The Third Life: Corridor for Commerce

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Champlain Canal. Courtesy of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce.

Trade flowed through Lakes to Locks Passage long before history made any note of it. Native American Indians carried on a brisk business along the waterway, exchanging stone axes and arrowheads for furs and foodstuffs. Commerce bound the old world to the new as the Indians took advantage of a European fascination with beaver felt hats to acquire iron kettles, steel blades, woven cloth, and other exotic foreign manufactures. Dutch trading posts sprang up along the Hudson River while the French did business in the Champlain Valley.

Once the battles for control of the country subsided, visionary minds anticipated the boost to commerce that an improved waterway could provide. Elkhanah Watson toured New York State in 1791, recording routes suitable for canals like those he had seen in England. He shared his journals with state Senator, General Philip Schuyler. Together, the two men succeeded in shaping a bill that established two canal companies. Tight budgets and another war with Britain in 1812 delayed construction for almost twenty years, but by the mid-1820s, goods could travel by boat from here to Buffalo along the Erie Canal and up to Lake Champlain on the Champlain Canal.

The promise of Watson’s vision came true. Cheap transportation made New York City into a commercial capital and supported growing towns along the waterway. Cargoes of lumber, iron, building stone and slate came out of the country. Loads of cotton, silk and wool supplied the raw material for local textile mills. The stories of the people and produce that traveled this route can be found at many sites from Waterford to the Canadian border.

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