Cohoes Falls was
a major barrier to commerce moving west on the Mohawk River. This problem
was solved with the construction of the Erie Canal around the falls. Hydro
power from the Cohoes Falls were used to power textile factories, and they
generate electricity today (which is why most of the river bed is dry).
James Fenimore Cooper
statue in the center of the village that bears his family name.
One of his favorite novels, Glimmerglass, takes place on nearby Otsego
Lake. Of couse, Cooperstown is most commonly associated with baseball, but
the village easily predates the National Pastime.
Capital - Mohawk Region:
The Geography of the Pathway
New York's Capital and Mohawk Region
sits at the "hub" of the state. It is here that water transportation (and
rail and superhighways) turns from northward to westward. It was here
that the Dutch established Fort Orange in 1624 several years before they
made that infamous purchase of Manhattan Island for $24. This is
where the Hudson River is no longer navigable for large ships, i.e. it
is a "normal" river, not an estuary as it is to the south of here.
And, of course, flowing in from the west is the Mohawk River, with its
many rapids and waterfalls. It should not be surprising that many of New
York's oldest communities developed here, from Rome and Utica
in the west to Little Falls, Canajoharie, Amsterdam on the Mohawk
itself, and the triple cities of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy
near the confluence of the two rivers.
The first residents of this region, the Mohawk Nation (one of
the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee), knew the stategic significance
of this country. It led to the Fur Belt of the Great Lakes and beyond.
Many wars in the 17th and 18th centuries were fought over the Mohawk Valley.
It was also a battleground between the French and English (who took
the colony from the Dutch in 1664). Then it was the target of General Burgoyne's
invasion from Canada during the American Revolution. It was his defeat
in nearby Saratoga that changed the course of the
war (and world history, too).
Immigrants from all over Europe moved into the Mohawk Valley before
the Revolution. The fertile land near the river, a left-over from the
last Ice Age, encouraged settlement. The Native population was not thrilled
about this incursion into their homeland, and this was the scene of very
bloody conflict in the late 18th century. But after the American victory,
the Mohawk and Oneida peoples of the valley were forced into reservations
in other parts of the state, or in Canada. More settlers moved into the
vacuum, especially from New England.
Transportation remained a problem.
Even though the Mohawk River is only a few hundred feet above sea level,
a ribbon of green on relief maps between the Adirondacks and the Catskills,
it still has its barriers. The solution, of course, was the construction
of the Erie Canal from 1817 to 1825. The original canal (known
commonly as "Clinton's Ditch") paralleled the Mohawk River from Rome
to Albany. There were serious engineering problems that needed
to be overcome. One was at Little Falls, where the Mohawk is forced
through a narrow channel and a drop of over forty feet. At Schoharie
Crossing and at Rexford the canal had to be "bridged" over
the river by aqueducts, the ruins of which still remain today. The most
challenging obstacle, however was the falls at Cohoes. Between Schenectady
and Albany there were 33 locks to circumvent this barrier.
The canal was an instant success. Albany was the eastern terminus
of the canal where it joined the Hudson. Most of the nation's commerce
from the west came through Albany. Other cities and towns used the water
power from the Mohawk and became part of America's first industrial complex.
Rugs were made in Amsterdam, shirt collars in Troy, and Schenectady became
the "Electric City". Unfortunately, most of these industries are no
longer in existance, and the Mohawk-Capital Region suffers from declining
population and unemployment. Many towns look like they never got out
of the 19th century. (This old world look is now being exploited for
tourism in several historic districts).
Much of the economy today is centered around government, since Albany
is the state capital. Many of the residents of the lower Mohawk Valley either
work for the state bureaucracy, or they are in businesses depending
on it. Even though the industrial base has declined, it is still in existence,
creating an interesting mixture of abandoned buildings and working factories.
We should not dismiss the Capital and Mohawk Region as just another part
of the "Rust Belt." As the Pathway West, its significance to development
of New York State and much of the rest of the nation needs more emphasis.
This is not just a statement of the past, but our present and future,
This will be the center of our focus as we tour the region.
If you are going to travel through the Capital-Mohawk
Region, then follow this link to find out "What
You Should See."
Go to the next section!