Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department


First Advisor

Andrew Morris




canals, barge canal, erie canal


With the allure of the famed Erie Canal deteriorating as swiftly as its traffic and physical condition by the latter half of the nineteenth century, New Yorkers gave serious thought to the future of the waterway. As the commerce of the state and its renowned metropolis of New York City declined relative to its rival states and ports during this period, many questioned if enlarging the canal system would lead to its revival and produce similar results for the economy of the state at large. An ever frequent scene of partisan conflict, the proposals to radically enlarge the Erie Canal faced relentless antagonism from competing railroads, distrustful farmers, and wary upstate residents, while receiving the habitually vacillating and oftentimes divided support of canal advocates across New York State. Promoters championed the project as vital to the state and nation to ensure cheaper and adequately regulated transportation rates, resulting in heightened commerce and prosperity, just as it had in the past. Conversely, opponents decried the proposal as antiquated infrastructure and a colossal waste of public funds. Taking its final form as the Barge Canal and approved by referendum in 1903, the significantly enlarged waterway changed course through canalizing lakes and rivers, bypassing numerous cities that its predecessor helped found. In this new canal era, the Barge Canal soon became a stimulus for economic success and expansion throughout the region, just as the Erie Canal had been catalyst for New York State the century before.