Wednesday, October 12, 2011

the Erie Canal Changes Everything

Here is a 1903 map of the Erie Canal System. As you can see, Troy is prominent. That's where the canal makes a 90 degree turn. Troy was where Ellsworth had his first job, and his newspaper/train job went between Troy and Mechanicville. Going west, Schenectady is the next big town.

Between Troy and Schenectady are the smaller towns of Malta and Mechanicville, as well as Stillwater, home of the "Black Plumed Rifleman." To the north are the towns of Balston Spa and Saratoga Springs. None of these towns would be worth anything if not for the Canal. It not only brought goods from the West to the East and back, but people came as well. These people might ride part way, from New York City to Saratoga Springs, for instance. Canal boats were very flat and had no facilities for cooking or sleeping, so inns and eating establishments sprang up all along the Canal.

Stores selling sundries, livery stables which rented both horses and carriages, banks, clothing stores, bakeries, ice cream stands--anything at all that anyone might wish (yes, anything! including evening entertainments and alcohol) was available along the path of the Erie Canal. Mr. Ellsworth, Elmer's father, often got fresh oysters from the Canal boats and sold them in town. Every little place vied with those surrounding it for charm and prosperity. Not a bad way of life, I think.

EE grew up here, walking the towpaths, looking at the odd and interesting people who came off the flat Canal boats, then rented carriages to ferry their belongings and themselves to the waters in Saratoga and Balston.

By the time he was a young man, the railroad was following the line of the Canal. At this time, the railroad was used mainly for passenger travel. Annually, the amount of freight increased, but trains carried people more than anything else. As miraculous as the Canal was, the train was even more so. Change was in the air, and for the first time, young men could dream of another kind of life other than the family farm. Elmer Ellsworth was not alone in his dreaming.

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