Sand Lot Boy Capital - Mohawk
Region 3


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Mohawk in Winter

1. The Mohawk River is mostly frozen over in winter, which of course means that the Erie Canal is seasonal. Photo taken near Scotia.

2. Schoharie Crossing is the site of an Erie Canal aqueduct that took the canal over Schoharie Creek. Only some of the stone arches of the aqueduct remain standing today.

Big Nose

4. The Noses are two imposing hills on either side of the Mohawk River (and the NYS Thruway). It is the only sea-level water route through the Allegheny Plateau.

Little Falls Lock

 5. Lock 17 in Little Falls, is one of the highest lift locks in the world. The split picture shows the lock both empty and full. (see the description at the right).

Fort Stanwix

7. Fort Stanwix National Historic Park was reconstructed for the bicentenniel in 1976. Here the American army and native allies withstood a siege by British troops in 1777. That kept Burgoyne isolated, and he sur- rendered in Saratoga that October.

Erie Canal Village
 7. The Erie Canal Village, near Rome, sits on the original Clinton's Ditch. The packet boat in the foreground is for canal rides, pulled by horses.

Civil War Days

Civil War Days in Peterboro, the home of Gerrit Smith (see right). It was considered to be the first truly integrated town in the nation.

 Farmers' Museum

9. Farmers' Museum in Coopers- town: It is one of the oldest "living museums" in the country. Here you can see displays and demonstrations about life in the Homespun Era (early 1800s).

Secret Caverns

11. Secret Caverns is one of several known caves on the Cobleskill Plateau. The limestone rocks beneath the surface are constantly being eroded by ground water on its journey down to the Mohawk Valley far below.

John Boyd Thatcher State Park

11. John Boyd Thatcher State Park sits on the Helder- berg 
Escarpment southwest of Albany. Below is the glacially scoured valley of the Mohawk River.

Capital - Mohawk Region 2: 

The Geography of the Pathway West

Welcome to the second part of the geographic journey through the Capital-Mohawk Region! You have been already be introduced to the Capital District of Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga. The trip continues up the corridor leading westward, the Mohawk River Valley.

As rivers go, it is not particularly impressive. It will never be confused with the Mississippi, or for that matter, even with the Hudson, its parent stream. The Mohawk, however, does something that no other American river does; it provides a low-elevation route through the uplands toward the Great Lakes Basin. A look at any relief map of the Eastern United States (see the Human Geography section), shows the Mohawk Valley as a thin ribbon of green between the Adirondacks (to the north) and the Appalachian Plateau (to the south). It is along this route that the Erie Canal was built. During the 19th century, many small industrial cities were also built, owing their existence to hydropower from the river's many small waterfalls and rapids. The rural countryside in the uplands south of the valley (along Rte. 20) are also tied economically and culturally to the Mohawk. Our little trip will investigate them both.


1. Your trip through Capital Land ended in Schenectady. Cross the Mohawk River, and immediately pick up NY Route 5 in Scotia. Travel west with the Mohawk River on your left. Get a physical sense of the valley. It is deeper and wider than should be expected for a river of this stature. Much of the erosion in this valley took place at the end of the Ice Age. As the glaciers receded, meltwater poured down this valley. The power of this "super-Mohawk" changed the character of the valley forever.

You will pass through or near several Mohawk Valley villages and small cities: Amsterdam, Johnstown, Gloversville.  They were at one time the center of a booming industrial center, the home to carpet and clothing factories. Now most of these industries are gone, and the downtown districts show the economic strain.

QUESTION: Take a short survey of the factories in Amsterdam. How many are vacant? For those in operation, do they have new uses? If so, what kinds of businesses survive here?

A quick aside about Johnstown, which is about ten miles north of the Valley. It was first settled by Sir William Johnson, the British "ambassador" to the Mohawk people. His well-preserved home is a state historic site, and worth a visit.

2. Cross the Mohawk River on Route 30. Take Route 5S to Fort Hunter. The Mohawk River is now "canalized." Rapids are dammed, and locks go around them. However, the original Erie Canal was in a ditch that paralleled the river. Few remnants of the original canal remain, but here in Fort Hunter is Schoharie Crossing Park. Here you will see what is left of the original Clinton's Ditch, and part of the great Schoharie Aqueduct that took the canal over north-flowing Schoharie Creek, one of the Mohawk's most important tributaries. There is a visitor center with some interesting displays.  Note that the creek was originally dammed so the canal boats could cross at river level. Why was the aqueduct constructed at a later date? Allow yourself time to walk around to see some of the outdoor exhibits.

3. Get back on Route 5S going westward (upstream, if you prefer).  Shortly, you will arrive in Auriesville, the home of an unexpected tourist attraction, the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs.  This site commemorates the Jesuits priests who were killed by the Mohawks in the 17th century. This is also the birthplace of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who was converted to Catholicism despite opposition from her own people. There is a strong movement in the Church to have her canonized, and that is currently pending. (There is a another shrine for Tekakwitha across the river in Fonda).

Remember that this site is considered sacred ground, so as you stroll around the shrine be respectful of those who are here to worship.

QUESTION: The theme of conflict is reoccurring in the Mohawk Valley. What was the cultural clash between the Mohawk people and the French Jesuits that led to their martyrdom?

4. Resume your westward trek, with the Mohawk on your right. Soon you will pass through one of the narrowest points in the valley, "The Noses." This fault block of ancient rock would have been a major obtacle to travel had the river not cut a path through it. Note that there are cliffs on both sides of the river (Big Nose and Little Nose) and that all highways and the railroad hug the river at this point.
Soon you will enter the small city of Canajoharie, "The Place of the Boiling Pot." A small stream that flows through town has carved out potholes where the water churns, which is the derivation of the name.
As you drive (and hopefully walk) around the town, notice how the construction must fit the physical geography. Downtown is in the flats, as is the Beech Nut complex along the river itself. Much of the residential areas and built along the escarpment.

5. Your next stop should be in Little Falls, around 12 miles west of Canajoharie. Just before you cross the Mohawk to enter Little Falls, there is a canal park on the left side of the bridge. Drive up the roadway and park. You are at the site where the Erie Canal concept was born. At this barrier on the Mohawk River, at the end of the 18th century, some small locks were built by the Western Inland Navigation Company. This greatly improved boat travel on the river, but it wasn't until Clinton's Ditch was built twenty-five years later, that commerce really boomed.
Today, the canal goes through two major locks near Little Falls. You can visit Lock 17 here, and if you are lucky, a boat will pass through the lock while you are there. It is an impressive site. (The photo at the right shows the lock both full and empty).
Walk over the lockgate and explore Moss Island, which lies between the artificial waterway and the river itself. Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes on, since the rocks might be slippery. On the river side of the island are some very interesting rock formations. They were carved by the flood waters of the melting glaciers at the end of the Ice Age. They give testimony to the erosive power of that proto-Mohawk River. Here at Little Falls, there once was a divide between the east-flowing Mohawk and a second river flowing towards Oswego. The meltwaters cut through that divide, so the Mohawk now extends beyond Rome. The result was some tricky waterfalls on the river but no divide.

QUESTION: Do you think that 19th century technology could have created a canal that would have gone over such a divide? How did this Ice Age event change the fortunes of the Mohawk Valley and the rest of the state, too?

6. I suggest that you go into Little Falls village and then pick up NY Route 5, going west. Now the river as on your left. This will lead you to Herkimer. If you'd like a side trip at this point, take Rte. 28 North around eight miles to the Herkimer Diamond Mines.  Crystals  collected in the pockets in the rock formations here, creating the "diamonds." They are actually clear quartz crystals. For an admission fee you can prospect for the diamonds, or you can just buy a souvenir in the gift shop.
Around another ten miles from Herkimer you enter the largest city in the upper Mohawk Valley, Utica. The settlement began because the river could be forded here. The building of the canal spurred industry here, especially woolen mills. Those "glory days" are gone, and Utica, like many Upstate cities, struggles to bring more employment opportunities for its citizens. Today, Utica is probably best known for the F.X. Matt Brewery, featuring Saranac Beer. Our senior readers might also remember the classic Utica Club ads, featuring Fritz and Dooley. (The brewery is open for tours and tastings).

7. For geographic purposes, a more extensive visit to nearby Rome is a must. Take Route 49 West out of Utica. The city sits on the portage between the Mohawk-Hudson watershed, and the Oneida-Lake Ontario watershed. In the days of the beaver trade, Europeans and Native Americans portaged here on their way westward. Of course, control of this stategic place was crucial in colonial times. The British built Fort Stanwix here, and it was a proud stronghold for the American rebels during the Revolution. In 1777 it withstood a seige by Barry St. Leger and his Iroquois allies. If it had fallen, Burgoyne would probably have been successful in his attempt to conquer New York State. (Instead he surrendered at Saratoga, which you know, if you visiting the previous section of this website).
The fort (now a national monument) sits in the middle of Rome, and is easy to find. It was reconstructed as part of the Bicentenniel celebration in 1976. As you can see in the picture on the left, costumed interpreters make your visit both informative and enjoyable. They are locked in 1777, so don't waste your time asking them any modern questions. Play along!

After leaving the fort, continue a little fartherwestward on Rte. 46/49 and visit the Erie Canal Village. This is the "old Erie" canal; in fact, it is the starting point. It was near here on July 4, 1817 that construction began. (Why here? The middle section between here and Syracuse is the easiest to dig. There were no locks to construct). Your admission to this recreated village includes a packet boat ride (see photo on the right), pulled by horses, and a walk through the 19th century buildings. This is probably one of the best resources about the Erie Canal available to the public. It is a site that must be visited!

QUESTION: The modern "Barge Canal" has a route to the north of here, from Rome to Oneida Lake, and then it takes the Seneca River westward into the Finger Lakes Region. Why do you think this "old" route was abandoned?


You can jump on the New York State Thruway and return to the Capital Distict at this point. Or you continue west into Central New York, or go north out of Rome to the Adirondacks and the Seaway Regions. For those going eastward, it is highly recommended that you take a more southerly route, following mostly US Route 20. This will take you out of the Mohawk Valley into the highlands that gradually merge with the Catskills to the southeast. It is not only a scenic route, but an historic one. In the early 19th century, this was the Great Western Turnpike that predated the Erie Canal. Some of the oldest Upstate communities can be found here, especially in north-south trending valleys.

8. You can get to Rte. 20 by taking NY Rte. 46 south. This will take you through Oneida, home to the famous community founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848. This experiment in group living evidentually fell apart, but their handicraft remains with silverware made by Oneida, Ltd. You can still visit the Mansion House, where Noyes' descendants still live. Nearby is the small Oneida Nation reservation, one of the six nations that comprises the Haudenosaunee confederacy. Most people recognize this landmark by the Turning Stone Casino, which is one of the top tourist attractions in the state. Route 46 eventually reaches US Rte. 20 just outside the small Madison County village of Bouckville.

Side Trip! Instead of driving south on Rte. 46 all the way to Bouckville, take a short but historic side trip to the little hamlet of Peterboro, home of the great abolitionist and philanthropist, Gerrit Smith. When you get to the village of Munnsville, turn right on to Williams Road, which turns into Peterboro Rd., leading right into the village green. Despite its isolation, Gerrit Smith hosted some of the leading reformers and revolutionaries of his time here: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, just to name a few.
Smith's palacial home burned down in the 1930's, but his land office is still standing, and open for visitation by appointment. In the Smithfield Community Center, the citizens of Peterboro, along with Colgate University and SUNY Morrisville, are creating the National Abolition Hall of Fame, with the first nominations due in October 2005.

QUESTION: Do you think Peterboro is a good choice for this abolitionist shrine? What did this small town's location have to do with its role in this very radical movement of the 19th century?

Pictured at right: Portrait of Gerrit Smith and the Smithfield Community Center, the future home of the National Abolition Hall of Fame. It was the site of the first meeting of NY Anti-Slavery Society in 1835 when it was a Presbyterian Church. (Photo compliments of Dot Willsey of NAHOF).
Gerrit Smith
Smithfield Community Center

9. As you drive eastward on US Route 20, the landscape should be quick different than your trip through the Mohawk Valley, just twenty miles to the north. You in the uplands, a land greatly modified by glacial erosion, resembling in many ways the Finger Lakes Region to the west. North-south trending valleys were deepened and widened into troughs by the moving ice sheets. Villages like Morrisville sit in such troughs. You will travel into and out of many such troughs of varying sizes. A few miles past Richfield Springs is Route 80. Turn right, heading south. The road takes you along historic Otsego Lake, "Glimmerglass" of James Fenimore Cooper fame. It is a lake similar in origin to the Finger Lakes, but it drains southward into the Susquehanna watershed, instead of north into the Great Lakes. At the south end of the lake is the most famous village in the state, Cooperstown, home to three great museums: Fenimore House Museum, Farmers Museum, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame (photo of the "Sandlot Boy" is at the top of the page).  All three museums are worth visiting. The Fenimore House specializes in folk art; the Farmers Museum reenacts life in rural New York during the Homespun Era; and, of course, the National Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the history of our "national pastime." It depends on your personal tastes where you devote your time. Definitely you should walk the village streets, observing the types of businesses you find there as well as the other tourists. You should also visit Doubleday Field, where the first organized game of baseball reportly was played. It is named after Abner Doubleday, the Civil War general who is often refuted to the be the sport's inventor.

QUESTION: Is Cooperstown deserving of this distinction as the home of baseball? Or perhaps, since the Hall of Fame is now an old American institution, is that question moot?

10. Leave Cooperstown on Susquehanna Avenue, which leads you eventually to Route 166. Go north following yet another trough to Cherry Valley, a very attractive village, made famous by a terrible "massacre" during the French and Indian War. (This testifies to the long history of this region). This road will take you back to US Rte. 20. Turn right (east). You will pass through Sharon Springs, once the home to some prosperous spas. This is a region with some very interesting geology, because a few miles later, you will see signs for some underground tourist attractions: Howes Caverns and Secret Caverns. Most visitors choose the former, since it has more spectacular cave formations and a boat ride too, but Secret Caverns has its own folksy charm. In fact, the art work on display is reminescent of Haight-Asbury in 1967. The tours are more casual as well.
The subterreanean limestone formations are found all over this plateau. It is the limesone that actually holds the plateau "up".

11. Follow Caverns Road eastward to Central Bridge. You are now in the valley of Schoharie Creek (the same stream that the aqueduct crosses in Fort Hunter). This stream is "underfit." It is not large enough to have eroded this valley alone. Of course, the culprit as always is glacial erosion during the ice age. This makes the valley a trough.
Take Route 30A south through the village.  A few miles later this road ends at Route 30. Turn right and drive south to the village of Schoharie.  Look for the signs leading the Old Stone Fort. This garrison protected the settlers during the American Revolution. In 1780 the British and their Mohawk allies attacked the Schoharie Valley. They burned down many farms, but the fort held.

QUESTION: What was the attraction of this valley during such turbulent times? Why would settlers come here despite being almost unprotected on the frontier?

Go back into downtown Schoharie and turn right on to Route 443. This will take you out of the Schoharie Valley. At the hamlet of East Byrne, turn left onto Route 157. The road meanders its way through the uplands. Around ten miles later you arrive in John Boyd Thatcher State Park, which boats one of the more dramatic vistas in Upstate New York.

Thatcher Park sits on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment, which runs along the southern edge of the Mohawk Valley. Supported by resistant limestone, the plateau sits like a sentintel above the Capital District. Park your car in one of the lots. You get a nice view just from the edge of the cliff, but to experience the landscape more completely, take the Indian Ladder Geologic Trail, which snakes its way down the escarpment. Not only are you following in the footsteps of the Native Americans who once lived here, but you are also walking through layers of fossiliferous rocks. The trilobites and brachipods in these rocks testify to its marine origin. Around 450 million years ago, this was the bottom of an ancient ocean.

FINAL QUESTION: As you take Route 157 back toward Albany, think about the geography of this important region in New York State. How did both the Mohawk Valley and the Route 20 corridor serve as a pathway west in the early days of our nation?

Now that you have completed your tour of the Capital-Mohawk
, plan a visit of these regions: Adirondacks, Central New York, or the Hudson Valley.
Click on the links below:


  Central NY

Hudson Valley

Central New York
Hudson Valley

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