Thursday, December 21, 2017

Geocaching at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site

   We are onto our third year of Geocaching at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site. And this past summer was awesome! We have talked about the game of Geocaching in the past issues and the fun it can be, especially if you have a family and are looking for some outdoor adventure. I find it to be so thrilling to discover a secret hidden container that only Geocacher’s can find. If you like the idea of a high-tech scavenger hunt, this game is for you! (see for the rules of the game).
But there are other parts of the game that Geocacher’s enjoy, and one of them is Geocache Challenges. These take finding geocaches to a whole new level as you are challenged to find not just one Geocache, but a series of Geocaches. For the past three summers, Schoharie Crossing has participated in the New York State Parks Saratoga/Capital District Geocache Challenge.
The Challenge places 76 Geocaches in 18 State Parks in the region. They are only placed for a limited time, from Memorial Day weekend to Veterans Day weekend. The challenge is to find 40 of these Challenge Geocaches to receive a special Geocoin that features a different State Park in the region every year.

The way these Geocaches are different is that inside each of them there is a special stamp. When starting the Challenge, you download from the State Park Site or pick up (at the participating parks) what is called a “Geocache Challenge Passport”. You bring this Passport with you to find the Geocaches, and when you find them you stamp your Passport with the stamp that is inside. Still sign the log as if it were any other geocache. And go on your way. When you have the 40 stamps in your Passport, you can take it to one of the park offices to get your Geocoin. This summer Schoharie Crossing SHS was featured on the coin. What an honor for our site! 

There is also a smaller Winter Challenge that only includes 3 of the State Parks in the region, placing small, winter friendly caches. If you are interested in what parks are a part of the Winter Challenge this year go to for more information.

What makes the Summer Challenge so much fun, is the volunteers who place these temporary caches. The placing of these Geocaches has evolved over the years from just placing simple containers that are all similar in shape and size from one park to the next, to very elaborate and unique “hides”. The reason for these different kinds of hides is “Favorite” Points!
It has become a challenge within a challenge for the volunteers placing the Geocache’s to try and place Geocaches that garner as many “Favorite” points as possible. What’s a “Favorite” point? Well that’s a good question.    
Although the basic membership in Geocaching is absolutely free, there is also a “Premium” membership feature on the website. For every 10 caches you find you receive a “favorite point” to give out. When you find a Geocache that you think is really special or unique, you can give it a “favorite point” to let the person who placed the Geocache know you really liked it.  The Premium membership is $35 per year and offers other benefits as well. (Please see if you are interested.) If after trying the free membership you find you are hooked on the game, you may want to consider the Premium membership.

But with just the basic membership you can still see what Geocaches have gotten the favorite points. And you may want to consider getting out and seeing these unique Geocache’s before they become archived at the end of the challenge.

At Schoharie Crossing this summer we had two Geocache’s that received 47 “Favorite” points each, which is pretty good! We came in 3rd and 4th on the favorite points for all the Geocaches placed for the challenge. The most “favorites” went to a Geocache at John Boyd Thatcher SP with 65 Favorite points! It was placed by a good friend who goes by the Geocache name “C5Z”

For us Geocaching Volunteers it’s wonderful to read the different comments on the Geocaches we have placed. So, if you do go out and find these Geocaches, please take the time to log on line what you thought of the Geocache. I know it takes some time to comment on every Geocache, and with so many people logging on a Geocache app in the field, they are often eager to get on to the next find and throw out a brief “TFTC” (Thanks For The ­Cache). And move on. I prefer to take notes when I am out searching and then logging them when I get home that evening. But whatever you decide, get on out to Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site and find the adventure that awaits you in Geocaching.  

Small Geocache with trades & log
"Winged View"  2017 Summer Challenge Cache

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Mohawks and the Palatine Germans in the Mohawk Valley

The Mohawks and the Palatine Germans in the Mohawk Valley
-Paul Gorgen

As a young boy growing up in northern New York in the 1940's, Tom Porter, a future leader of the Mohawk people,  heard his grandmother say in their native language (she did not speak English) “a group of people who are German have an extra fondness for the Mohawks, and they are obligated to us.”  She had heard this phrase from her parents and grandparents, but she did not know its true meaning.   Tom would later learn it himself, after he moved back to his family’s ancestral homeland on the Mohawk River in 1993.  Those Germans, also known as the Palatines, were the first Europeans to settle in the Schoharie Valley, and they did indeed owe their success, and probably their very survival, to the Mohawk people who welcomed them to that land. 

Four Indian Kings painted by Jan Verelst, 1710. From left to right: Etow Oh Koam (Mohican), Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth TowHo Nee Yeath Taw No Row and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row. (National Archives of Canada - Artist: Jan Verelst C-092421, C-092419, C-092417, C-092415)
The Palatine Germans were refugees from devastating wars in Europe who fled to England in the early 1700’s, lured by British offers of land in Colonial America, particularly land along the Mohawk and Schoharie rivers. In 1710, the Mohawk leader King Hendrick and others visited London, seeking help against their French enemies. They saw an encampment of the German refugees living in tents outside the city and according to the Palatine leader Conrad Weiser, the Mohawk representatives “presented this Schochary to Queen Anne to settle this people on it.”  A group of the Palatines eventually reached Schoharie in the winter of 1712, after fleeing from forced labor camps in the Hudson valley.  They were taken in and fed by the local Mohawks, who gave them good land to farm.  The two groups went on to become close neighbors and friends; they worked and worshiped together, taught each others’ children, and sometimes intermarried.  In 1753, Hendrick Peters, another Mohawk leader, wrote this about his Palatine neighbors, in protest against a local land claim by an Englishman:

     “Let us Indians have our will to Lett our  high Germans have part of that grant that Teddy McGuiness intends to have, or Else we will keep it all to our Selves… Our Christian brethren have had the promise of it these many years and at all times supply our want, and we can not let any other have it…. For they and we are grown up together and we intend to live together as Brothers.” (Hendrick Peters letter to Lieutenant Governor Delancy, 1753).

As young man, Conrad Weiser lived in the Mohawk village of Canajoharie with a Mohawk family who adopted him and gave him a Mohawk name.  He became completely at home in Mohawk society and fluent in the language, and served as an official interpreter throughout his life.  His Mohawk name meant "Holder of the Heavens," a very auspicious name, and he seems to have earned it by mediating and helping resolve disputes involving the Colonial government. 

After being forced to leave Schoharie by the English, the Palatines bought new land from the Mohawks, at Stone Arabia and German Flats.  There the two groups continued to live side by side, and together they fought off French invaders in the Seven Years War.  They were finally separated by the American Revolution; after 65 years of friendship, the two groups were pulled apart by the warring factions. The Haudenosaunee League was officially neutral throughout the war, but the British used all their influence and resources to convince many to fight on their side.  Neither side won a clear victory in the Mohawk Valley, but during peace talks the British abandoned their Native allies and ceded all their land in New York to the United States.

During and after the Revolution, most of the surviving Mohawks moved to the Canadian border area, leaving behind their former Palatine friends and neighbors.  Two hundred years later, descendants of those Palatine neighbors were among the local families who welcomed the Mohawks back to the valley in the 1990s.  One of the Palatine descendants, Barbara Spraker, gave a gift of land to the Mohawk community, returning a favor from long ago.

Today, Tom Porter and his family lead a traditional Mohawk community on a large farm on the shore of the Mohawk River, in the aptly named town of Palatine, NY.   Kanatsiohareke (a variation of Canajoharie, meaning “the place of the clean pot”) is a gathering place for Haudenosaunee people and their friends from throughout New York, Canada, and the wider world. It is also a center for preserving the Mohawk language and culture, where classes are held to increase the number of fluent Mohawk speakers. 

Among the students and teachers at Kanatsiohareke are many whose families once lived in the nearby Mohawk village at Fort Hunter NY.   The people from that village had moved to the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, Canada in the 1780’s, where they formed a new community called Tyendinaga, or Kenhtรจ:ke.   There is a lot of interest among them about the history and current events of the Mohawk Valley, especially about their native village of Fort Hunter.      

The Kanatsiohareke community holds an annual festival and fundraiser on the last weekend of June, featuring Iroquois food, crafts, music, dance, and storytelling; everyone is invited to attend.  For more information and directions, see the Kanatsiohareke web site at:

Paul Gorgen was born and raised in the Mohawk Valley, and lives with his family in Poughkeepsie NY.  He has always been interested in local history,  including his family history which goes back to the early Dutch, the Palatine Germans, and the Native American people who were here before them.  He is currently studying the local language, Kanien'keha, at the Mohawk community in Fonda.  This article first appeared in the Yorker Palatine newsletter in 2013. 

*Editors Note: This article also appeared in the Friends of Schoharie Crossing Spring 2015 Newsletter


For more information on Fort Hunter, please check out the links below for other great Friends of Schoharie Crossing Blogposts!

Exploring Fort Hunter Through Maps - NYS Archives Part II

Visions West: Robert Hunter, Fort Hunter, and the Fur Trade

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Not Just Any Old Barn

The Wemp Barn, Feura Bush, NY
 The Old Wemp Barn, Fort Hunter, NY
(Image source:

Not Just Any Old Barn

 By: Jenny Galough

   I recently visited Feura Bush, New York and in my travels, I stopped to explore the Wemp Barn on Onesquethaw Creek Rd. The Wemp Barn, originally erected in Fort Hunter, NY in the early 1700s was located on Queen Anne St at the Wemp Homestead. In 1989, the dismantling, relocating and re-erecting began and was completed in June of 1990. I frequent the Towpath and various trails at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, the trails span from Amsterdam to Fort Hunter, New York right along the beautiful Mohawk River and original Erie Canal. While exploring the trails, I was able to see the original site of the old Wemp Barn.  Desiring to learn more, I stopped to ask a few questions at the Visitor Center in Fort Hunter and did a little research on the Dutch Barn Preservation Society’s website then mapped out my adventure to Feura Bush.   

   After travelling for about an hour, the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the beautiful park-like setting that the WempBarn is now situated on. There is a road-side Historical Marker in place highlighting its origin and a very friendly “Visitors Welcome” sign that made my heart skip a beat because I knew I wanted to go beyond the fence to get closer. I walked the barely-there paver path and was greeted with another sign honoring the skill and craftsmanship that went into the construction of the Historic DutchBarn. After getting closer, the rustic grandeur of the barn becomes more apparent. The size, although a bit scaled down from the original, is almost overwhelming but still very impressive. Along the left side, I immediately noticed the outline of where the original side doors would have been located, they have since been closed up and the two doors at either end of the barn are the only functioning doors to gain access. While I was not able to go inside, I was able to peek through a large opening near the front left door to see the large beams that support the structure.  The beams seemed massive, (maybe 8” by 8”) compared to present-day construction.  Another thing I couldn’t help but notice, was the texture of the wood on the outside of the barn. At first glance, you would think it would be jagged and leave behind splinters, however, the weathering, age and distress of the wood was smooth and almost soft under the palm of my hand. I stood there, amazed by the process of dismantling an entire barn and moving it to a new location, in that moment, I couldn’t help but think about the journey this barn had taken to be located where it is now.  After completing a full lap around the property, I took one last look and was excited and honored that I was able to link the Wemp Barn in its current location of Feura Bush, NY back to its original location of Fort Hunter, New York, definitely an adventure worthwhile.

(ALL IMAGES by Jenny Galough)


Jenny Galough is a guest contributor to our blog and is a resident of Amsterdam, NY.  Jenny has recently taken a greater interest in Schoharie Crossing, using the trails almost daily and attending several programs or events over this past season.  She has also been sending along some great photographs of the site from her adventures as well as these programs.
Jenny has provided this article and images for our online and newsletter publication.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The First Bridge

Service Lives On

     A while back a small group of people from California stopped into the Schoharie Crossing Visitor Center as they vacationed and decided to add a bit of genealogy and heritage to their journey.  A gentleman in the group asked what information was had at the site about a particular drowning in 1814.  Surprised that the staff was aware of the fateful evening that Christian Service lost his life crossing the bridge over the Schoharie Creek, the group enthusiastically stated they were descendants of that family.  Here is what the 1892 publication, The History of Montgomery County by Washington Frothingham mentions about that occurrence – one of many tragic episodes of life lost attempting to cross the Schoharie.

“The first bridge of any importance ever built over the Schoharie creek was that constructed in 1796 at Fort Hunter by Major Isaiah Depuy…After its completion a stage route was established along the south side of the river from Albany to Canajoharie and adjacent settlements.  In 1814 Christian Service, a tanner and manufacturer of boots and shoes, living in [the town of] Florida, was drowned while attempting to cross this bridge.  The accident occurred in the night, the ice having carried away the eastern portion of the bridge, a fact unknown to the unfortunate man, who urged his team with a whip, and they leaped into the water, carrying himself and the sleigh with them.”

     The group mentioned that in tracing the family history they had come across information regarding his drowning death, but other branches of the family tree were hard to trace as the surname has gone through several spelling variations.  Since they were on a schedule and had to be on their way north, the visit was short but future correspondence is expected.  The site has a State Board of Education historical marker that mentions the bridge that existed over the creek prior to the original Erie Canal at that location.  Various methods across the waterway have been available for centuries -  as covered in a previous edition of the Friends Newsletter - even each of those had changes over time. 

Best of Luck to those descendants as they trace the path of their family though history – all the while creating their own.

*Editors Note: This article ran in the Summer 2015 Friends of Schoharie Crossing Newsletter


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#Spooktacularly #Eerie Canal Stories!

Let's take a journey back through the Friends blog #spooky tales from the #eerie canal!

Way back in 2014, the Friends reported on the Ghost Barges that plied their way across the canal. Foggy mornings just aren't the same since!

The following year, the blog relayed the #ghoulish information about Witches along the canal in their post: Witch in the Ditch!  Brooms where a big part of business in Fort Hunter, so there had to be some special customers!

Maybe even the good old canal cool, Mrs. Carlson picked up some of those brooms.  Though, she may now only sweep along the ghostly coils... The Cook Mrs. Carlson

Last year, the tale of those lost orphan boys was told... in Eerie Orphan the plight of those forgotten was described as guilt ate away at captains.

There was also something fairly puurrrfect about the way the Canal Cat lore was told last year. 

And if that didn't petrify you, perhaps the Stone Curse will! How the Erie was nearly never built!

Give these a read and let us know what you think!  Which is your favorite and what will keep you up at night! 


Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Man at the Pump"

“The Man At the Pump”

   There is a really fantastic and bizarre article in the Auburn Journal & Advertiser issue dated Wednesday, October 26th 1842.  The author of which provides an interesting anecdote about a grist mill water wheel that continued to spin under the force of flowing water long after the mill burnt to the ground. “There and thus, like a troubled spirit, rolled the water wheel of the woods— onward, onward, onward—and for all that we know, it is revolving there still,” the article states. 
   But this is just the writer’s set up, to deepen the understanding of his following paragraphs in which he takes on the Albany Regency and their “wisdom” in regards to projects at a standstill on the enlargement of the Erie Canal.  One such project being the great aqueduct “at the mouth of the Schoharie-Kill.”
   The enlargement of the canal was a process that started in 1836 and would last until 1862.  However, by the late 1830’s, New York and the nation was gripped by a financial crisis driving the economy into recession.  By 1839, the NY Legislature enacted the Stop & Tax Law—which simply put meant that they had to stop work on much of the enlargement in order to increase funding to fill the state coffers.  It was difficult to explain to constituents that while they may be struggling to make ends meet, the State could dole out large sums of money to create a larger canal. 
   This affected contracts all across the canal.  One of which, according to the article, created “The Man at the Pump.”  The author notes that, “ vain did the voice of wisdom and true economy plead that the leaving of unfinished works to fall into premature dilapidation, and the loss of the interest for an infinite period of time upon the millions already expended, would in the end prove the most ruinous policy that ever a State adopted. The party had decreed it — and the works must stop.”
   The article continues in describing the hundreds of dollars of work that stood as the aqueduct over the Schoharie and that only a mere $35,000 may be all it would take to put it into full operation.  Otis Eddy was the contractor for the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct, and though most of construction was completed by 1841, it was not yet part of the canal system.  The fear being that with the stoppage of work, the structure would be subject to ruin.

   “Among other things it is necessary that the bottom of the chamber should be kept flowing, or covered with water—for which purpose it became necessary to erect a hand pump to raise the water. The pump would not go of itself, and of course a man must be procured, to work it. And there stands the pump, and there stands the man.
   The water in the immense basin evaporates or oozes out, about as fast as he can raise it. —   The pump must therefore be plied continually — pump, pump, pump.”

   Within the article, the author makes pointed comments about the truth of such disastrous policy; commenting that “some of the noblest works of masonry on the line of the Canal will sustain greater injury in their unfinished state, in a single year, than the amount required for their completion.”

   We know that the aqueduct did survive that stoppage and operated until the canal was placed into the Mohawk River in 1918. Perhaps this article is also more of a commentary on the political wrangling's within the state at the time then true historical occurrence.  Though, who can ignore…

   “Oh the wisdom of modern politicians! And where is the man having bowels who will not sympathise with that lonely servant of the Albany Regency—“the-man-at-the pump?” Pump, pump, pump.”

Contributed by D. Brooks 
Education Director at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site 

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Celebrating the Erie Canal

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crossing the Schoharie in 1831

Creek Crossing: 1831

       In the early years of the Erie Canal, the allure and inspiration of canal travel was overwhelming for many and required for some.  The Traveller’s Pocket Directory and Strangers Guide; Exhibiting Distances on the Erie Canal and Stage Routes in the State of New-York, was published in 1831 as a travel guide for those wishing to make that journey.  Within its pages are descriptions of the many communities and settlements along the artificial river. 

   In 1978 this work was republished by John P. Papp who “gratefully acknowledge[d] the loan of the original booklet by Don Keefer” – indicating Keefer was a “noted historical authority from Glenville, New York.”  Additional information and materials for the reprint came from the support of the New York State Library.  Of note to those interested in Schoharie Crossing and the original method of crossing the creek prior to construction of the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct are the details on page 17 of that booklet.

The entry is as follows:

“Schoharie Creek.  The Canal crosses this creek by means of a guard lock on each side, the gates of which are closed, when the water is higher in the creek than the level of the canal, in order to prevent it from rushing into the Canal and tearing away the embankments.  There is a narrow bridge which the horses walk over, and the boat is taken across in the following ingenious manner.  On each side of the creek there is a horizontal wheel, around which a rope is drawn, and the ends fastened together; there is a horizontal shaft (projecting from the upright shaft of one of the wheels), to which a horse is attached.  When a boat arrives at the creek it is fastened to this rope the horse at the wheel is started, and the boat drawn directly across into the opposite lock.  The ruins of Fort Hunter are to be seen near the mouth of the creek.  The Indian Church called Queen Anne’s Chapel is near this point.” 

*Editors Note: This article previously appeared in the Spring 2015 Friends Newsletter.

Curious about the "dam" ? - Click on THIS LINK for more on that!


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Thursday, October 5, 2017

E-Ri-E with Tom & Cosby!

Cosby Gibson and Tom Staudle have developed a great Erie Canal Music Program! 

They play some terrific songs along with giving some narration between them to put the music into a historical context and provide facts about the vibrant waterway.  This program brings to life the soul of that ol'Canal!

Check out this video of them performing E-Ri-E Canal.

To find out more about Cosby & Tom, click here:  

To Listen to Cosby & Tom on The Historians Podcast, click this link:

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Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site can be found online at:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Queen Anne’s Chapel & the Dam Connection

Queen Anne’s Chapel & the Dam Connection
   In his book, Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley: The Baseball Oracle, the Mohawk Encampment and More, Bob Cudmore writes of St. Ann’s of Port Jackson, an Episcopal Church that was loosely associated with the remnants of Queen Anne’s Chapel when it was established in 1835, that its sanctuary was built in 1837 but by 1848 had entered into decline.  Cudmore notes that the Reverend A.N. Littlejohn had projected that if the congregation was to survive, “it would be on the growing north side of the river in Amsterdam.”
Perry, William Stevens, The bishops of the American church, past and present. Sketches, biographical and bibliographical, of the bishops of the American Church. With a preliminary essay on the historic episcopate and documentary annals of the introduction of the Anglican line of succession into America. New York: The Christian Literature Co, 1897
   Taking a moment to step back, A.N. Littlejohn also had roots to Fort Hunter but through the soil that was turned to make way for the Erie Canal.  Littlejohn was the son of Col. John Littlejohn Jr. and Eleanor Newkirk Littlejohn.  Eleanor was the daughter of Abraham Newkirk who owned a farm on the Glen side of the Schoharie Creek just south of its emptying into the river.  She married John in 1823 and by December of 1824 Abraham Newkirk (A.N) Littlejohn was born. By 1851 a new building was consecrated on the north side of the Mohawk River, and the church became well known for music.  During the mid 1980’s the congregation had renewed ties to its original heritage in Queen Anne’s Chapel.  That church was constructed to accompany the development of Fort Hunter at the confluence of the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River in 1712.  Nearly three hundred years later, St. Anne’s connected to the Tyendinaga Parish of Canada and its Mohawk parishioners whom are descendants of those forced to leave their homeland during the American Revolution.
   In 1845, A.N. Littlejohn obtained his degree from Union College, Schenectady. He was admitted to the diaconate on March 18, 1848 and officiated at St. Ann's Church, and then at St. Andrew's Church in Meriden, Conn..  He became Rector of Christ Church in Springfield, Mass. He was ordained to the priesthood on Nov. 10, 1850. In July 1851 Littlejohn became Rector of St. Paul's Church in New Haven, Conn. He then went to the Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn, NY and received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1868, a new Diocese, the Diocese of Long Island, was created and he was consecrated as its first Bishop on January 27, 1869.  It has been noted that he was “an eloquent lecturer,” and many of his lectures were eventually published.
   A.N. Littlejohn was also a contributor –as he wrote and conducted the commencement prayer – to the opening ceremony for the New York and Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. 
   Dr. A.N. Littlejohn died on August 3, 1901 in Williamstown, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  He was interred in the All Saints Cemetery, Great Neck, Nassau County, New York.

Sources:, The Gutenberg Project Online,, Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley

*Editors Note: This article has previously appeared in the Spring 2017 Newsletter

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Barge Canal: New York’s Patriotic Contribution to WWI

The Barge Canal: New York’s Patriotic Contribution  to WWI

By: Jessica Hojohn* 

On September 30th, 1917, an article from The Sun newspaper proclaims, “In the Barge Canal system the people of the Empire State have created what has been declared to be ‘the most valuable single commercial facility on this continent.’” Originally approved in 1903 as the $101,000,000 Plan, State Engineer and Surveyor Frank M. Williams announced in 1916 that work would be completed in 1918. But on April 6th, 1917, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, the Canal almost saw its demise due to shortages of coal, men, steel, and other materials that were being redirected to the war effort. However, patriotic duty compelled a push to complete the modernized Barge Canal according to schedule; argued to be of the same significance as the Panama Canal, the Barge Canal symbolized New York’s patriotic contribution to the war. New York would serve its wartime duties with the aid and aspirations that the New York State Barge Canal offered.

Despite the significance that the Barge Canal symbolized and the commercial practicality of its existence it could offer, the canal experienced multiple construction obstacles that nearly led to its abandonment; however, patriotic duty had its implications. Men were called to the Front or to other industrial needs and away from construction projects. An article from the New York Tribune reflects on the construction of the Canal in January 1919, stating the massive shortage of men foisted a threat to the canal project. Scarcity of manpower imposed even greater ramifications when the necessities of war pulled resources from the Home Front. Steel was necessary for the construction of a movable dam on the Genesee River; however due to a shortage in steel, canal workmen constructed a temporary wooden dam in its place. Just east on the Genesee River, the steel shortage continued to hinder the construction of a guard lock. Construction on the lock was delayed and finally finished the morning the Canal opened to navigation on May 15th, 1918. Despite overcoming obstacles during construction and opening the Canal on the promised date in the Spring of 1918, the Canal continued to be plagued with difficulties and technicalities. The most prominent restriction to the Canal’s patriotic intention was the lack of boats and barges. In the days leading up to its opening, there were only 400-500 antiquated canal boats. The inability to utilize the Canal to meet wartime needs forced the State to concede to Federal control. 

On April 17th, 1918, with the expectations on the Barge Canal falling short, Director General McAdoo of the Railroad Administration ordered the New York State Barge Canal System be taken over by the Federal Government and demanded that a fleet of barges be constructed. Within days, contracts were let for barge construction and nearly 200 privately-owned canal boats were commandeered. The Federal Government’s annexation, however, was a welcomed circumstance of patriotic duty. In times of war, at least in the first modern war, private enterprise and capital could not meet the economic and material needs a war required. Upon examination, some may even argue that the incorporation of the Canal into the Railroad Administration was a reflection of the dichotomy of the waterways and rails. The coal shortage during the Winter of 1917 is an exemplarily example. Anxiety swept across New York State as it survived the brutally cold winter months and feared what next winter would have in store. Hope came in the form of Superintendent of Public Works, Major General William W. Wotherspoon’s pronouncement that the Barge Canal would alleviate New York State’s apprehension. This announcement put blame on the railroads; with the support of the Federal Fuel Administration and railroad authorities, the shortage of coal in the Winter of 1917 was a consequence of insufficient railroad equipment, rather than increase in demand or decrease in production of coal. The railroads were too expensive and too unreliable; they needed a counterpart. The connections between the canals and the railroads would allow them to function together as opposed to against each other; where the rails fell short, the Canal picked up the slack. In this fashion, the Canal, in spite of ongoing obstacles, would find its way into wartime commerce.

Barges & Tugs Near Waterford, NY 1919
The Canal’s importance for the U.S. war efforts were influenced by Germany’s canals. An article from The Sun in September 1917 illustrated Germany’s waterways. It argues that without its canal system, Germany would not be able to feed and equip its troops. The modernized Barge Canal System would link the Port of New York to the Great Lakes, which in turn opens up to oceanic navigation through the St. Lawrence Seaway and, more importantly, to western wheat fields; wheat capable of feeding troops in Europe. Pennsylvania steel could also be shipped north via rail and then transported to the Canal. Major General Wotherspoon’s demand for barge construction also lent support to the war effort. Within a few weeks, eight barges began construction, four of which were exclusively for iron ore. Major companies operated barges along the Canal, such as the Ore Carrying Corporation, Standard Oil Corporation, and the General Electric Company. The Canal would and did alleviate commercial and transportation difficulties; without its presence and modernization efforts, responsibility would have remained solely on the railroads.

From its conception, the New York State Barge Canal was borne out of the memory of the Erie Canal. However, the first modern war would morph its significance. The symbol of State prosperity became the emblem of New York State’s patriotism. Obstacles that were overcome during construction came to symbolize a progressive and optimistic spirit unique to New York State. The patriotic duty that necessitated its completion would also bring New York State back to the forefront of trade and revitalize competition with the rails. Without the Barge Canal, the country faced the risk of wartime shortages and decreased morale; the Barge Canal helped ensure wartime cohesion and victory abroad.

*Editors Note: This article previously appeared in the Summer 2017 Newsletter.

*Jessica Hojohn is a research intern that is compiling information regarding the NYS Barge Canal System & its engineering during the early 20th century and in particular the role of World War I in the development of strategies to complete as well as the resources that the canal conveyed for the war effort.