Sunday, September 29, 2013

Erie Canal

We spent a few lovely days visiting a cousin of Erik's mom, Carol, and her husband Dick in northern New York state. We enjoyed their hospitality and the serenity of their lakeside home, and also did some exploring while we were in the area. One day Carol took us to see the historic Erie Canal at Chittenango Landing. We really enjoyed the restored buildings and interactive exhibits while learning about this little slice of American history. I remembered nothing about the Erie Canal from my long ago schooling, so it was fun to see it firsthand and learn together with the kids.

The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and connected the Hudson River to Lake Erie, opening up a means of trade between the Atlantic states and the Great Lakes. Overland travel was slow and the land was wild, making commerce very difficult. The Canal opened the west of the country to trade and settlement, and contributed significantly to the expansion of the country. Chittenango Landing was built in 1855 as a dry dock where canal boats where built and repaired and could take on fresh supplies for their journey. The canal was only open from May to November, and there were thousands of boats running its length. We have been reading a fascinating book about United States history as we travel, and it's so neat to see all these little glimpses into the past.

The museum has done a great job of restoring and rebuilding. This is some of the machinery in the saw mill and woodshop. 
The kids tried their hand, or foot, at turning a grindstone. There were many hands on exhibits for the kids (and adults) to interact with, bringing history alive for our family.
Timber! Poppy had fun felling a tree and seeing how the endless screw worked to pull stumps and fell trees.
We had fun in the blacksmith shop.
This was one of three dry docks where canal boats could be brought in for repairs. 

A pitching kettle heated a type of resin from evergreen trees . This was applied to the bottom of the canal boats,  which effectively sealed them.
There's nothing like something from another era to spark the imagination.
Inside the store warehouse, a game made of corncobs sat cozily near the pot bellied stove.  It was easy to imagine what a gathering place this would have been.
This was where boatmen, as well as local residents, came to buy everything from lumber and building supplies to dry goods, produce, and milk. Poppy had fun making a pretend cake in the wash basin and chamber pot!
I was intrigued by this dough bucket, which must have been the equivalent to owning a Kitchenaid mixer! Instructions on the lid read: 
Put in all liquids first, then flour. Turn 3 minutes. Raise in pail.
After raising, turn until dough forms ball.
Take off cross piece. Turn out dough with kneader.
Canal boats were pulled by a team of horses or mules that walked alongside the canal on a towpath. Here an elderly gentlemen explained to the kids the protocol for boats passing in opposite directions.
The boats were 96 feet long, with a large central compartment for cargo, a stable on one end, and the family/crew quarters on the other. Each boat would have two sets of mules that would trade off every six hours around the clock. Apparently sometimes children would sleep in the stable too!
This was a canal boat that was constructed in three sections so it could be explored. 

It was common for a family to live on the boat together. The mother cooked, washed, cared for and taught her children in this small room, approximately 13 x 13 feet! You can see the sleeping quarters on the back wall.
Simple rope beds could be raised or lowered. Occasionally the ropes would need to be tightened, and that's where the expression "sleep tight" comes from!
These are the remaining walls of a cannery that stood next to the canal.
Nearby we visited Chittenango Falls, which was beautiful! The leaves were just beginning to turn, and  we enjoyed a little hike down to see the falls from below. 

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