Millennial History

By Steve Jackson

The Big Ditch

The Erie Canal located in upstate NY was begun in 1817 and completed in 1825.

It began near the Hudson River and terminated at the Niagara River near Buffalo completing a circuit of waterways in NY State. Besides linking two major cities in NY and encouraging the growth of the surrounding area the completion of this waterway had a much larger impact on the westward expansion of America. It was now possible to travel by water across the entire eastern US from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.

Ships could enter NY Harbor go north on the Hudson River then west to Great Lakes via this new circuit of connected waterways. A series of locks that equalized water depth allowed ships to cross the Great Lakes and enter the headwaters of the Mississippi River near St. Paul, Minnesota. New cities such as Syracuse and Rochester were established in NY as well as the cities of Erie(Pa), Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Detroit would flourish into the Motor City and the port of Chicago brought in livestock to be processed from the south and west. Just to the north of Chicago arose the city of Milwaukee the unofficial brewery capital of America. Heading south on the Mississippi from St. Paul other new cities sprung to life. Some of these included Minneapolis, Omaha, Des Moines, St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Des Moines, Iowa on the western side of the river supplied corn and wheat that was transported to Milwaukee to be used in the beermaking process. St. Louis became the transcontinental railroad center of the US with a number train lines originating there and extending to the west coast. [Reflecting the influence of the French culture from the colonial days of New France many midwestern city names are of French derivation such as Chicago ,Milwaukee ,Des Moines, St. Louis, New Orleans and Baton Rouge]

In summary, though derided as the Big Ditch by critics from that era who thought it a waste of time and money the Erie Canal nevertheless became the final link that united our nation from the Eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River and beyond. The prospect of easy transportation new business opportunities and the allure of virgin land to be cultivated motivated a great in-migration of people to the Midwest during the early years of the nineteenth century.

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