Aug 28, 2010

Ride on a Canal Boat at the Erie Canal Museum

I love boat rides – especially on canals. Recently John and I visited Erie Canal Village in Rome and rode a packet boat on the Erie Canal. It was a gloriously beautiful day and we arrived at the Village just as the school buses were leaving so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
The 15-minute orientation video offers an excellent overview of the Erie Canal from proposal to completion. The construction of the Canal was an amazing endeavor and has been compared to the building of the pyramids. The Canal was a critical factor in the development of the United States.

On July 4, 1817, construction started in Rome because it was considered the stretch with the least obstacles to overcome. The first completed segment connected the Mohawk River to Wood Creek and was busy from the moment it opened. When the Erie Canal was completed in 1825 it was the longest canal in the world.

At the one-room schoolhouse we sat in seats that held students from 1856 to 1953. The lunch pails were lined up on the shelf by the window next to the water pail with a dipper that was shared by everyone. The potbelly stove that kept students warm in the winter is where they baked potatoes for a warm lunch. Miss Jones, the schoolteacher, shared information on the life and times in a one-room schoolhouse. She showed us a McGuffey Reader, which was the favored textbook of the mid-1800s, and explained, “I use to ask someone from the visiting school groups to read from the books but they had trouble reading the difficult text so I stopped doing that. I didn’t want to embarrass them.”

We chatted with Steve, the blacksmith. I mentioned that most ethnic groups have a name that translates into “smith.” Steve explained that the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “smyth” meaning “to hit” or “to strike,” which describes what the smithy does. It is one of the most common surnames in the world. The blacksmith shop was a place where the men folks liked to pass the time. Every blacksmith I have ever met was a fountain of information.

The Erie Canal Village in Rome is home to three museums. The main portion is the canal museum. Besides the school and blacksmith shop there is a church, livery stable, Ft. Bull Railroad Station, a canal store, and a settler’s house. The village is also home to the Harden Museum, which displays horse-drawn vehicles that range from those used on the farm to an elegant Laundaulet along with three types of roads in use during the 19th century: dirt, plank and cobblestone. Also in the village is the New York State Museum of Cheese, which once housed the Merry and Weeks Cheese Factory in nearby Verona. The museum explores the history of cheese making and its relationship to Erie Canal and New York State during the 19th century.

The best part of our day was a ride on a portion of the Erie Canal. It was the last scheduled Canal Boat Cruise of the day. We were the only passengers. While the shiny black horses under the guidance of the hogey, Mike, pulled the canal boat along Dale played the autoharp and sang Erie Canal Songs. I wanted the ride to go on forever.