the two men who planned and oversaw the construction of the Erie Canal had little experience in surveying and engineering, the 363-mile venture was an historic success. Constructed between 1817 and 1825, the canal was built to create a route between the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes and, subsequently, it was a boon for the small towns of upstate New York that bordered the route. Travel alongside the entirety of the Erie Canal from west to east, learning about the history and construction of the canal at museums and the quaint canal-side towns that dot its banks. Find out how the canal has shaped small communities from Lockport to Brockport, and get up close to the canals’ locks and bridges as you explore the waterway by boat.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Experience the might of Niagara Falls on a walk along the Cave of Winds’ wooden walkways and on board the famous Maid of the Mist.
  • Take a detour to the Women’s Hall of Fame to learn how Seneca Falls became the center of the women’s Suffrage movement and celebrate American women throughout history.
  • Board vessels with local experts for explorations on the Erie Canal, including a lock demo and an excursion over the only navigable aqueduct in New York State from 1842.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The Erie Canal
by Ralph K. Andrist
The Erie Canal was a preposterous idea. Even President Thomas Jefferson, usually ahead of his time, believed that it could not be built for at least a century, and yet, the Erie Canal came to be just as its planners had thought it would. For the first time in the history of the United States, a cheap, fast route ran through the Appalachians, the mountains that had so effectively divided the West from the East of early America. With the canal, the country's fertile interior became accessible and its great inland lakes were linked to all the seas of the world. Here, from award-winning historian Ralph K. Andrist, is the canal's dramatic and little-told story.
Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation
by Peter L. Bernstein
The building of the Erie Canal, like the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal, is one of the greatest and most riveting stories of American ingenuity. Best-selling author Peter Bernstein presents the story of the canal's construction against the larger tableau of America in the first quarter-century of the 1800s. Examining the social, political, and economic ramifications of this mammoth project, Bernstein demonstrates how the canal's creation helped prevent the dismemberment of the American empire and knit the sinews of the American industrial revolution. Featuring a rich cast of characters, including not only political visionaries like Washington, Jefferson, van Buren, and the architect's most powerful champion, Governor DeWitt Clinton, but also a huge platoon of Irish diggers as well as the canal's first travelers, Wedding of the Waters reveals that the twenty-first-century themes of urbanization, economic growth, and globalization can all be traced to the first great macroengineering venture of American history.
by Bonnie J. Hays
Written by the executive director of Historic Palmyra, the local historical society and museum, Palmyra reveals the fascinating history of the place known as "the Queen of Canal Towns." Vivid photographs highlight life as it was in this Wayne County community, which is visited by more than two hundred thousand people each year. Shown are military men and abolitionists, inventors and entrepreneurs, and the founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints.
Explorer's Guide Erie Canal: A Great Destination: Exploring New York's Great Canals
by Deborah Williams
The Erie Canal: Great Destinations is the first comprehensive travel guide to New York State Canals and the communities and attractions found along them. Each chapter covers one canal, providing historical background as well as information on wineries, canal museums, restaurants, lodging, canal cruises and bike paths in all the major cities, many of the small towns and villages, and the two biggest Finger Lakes. The guide offers separate sections on Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse, Utica, and Rochester and their outlying areas, as well as a chapter on Niagara Falls. With coverage of three smaller canals in the region (the Oswego, Champlain, and Cayuga-Seneca) this is undoubtedly the most extensive guide to the canalways of the state. 100 black-and-white photographs and maps
Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State
by Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello
Women Will Vote celebrates the 2017 centenary of women’s right to full suffrage in New York State. Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello highlight the activism of rural, urban, African American, Jewish, immigrant, and European American women, as well as male suffragists, both upstate and downstate, that led to the positive outcome of the 1917 referendum. Goodier and Pastorello argue that the popular nature of the women’s suffrage movement in New York State and the resounding success of the referendum at the polls relaunched suffrage as a national issue. If women had failed to gain the vote in New York, Goodier and Pastorello claim, there is good reason to believe that the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment would have been delayed. Women Will Vote makes clear how actions of New York’s patchwork of suffrage advocates heralded a gigantic political, social, and legal shift in the United States. Readers will discover that although these groups did not always collaborate, by working in their own ways toward the goal of enfranchising women they essentially formed a coalition. Together, they created a diverse social and political movement that did not rely solely on the motivating force of white elites and a leadership based in New York City. Goodier and Pastorello convincingly argue that the agitation and organization that led to New York women’s victory in 1917 changed the course of American history.
Erie Water
by Walter D. Edmonds
Historical fiction which is set in the early 19th century during the building of the Erie Canal and the interaction of settlers and workmen with Mohawk, Seneca and Great Western tribes. Edmonds' novels are set in upstate New York, especially the area surrounding the Erie Canal. His ability to depict this region and its people during its settlement and development has been widely praised. Reviewers have called Edmonds "one of the best regional novelists this country has ever produced."
Lockport: Historic Jewel of the Erie Canal
by Kathleen L. Riley
From its beginnings in the early 19th century at the site where "art triumphed over nature," when the Erie Canal's Flight of Five locks was one of the wonders of the world, Lockport burst almost overnight into a thriving community that eventually outgrew the canal that gave it life. After many years of challenge and change, the city now looks to its glorious past to ensure its future.
Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal
by Jack Kelly
The technological marvel of its age, the Erie Canal grew out of a sudden fit of inspiration. Proponents didn't just dream; they built a 360-mile waterway entirely by hand and largely through wilderness. As excitement crackled down its length, the canal became the scene of the most striking outburst of imagination in American history. Zealots invented new religions and new modes of living. The Erie Canal made New York the financial capital of America and brought the modern world crashing into the frontier. Men and women saw God face to face, gained and lost fortunes, and reveled in a period of intense spiritual creativity. Heaven's Ditch by Jack Kelly illuminates the spiritual and political upheavals along this "psychic highway" from its opening in 1825 through 1844. "Wage slave" Sam Patch became America's first celebrity daredevil. William Miller envisioned the apocalypse. Farm boy Joseph Smith gave birth to Mormonism, a new and distinctly American religion. Along the way, the reader encounters America's very first "crime of the century," a treasure hunt, searing acts of violence, a visionary cross-dresser, and a panoply of fanatics, mystics, and hoaxers. A page-turning narrative, Heaven's Ditch offers an excitingly fresh look at a heady, foundational moment in American history.
The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862
by Carol Sheriff
The story of the Eric Canal is the story of industrial and economic progress between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The Artificial River reveals the human dimension of the story of the Erie Canal. Carol Sheriff's extensive, innovative archival research shows the varied responses of ordinary people-farmers, businessmen, government officials, tourists, workers-to this major environmental, social, and cultural transformation in the early life of the Republic. Winner of Best Manuscript Award from the New York State Historical Association.

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