Born and raised in southeastern Michigan near Detroit I developed an appreciation for the Great Lakes region due to family vacations along the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula. Like a favorite song you listen to so many times that spawn an interest to hear more from the band, I set about learning the geography and history of land stretching from Minnesota to Wisconsin, Michigan to Pennsylvania (never developed an interest in Ohio it is so below Michigan), and New York State into New England. Assisting in this voyage where simple, inexpensive paintings Mom and Dad bought at a thrift store and hung on a visible wall in the living room. The soft greens, blues, reds, and browns form images of Native American Indians at home on the plains and as I look them over from time to time regional names like Ojibwa, Chippewa, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Iroquois fill my young mind. These paintings as well as the text I read and pictures in books about the land pique my interest and romanticize the area.
A 1967 Pykonen family vacation took us across southern Canada through the province of Ontario to Niagara Falls through the Appalachian Mountains and the countryside of Pennsylvania. Now actual experience supplements the pictures and information I gathered of this area solidifying and understanding. When we drove from Niagara toward Pennsylvania we crossed, followed, or came close to the western terminus of The Erie Canal
at Tonawanda, New York. At nine years old, I had no idea the significance of the land passing by but the memories from that trip not to mention the research done lingered and grew with later moves from Michigan to Oregon, south to California, then back to Michigan, and finally here to Washington State. A few years ago I enjoyed a video of Jerome K. Jerome’s story Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the dog) with Tim Curry, Michael Palin, and Stephen Moore which is a humorous story of three friends who decide a boat trip in a Thames skiff up the Thames is what they need to cure what ails them. The Thames, pastoral and picturesque, calm and historic, complete with locks is reminiscent of the Erie Canal and part of the reason I have watched the video numerous times, not to mention the acting, all of which keeps excitement of the Erie Canal churning.
In the early part of the 19th century, soon to be Governor of New York State Dewitt Clinton pushed hard for construction of an east/west canal to connect the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. Detractors, lacking the vision Clinton saw in this link to the west, saw it as a waste of money however, in 1817 work began on “Clinton’s Big Ditch”. In 1825, the canal opened for business just a mere 49 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, sealed, and delivered by Thomas Jefferson (not before reacquainting himself with his wife according to the movie 1776). An engineering marvel it includes 18 aqueducts
that carry the canal over rivers and ravines with 83 locks
and a rise in elevation of 568’ from the Hudson to Lake Erie (that’s amazing!). The canal started out at 4’ deep and 40’ wide and by 1918 after the final enlarging of Clinton’s Ditch pleasure craft today enjoy a depth of 12 to 14’ at 120 to 200’ wide. Running north from the Erie Canal’s beginning at Albany, New York is the Champlain Canal opened in 1823 connecting Lake Champlain and the Champlain valley with the Erie Canal and other feeder canals that merge into it further increasing trade in other regions of New York.
Instead of covering the entire canal system, which would produce a monstrously long series, I will be choosing sections of the Erie Canal along with pertinent information of local towns, villages, and cities breaking this down into five parts. So come aboard my [i]Nimble Nomad,
the refrigerator is stocked the coffee is brewing, as I head out down the canal on a 363-mile adventure that is sure to surprise and educate.
[i] The Nimble Nomad (pocket trawler) is a 25’ fiberglass and wood boat with motor and is one of the most unique and quality-proven small yachts for inland water cruising and seen around the canal system