The Pioneer History of
 Orleans County, NY

Chapter IX
The Erie Canal

Online Edition by Holice & Deb

 

CHAPTER IX.

THE ERIE CANAL.

When Begun -- Effect -- Rise in Prices of Everything -- Progress of Improvements -- Carriages on Springs.

The work in digging the Erie Canal was begun on the middle section near Utica, on the 4th day of July, 1817. In 1823, the eastern part of the canal was so far completed, that in November boats from Rochester reached Albany, at the same time with boats from Lake Champlain, on the Champlain Canal. And in Nov., 1825, a fleet of boats from Buffalo passed the entire length of the Erie Canal, carrying passengers to the Grand Canal Celebration at New York.

To no part of the State of New York has the Erie Canal proved of more benefit then to Orleans County.

Although the soil was fertile and productive, and yielded abundant crops to reward the toil of the farmer, yet its inland location and great difficulty of transporting produce to market, rendered it of little value at home. Settlers who had located here, in many instances, had become discouraged. Others, who desired to emigrate to the Genesee county, were kept back by the gloomy accounts they got of life in the wilderness, with little prospect of easy communication with the old Eastern States to cheer the hope.

As soon as the Canal became navigable, Holly, Albion, Knowlesville, and Medina, villages on its banks, were built up. Actual settlers took up all the unoccupied lands, and cleared them up. No speculators came here and brought up large tracts and left them wild, to rise on the market. The lumber of the county found a ready market and floated away. Wheat was worth four times as much as the price for which it had been previously selling. Prosperity came in on every hand; the mud dried up, and the musketos, and the ague, and the fever, and the bears, left the country. Farmers paid for their lands, surrendered their articles, and took deeds from the Company. Good barns and framed houses, and houses of brick, and stone began to be built, as the common dwellings of the inhabitants. "The good time coming," which the first settlers could not see, but waited for, with a faint and dreamy but persistent hope, had come indeed. The price of land rose rapidly, making many wealthy, who happened to located farms in desirable places, from the rise in value of their lands. From this time forward, rich men, from the Eastern States, and older settlements, began to come in and buy out the farms and improvements of those who had begun in the woods and now found themselves, like Cooper's leather Stocking, "lost in the clearings," and wished to move on to the borders of civilization, where the hunting and fishing was better and where the ruder institutions, manners and customs of frontier life, to which they had become attached, would be better enjoyed among congenial spirits.

The clearing away of shade trees, thus drying up the mud and the substantial bridges over streams and leveled and graveled highways, which the numbers and abundant means of the people, now enabled them to establish, occasioned a demand for other carriages for the conveyance of these now independent farmers and their families.

Time was when they went to mill and to meeting to the social visit, or the quilting frolic, happy on an ox sled. A little progress, and pride and ambition substituted horses and lumber wagons as the common vehicles of travel, in place of the oxen and sleds. A buggy was no more known or used than a balloon in those wagon days, and when the canal was first made navigable, there was not probably a one-house buggy in Orleans County. Indeed several years after boats began trips on the canal, Messrs. R. S. & L. Burrows, then merchants in Albion, brought on six or eight one-horse wagons, with wooden springs under the seats, manufactured in Connecticut and put them on sale; and great was the wonder of the people, and the comment they made upon the amazing luxury and comfort and ease in riding in these little rattling, jolting machines.

The Pioneer History of Orleans County, NY, By Arad Thomas

 

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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