Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crossing the Schoharie in 1831

Creek Crossing: 1831

       In the early years of the Erie Canal, the allure and inspiration of canal travel was overwhelming for many and required for some.  The Traveller’s Pocket Directory and Strangers Guide; Exhibiting Distances on the Erie Canal and Stage Routes in the State of New-York, was published in 1831 as a travel guide for those wishing to make that journey.  Within its pages are descriptions of the many communities and settlements along the artificial river. 

   In 1978 this work was republished by John P. Papp who “gratefully acknowledge[d] the loan of the original booklet by Don Keefer” – indicating Keefer was a “noted historical authority from Glenville, New York.”  Additional information and materials for the reprint came from the support of the New York State Library.  Of note to those interested in Schoharie Crossing and the original method of crossing the creek prior to construction of the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct are the details on page 17 of that booklet.

The entry is as follows:

“Schoharie Creek.  The Canal crosses this creek by means of a guard lock on each side, the gates of which are closed, when the water is higher in the creek than the level of the canal, in order to prevent it from rushing into the Canal and tearing away the embankments.  There is a narrow bridge which the horses walk over, and the boat is taken across in the following ingenious manner.  On each side of the creek there is a horizontal wheel, around which a rope is drawn, and the ends fastened together; there is a horizontal shaft (projecting from the upright shaft of one of the wheels), to which a horse is attached.  When a boat arrives at the creek it is fastened to this rope the horse at the wheel is started, and the boat drawn directly across into the opposite lock.  The ruins of Fort Hunter are to be seen near the mouth of the creek.  The Indian Church called Queen Anne’s Chapel is near this point.” 

*Editors Note: This article previously appeared in the Spring 2015 Friends Newsletter.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

E-Ri-E with Tom & Cosby!

Cosby Gibson and Tom Staudle have developed a great Erie Canal Music Program! 

They play some terrific songs along with giving some narration between them to put the music into a historical context and provide facts about the vibrant waterway.  This program brings to life the soul of that ol'Canal!

Check out this video of them performing E-Ri-E Canal.

To find out more about Cosby & Tom, click here:  

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Queen Anne’s Chapel & the Dam Connection

Queen Anne’s Chapel & the Dam Connection
   In his book, Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley: The Baseball Oracle, the Mohawk Encampment and More, Bob Cudmore writes of St. Ann’s of Port Jackson, an Episcopal Church that was loosely associated with the remnants of Queen Anne’s Chapel when it was established in 1835, that its sanctuary was built in 1837 but by 1848 had entered into decline.  Cudmore notes that the Reverend A.N. Littlejohn had projected that if the congregation was to survive, “it would be on the growing north side of the river in Amsterdam.”
Perry, William Stevens, The bishops of the American church, past and present. Sketches, biographical and bibliographical, of the bishops of the American Church. With a preliminary essay on the historic episcopate and documentary annals of the introduction of the Anglican line of succession into America. New York: The Christian Literature Co, 1897
   Taking a moment to step back, A.N. Littlejohn also had roots to Fort Hunter but through the soil that was turned to make way for the Erie Canal.  Littlejohn was the son of Col. John Littlejohn Jr. and Eleanor Newkirk Littlejohn.  Eleanor was the daughter of Abraham Newkirk who owned a farm on the Glen side of the Schoharie Creek just south of its emptying into the river.  She married John in 1823 and by December of 1824 Abraham Newkirk (A.N) Littlejohn was born. By 1851 a new building was consecrated on the north side of the Mohawk River, and the church became well known for music.  During the mid 1980’s the congregation had renewed ties to its original heritage in Queen Anne’s Chapel.  That church was constructed to accompany the development of Fort Hunter at the confluence of the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River in 1712.  Nearly three hundred years later, St. Anne’s connected to the Tyendinaga Parish of Canada and its Mohawk parishioners whom are descendants of those forced to leave their homeland during the American Revolution.
   In 1845, A.N. Littlejohn obtained his degree from Union College, Schenectady. He was admitted to the diaconate on March 18, 1848 and officiated at St. Ann's Church, and then at St. Andrew's Church in Meriden, Conn..  He became Rector of Christ Church in Springfield, Mass. He was ordained to the priesthood on Nov. 10, 1850. In July 1851 Littlejohn became Rector of St. Paul's Church in New Haven, Conn. He then went to the Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn, NY and received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1868, a new Diocese, the Diocese of Long Island, was created and he was consecrated as its first Bishop on January 27, 1869.  It has been noted that he was “an eloquent lecturer,” and many of his lectures were eventually published.
   A.N. Littlejohn was also a contributor –as he wrote and conducted the commencement prayer – to the opening ceremony for the New York and Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. 
   Dr. A.N. Littlejohn died on August 3, 1901 in Williamstown, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  He was interred in the All Saints Cemetery, Great Neck, Nassau County, New York.

Sources:, The Gutenberg Project Online,, Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley

*Editors Note: This article has previously appeared in the Spring 2017 Newsletter

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Barge Canal: New York’s Patriotic Contribution to WWI

The Barge Canal: New York’s Patriotic Contribution  to WWI

By: Jessica Hojohn* 

On September 30th, 1917, an article from The Sun newspaper proclaims, “In the Barge Canal system the people of the Empire State have created what has been declared to be ‘the most valuable single commercial facility on this continent.’” Originally approved in 1903 as the $101,000,000 Plan, State Engineer and Surveyor Frank M. Williams announced in 1916 that work would be completed in 1918. But on April 6th, 1917, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, the Canal almost saw its demise due to shortages of coal, men, steel, and other materials that were being redirected to the war effort. However, patriotic duty compelled a push to complete the modernized Barge Canal according to schedule; argued to be of the same significance as the Panama Canal, the Barge Canal symbolized New York’s patriotic contribution to the war. New York would serve its wartime duties with the aid and aspirations that the New York State Barge Canal offered.

Despite the significance that the Barge Canal symbolized and the commercial practicality of its existence it could offer, the canal experienced multiple construction obstacles that nearly led to its abandonment; however, patriotic duty had its implications. Men were called to the Front or to other industrial needs and away from construction projects. An article from the New York Tribune reflects on the construction of the Canal in January 1919, stating the massive shortage of men foisted a threat to the canal project. Scarcity of manpower imposed even greater ramifications when the necessities of war pulled resources from the Home Front. Steel was necessary for the construction of a movable dam on the Genesee River; however due to a shortage in steel, canal workmen constructed a temporary wooden dam in its place. Just east on the Genesee River, the steel shortage continued to hinder the construction of a guard lock. Construction on the lock was delayed and finally finished the morning the Canal opened to navigation on May 15th, 1918. Despite overcoming obstacles during construction and opening the Canal on the promised date in the Spring of 1918, the Canal continued to be plagued with difficulties and technicalities. The most prominent restriction to the Canal’s patriotic intention was the lack of boats and barges. In the days leading up to its opening, there were only 400-500 antiquated canal boats. The inability to utilize the Canal to meet wartime needs forced the State to concede to Federal control. 

On April 17th, 1918, with the expectations on the Barge Canal falling short, Director General McAdoo of the Railroad Administration ordered the New York State Barge Canal System be taken over by the Federal Government and demanded that a fleet of barges be constructed. Within days, contracts were let for barge construction and nearly 200 privately-owned canal boats were commandeered. The Federal Government’s annexation, however, was a welcomed circumstance of patriotic duty. In times of war, at least in the first modern war, private enterprise and capital could not meet the economic and material needs a war required. Upon examination, some may even argue that the incorporation of the Canal into the Railroad Administration was a reflection of the dichotomy of the waterways and rails. The coal shortage during the Winter of 1917 is an exemplarily example. Anxiety swept across New York State as it survived the brutally cold winter months and feared what next winter would have in store. Hope came in the form of Superintendent of Public Works, Major General William W. Wotherspoon’s pronouncement that the Barge Canal would alleviate New York State’s apprehension. This announcement put blame on the railroads; with the support of the Federal Fuel Administration and railroad authorities, the shortage of coal in the Winter of 1917 was a consequence of insufficient railroad equipment, rather than increase in demand or decrease in production of coal. The railroads were too expensive and too unreliable; they needed a counterpart. The connections between the canals and the railroads would allow them to function together as opposed to against each other; where the rails fell short, the Canal picked up the slack. In this fashion, the Canal, in spite of ongoing obstacles, would find its way into wartime commerce.

Barges & Tugs Near Waterford, NY 1919
The Canal’s importance for the U.S. war efforts were influenced by Germany’s canals. An article from The Sun in September 1917 illustrated Germany’s waterways. It argues that without its canal system, Germany would not be able to feed and equip its troops. The modernized Barge Canal System would link the Port of New York to the Great Lakes, which in turn opens up to oceanic navigation through the St. Lawrence Seaway and, more importantly, to western wheat fields; wheat capable of feeding troops in Europe. Pennsylvania steel could also be shipped north via rail and then transported to the Canal. Major General Wotherspoon’s demand for barge construction also lent support to the war effort. Within a few weeks, eight barges began construction, four of which were exclusively for iron ore. Major companies operated barges along the Canal, such as the Ore Carrying Corporation, Standard Oil Corporation, and the General Electric Company. The Canal would and did alleviate commercial and transportation difficulties; without its presence and modernization efforts, responsibility would have remained solely on the railroads.

From its conception, the New York State Barge Canal was borne out of the memory of the Erie Canal. However, the first modern war would morph its significance. The symbol of State prosperity became the emblem of New York State’s patriotism. Obstacles that were overcome during construction came to symbolize a progressive and optimistic spirit unique to New York State. The patriotic duty that necessitated its completion would also bring New York State back to the forefront of trade and revitalize competition with the rails. Without the Barge Canal, the country faced the risk of wartime shortages and decreased morale; the Barge Canal helped ensure wartime cohesion and victory abroad.

*Editors Note: This article previously appeared in the Summer 2017 Newsletter.

*Jessica Hojohn is a research intern that is compiling information regarding the NYS Barge Canal System & its engineering during the early 20th century and in particular the role of World War I in the development of strategies to complete as well as the resources that the canal conveyed for the war effort.