New York's Oldest Canal
Throughout the eighteenth century the Mohawk River was part of a navigation corridor across what was to become New York State, and no doubt for Native inhabitants for thousands of years before. By this corridor one could traverse, in small boats, the mountain barrier separating the Atlantic coastal waters from the Great Lakes. Departing Albany on the Upper Hudson, one traveled by land to Schenectady and there entered the Mohawk, sailing up that river to Fort Stanwix (Rome). There the Great Carrying Place, a land road of about one mile, brought one to the shallows of Wood Creek west of the city. One then navigated down Wood Creek to Oneida Lake, then through the Oneida River and Oswego River to Fort Ontario (Oswego) on Lake Ontario.
Details of this network of interconnected waterways crossing the region that would later become New York State were captured on a number of eighteenth century British maps.
Early in the nineteenth century water travel to the Great Lakes was permanently opened to large boats by the completion of the Erie Canal, which provided a direct route from the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo, by-passing the twisting and shallow waters of the Mohawk and closing an era of natural river navigation in New York forever. The opening of the Grand Canal in 1825 represents, for most people, the beginning of New York's canal era.
But the age of artificial waterways really began decades before, when the works of Philip Schuyler's Western Inland Lock Navigation Company (1792-1820) were constructed.
Bypassing rapids and obstructions in the Mohawk by the construction of several short canals, complete with dams and locks, and improving navigation on Wood Creek by clearing and realigning the channel and installing several locks, these works may be regarded either as the terminal phase of river navigation or the true beginning of the canal era in New York.
Evidence has now come to light, however, that over a half century earlier, in 1730, the Mohawk River was the site of a modest, but nonetheless significant, "canal" project - the earliest artificial waterway in New York State and one of the earliest in North America.
Adapted from: Lord, Philip L. Jr., "The Neck on Mohawcks River - New York's First Canal", The Canal Society of New York State, 1993.