Erie Canal Village

A packet boat waits for riders at Rome's historic Erie Canal Village, a must stop for any canal enthusiast!

Looking for the 

Erie Canal

The Journey Continues

The Noses

"The Noses"
form a narrow gap in the Mohawk Valley between Canajoharie and Fultonville. This photo shows the NY Thruway in winter, with the river itself barely visible in the background. On a relief map of the eastern United States, this appears as a green (low-elevation) ribbon, the only such gap in the Appalachians.

Geography is NOT an indoor sport! Get out on the Canal!


Physical Geography

Human Geography

Regions of NYS

BONUS Sections!


Fort Stanwix
A cannon guards the stockage around Fort Stanwix in Rome. It sits near the confluence of the Black River Canal with the Old Erie Canal. Both canals are filled in as city roadways today.

Lock 18

Locking through the Herkimer Lock (#18) on the Lil' Diamond, a public touring boat run by Captain jerry Gertz of the Erie Canal Cruise Line.

Fort Herkimer Church
The old Herkimer Church and graveyard is found in Fort Herkimer on Rte. 5S between Mohawk and Little Falls. A lock from the Enlarged Erie is found nearby, and an interpretive center is currently being built there.

Little Falls

Old Lock 36 (from the Enlarged Erie) still stands on the south side of the Mohawk River near Little Falls. In the distance is modern lift  Lock 17, the highest on the Erie Canal today.

Schoharie Aqueduct
The Schoharie Aqueduct carried the Enlarged Erie over the creek of the same name. Locks and channels from both old canals can also be found  in Schoharie Crossing State Historic Park.

Stockade District

Schenectady's historic Stockade District, sits next to the south bank of the Mohawk River. It was first settled by the Dutch in the late 1600s.


Aqueduct Park marks the place where the Old Erie Canal crossed the Mohawk River from this side to the north bank at Rexford. The aqueduct was over one thousand feet long, but it no longer stands. The Barge Canal uses the river bed itself.

Whipple Bridge

The old Whipple Truss Bridge crosses an abandoned but watered stretch of the Enlarged Erie near Vischer's Ferry. It is one of the oldest bridges still standing from the golden years of the canal.

Old Cohoes Lock

One of the most challenging barriers in the Mohawk Valley is the Cohoes Falls. Today, the canal takes a route north of the river, with the Waterford Flight of Five Locks. The old canal used a series of 27 locks between Schenectady and the Hudson. One of them is shown above (off of Mohawk St. in Cohoes).

Albany Port

An exhibit in the Albany Heritage Visitor Center shows the bustling Port of Albany in the early 1800s. Steamboats soon replaced sailing vessels on the Hudson River, many of them towing smaller canal boats down to New York Harbor.

The Mohawk Valley Section

When you approach Rome, you enter the Mohawk Valley. This historic river cuts the only near-sea level route through the uplands of the Appalachian Region. The river, however, is not retro-fitted for easy transportation, since it drops over three hundred feet before reaching the Hudson River at Waterford (north of Albany). It also has frequent periods of time when it floods and when it is nearly dry. But, it beats any alternative anywhere on the East Coast, by far!

When Clinton's Ditch was constructed here in the 1820s, a separate channel (only four feet deep) was dug next to the river, but never in its bed. For most of the route it was on the south side of the Mohawk, but crossed to the north side at Rexford on a 1100-foot long aqueduct, and then back to the south side near Crescent on a second aqueduct. Then the canal went around the falls at Cohoes down to Albany. This was one of the most challenging sections of the canal to construct, and it was one of the last to open. (The modern "Barge Canal" sits, on the other hand mostly in the Mohawk River itself. A series of dams and locks keep it navigable between May and November. More about that later).

The section in the vicinity of Rome was much easier to build, since the land was flat and mostly made of loose glacial deposits. Therefore, the canal construction began here on July 4, 1817 with appropriate hoopla. (By 1820 the middle section from Montezuma to Utica was in operation). You can visit the approximate location where the digging began at the Erie Canal Village just west of the City of Rome.

You want to give yourself a couple of hours to visit this important living museum of the canal. Not only is there a piece of the old canal here, but you can also ride on it in a horse-pulled packet boat, which is very leisurely, as it was in DeWitt Clinton's time. There are many displays on the canal's history and a working 19th-century "village".

If you follow Rte. 49 into the city proper, you will be on Erie Blvd., which was once the bed of the canal. Watch for the signs for Fort Stanwix National Historic Park. It sits near the point where the abandoned Black River Canal met the Erie. This was one of the branch (or lateral) canals that connected other parts of the state to the main line. The park itself is definitely worth visiting. The clock is turned back to 1777 when the fort was under seige by the British. The fort held, and the Redcoats returned to Canada. This victory was a precursor to the major American triumph at Saratoga the following autumn. Why was Fort Stanwix so important? It guarded the divide between the Mohawk River and nearby Wood Creek, which flows into Oneida Lake. In other words, it controlled the road to the west. So, it is no accident that the Erie Canal was later built along this route.

From Rome, the Old Erie went in a southeasterly direction through Oriskany, Whitesboro, Yorkville, and Utica, roughly parallel to Rte. 69. (The new canal is in a deeper channel next to the Mohawk River). Look for the bridge that sits on the old aqueduct in Oriskany. Near this village is the monument for the Battle of Oriskany, also fought in 1777. It was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the American Revolution, where American "Patriots" fought American "Tories," and Iroquois nations also fought each other. It was one of the bitterest conflicts in the war.

The modern canal continues down the valley in a separate channel from the natural river. At Frankfort the two merge. With the exception of a short stretch near Herkimer, the Mohawk River is controlled by dams and locks. As for the old canal, there are a few reminders of its course along the south bank of the river, but it is mostly overgrown today.

If you follow Routes 5S and 167, you will arrive in Little Falls. As the name suggests, the Mohawk tumbles down a cascade of around forty feet. Before the Ice Age, this was a divide. One river flowed eastward in a similar course to the modern river. The other one flowed toward Rome and Oswego. But meltwaters from the dying glacier changed that, blasting a channel through the divide. You can still see reminders of the flood. Look for huge potholes on Moss Island, just across the river from Little Falls village. This huge lift Lock 17 is also found there, on the south side of the island, which you should definitely see.

In a sense the Erie Canal was born here in Little Falls. In 1797, the Western Inland Navigation Company built small locks around the falls, helping navigation in the valley. But they were only a band-aid, and visionaries like Jesse Hawley, Governeur Morris, and later DeWitt Clinton, proposed building a canal across the entire state. One of the locks of that canal can be viewed on West Main Street in the village itself. While in Little Falls, visit Canal Place, next to the cascades on South Ann Street. The old structure used to be a mill powered by the falls. Today, it is a complex of shops and cafes.

Take Rte. 169 out of the village. After crossing the bridge, look for the sign for Lock 17 and Moss Island. Turn hard right and drive into a small parking area. Nearby along the cliffs are locks from the Enlarged Erie. Of course, you can walk along the modern lock chamber and explore the island to see the potholes close up. It's a great place for a picnic lunch.

Return to Rte. 169. Turn right and drive until you reach the intersection of Route 5S. Turn left and continue the journey east. There are little hints here and there of the abandoned canal along this route. The highway passes through canal towns of Fort Plain and Canajoharie. Look for evidences that the old canal went through these towns. On the outskirts of both villages are Lock 14 and 15, controlled by dams on the river. A few miles beyond Canajoharie the valley narrows again. Two cliffs emerge, the "Noses." Here, the river, the old canal bed, the Thruway, and the Conrail tracks are squeezed in a narrow gap, another critical "choke point" on the canal route. (See photo at the top of the page).

Route 5S follows the river through Fultonville. Its twin, Fonda, is on the north side of the Mohawk. Then, around six more miles downstream, the road crosses Schoharie Creek. Turn left into the village of Fort Hunter. Follow the signs to Schoharie Crossing State Historic Park. First, you should visit the little museum. Look at the exhibits describing the history of this place. Ask for a brochure that maps out the important sites in the park. Most obvious is the famous Roman arch aqueduct, that once carried the Enlarged Erie Canal over Schoharie Creek. If you have a boat or a canoe, you can get a closer look. What makes this place special are the remains of both of the old canals, including locks. Originally, the first canal (Clinton's Ditch) crossed behind a dam, which proved dangerous, especially after flooding. Take time to hike to the different landmarks. If you drive down to the river, you can also visit modern Lock 12.

Return to Route 5S outside of town. Notice how the cliffs of the Heldeberg Escarpment close in on your right. You will leave the river temporarily, but you will return as you enter South Amsterdam. The City of Amsterdam is across the river. Also along the old canal route are the villages of Pattersonville and Rotterdam Junction. Drive on the side streets of both towns. What evidences can you find that the old ditch ran through there?

The highway merges with I-890 a few miles down river. Take it into Schenectady, taking Exit 4C. Follow Erie Blvd. and Washington Ave. into the historic Stockade District. Many of the old homes here go back to colonial times, including many that were built during the golden years of the canal, just a couple of blocks away. A good place to start is the Schenectady County Historical Society Museum at 32 Washington Street. Get a map of the district there, and explore! Note that you are in a wedge between the Mohawk River to your north, and the old canl bed on Erie Blvd. to your south. What is the geographic significance of that?

Return to Erie Blvd. and go east, a right turn. Soon you will see the signs for the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway. If you follow this route, you will very closely parallel the old Erie Canal all the way down to the Hudson River. At first you leave the city of Schenectady along the south bank of the river. Soon the street name changes to Aqueduct Road. Just before the end of that road is Aqueduct Park. Stop there to see where the canal crossed the river over a 1100 foot water bridge, which, alas, is no longer standing. A map on the signboard will give you an idea of its route. Turn left as you leave the park and take the bridge over the Mohawk to Rexford. The byway immediately turns right on to Riverview Rd. You will climb up a hill to a bluff overlooking the river. The view here is very spectacular, although you will need to park on the side of the road, so be aware of traffic.

The road eastward stays close to the north shore of the Mohawk. You will soon see a water filled ditch on your right, the remains of the old canal. After passing through the quaint hamlet of Vischer's Ferry, you will find a small park with an iron bridge, the Whipple Truss Bridge. It dates back to 1862, and it still crosses the Enlarged Erie Canal. A short distance further down the road is the site of the Clute's Dry Dock, where boats were repaired. Several miles later, in the Town of Half Moon, you will reach the crossroads of Crescent. It is located on a sharp bend in the river, hence its name. The byway crosses the Mohawk again (on Rte. 9), just as the old canal once did, returning to the south bank. (If you stay on the north side, you will enter Waterford and the modern canal.) A quick left puts you on Cohoes-Crescent Road, with the old canal on your right and the Mohawk River on your left. Look for the twin dams that produce slack water for the modern canal, before it separates from the river in nearby Waterford.

The 19th century canals stayed on the south side of the river until meeting the Hudson in Watervliet. There are a couple remains of locks in Cohoes just off of Mohawk Avenue (part of the scenic byway). Look for School Street on the left. Park the car and view the Cohoes Falls. Unless you are there in early spring or during a flood, there won't be much water, since most of it is diverted for hydropower. But in any case, it should be obvious that this was a major obstacle to water commerce, and that bypassing it was a miraculous achievement in 1823.

If you continue a few more blocks down Mohawk Ave., you will pass by Harmony Mills, which was a major textile complex in the 1800s. Turn left on to Saratoga Avenue and cross the river to Waterford. Immediately after the bridge turn into Museum Lane, and visit the Waterford Historical Museum. Here a some good exhibits on the history of the canal in this crossroads community. This is where the Champlain Canal met the Erie. (The old Champlain is still used to water the modern canal today). They can direct you to the modern locks nearby, the famous Flight of Five (#2-6). Just below the first of these locks is the Waterford Visitor Center, the official entry point of the Erie Canal today.

Next, you should cross the Hudson River to visit historic Troy, the home of the original Uncle Sam. Make sure you visit RiverSpark, the visitor center for the "Collar City." You will learn about the industries of the past, stimulated by water power and the transportation corridor created by the canals. On the south edge of the city is the federal Lock #1, more commonly referred to as the "Troy Lock." You can go through this lock if you take the cruise on Dutch Apple lines.

Of course, the eastern terminus was at Albany, the Capital City of New York. You should end your Erie Canal journey with a visit here. Especially relevant is the Albany Heritage Visitor Center, with some nice exhibits on Albany's history as a port.

Click on the arrow to learn about some of the branch (or lateral) canals that connect to the main line Erie.

Next Page

Click here to back to the Main Erie Canal Page!

Cohoes Falls

 Lock 2
Cohoes Falls in winter. This is a major barrier in transportation from the nearby Hudson River west. The Old Erie had a channel to the left of this photo using 27 locks. The modern canal's channel is on the other side of the river.
The official entrance to the modern Erie Canal is at Lock 2 in Waterford. (Lock 1 or the "Troy Lock" is on the Hudson River). It is the first of the "Flight of Five" Locks that raise boats nearly 200 feet, avoiding falls in the Mohawk River.
Historic River Street in Troy on the east side of the Hudson River. The industrial "Collar City"  prospered during the golden years of the canal.

To learn more about New York Geography visit these three
sections of this website....

Ellis Island
Taughannock Falls

Human Geography
Physical Geography
Economic Geography

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