Effect of Canal Committee's Report -- Dinner to Governor -- Survey Bill Passed -- Route Described -- Engineering Force Organized -- Second Commerce Convention (1900) Fails to Take Definite Canal Stand -- Canal Planks in Party Platforms of 1900 -- Canal Association of Greater New York Formed -- Activities of Canal Bureau of Buffalo Merchants' Exchange -- Discussions by Engineers -- Report on Preliminary Barge Canal Survey: Routes and Estimates -- Governor's Transmitting Message -- His Recommendation -- Reply by Commerce Convention -- Baffling Situation -- Compromise Measure Defeated in 1901 Legislature -- Law Restricting Capitalization of Transportation Companies Repealed -- Steel Canal Boats Withdrawn -- Need of Terminals Illustrated -- Canal Factions Attempting to Unite -- Commerce Convention of 1901 Favors Thousand-Ton Canal -- Compromise Measure Suggested at Dinner to Governor -- Governor's 1902 Message Proposes Completing Nine-Foot Channel and Building Barge Locks -- 1902 Legislature Fails to Pass Canal Bill -- Legislation Indirectly Affecting Canal Passed -- Review of Situation -- Public Interested in Other Projects -- Canal Planks in 1902 Platforms -- Canal Prominent in Political Campaign -- Question Saved from Becoming Party Issue -- Conference as to Route -- Dinner to New York Editors -- Drafting Canal Bill -- Governor Proposes Lake Ontario Route.

The presentation of the two reports we have just been considering, especially that of the Committee on Canals, made a deep impression on the people of the state. The advocates of the canal were surprised at the magnitude of the proposal and also pleased at the prospect of obtaining a thoroughly modern and ample canal, more even than they had dared to hope for. From the enemies of the canal on the other hand there came a most determined and bitter opposition. This antagonism first showed itself in the legislative fight on a bill to provide funds for making the survey recommended by the Committee. While the sum asked in this bill was not large and the making of the survey did not of itself commit the State to any canal improvement, the opponents seemed to consider that the passage of the bill meant the beginning of a radical change in the canal policy of the State, which would probably result in an enormous expenditure for a new canal of greatly increased size. Accordingly they fought the measure desperately.

It was in January, 1900, that the report of the Committee on Canals gave to the State a definite canal policy -- the desideratum, by the way, which Governor Roosevelt had suggested in his letter of appointment. It was not till April 7, 1903, that the Governor signed the referendum which gave to the people the opportunity of deciding whether the Barge canal should be built. The period between, except for the preliminary survey, was largely one of either legislative battles or of attempts on the part of canal advocates to unite on a single plan of action. It is to this field of activity, then, that we must look for the canal history of these years.

Soon after the presentation of the Canal Committee's report various bills were prepared authorizing canal improvement, but after further consideration and a conference with the Governor these were dropped for the session. It was decided, however, to attempt to secure $200,000 for making the survey proposed by the Committee. Accordingly a bill for this purpose was introduced in the Assembly by Henry W. Hill, chairman of the Assembly canal committee, on March 6, 1900, and in the Senate by Henry Marshall on March 8. Immediately opposition became manifest in both branches of the Legislature. The situation was still further complicated by the introduction in the Assembly on March 7 of a resolution proposing to amend the Constitution so as to enable the State to transfer its canals to the Federal government. The press took up the fight and was divided in sentiment.

But before following further the fate of this bill let us look for a moment at the dinner tendered Governor Roosevelt by the leading commercial organizations of the city of New York. It was held at the Waldorf on March 10, 1900, and besides the Governor there were present as guests of honor the members of the Committee on Canals and the Commerce Commission. The dinner was given in recognition of the Governor's friendly attitude toward canal interests and also in appreciation of the services rendered to the State by the two committees. It was reported that 460 prominent business men of the city and the state were present and that they represented nearly all the commercial bodies of the city.

This gathering was important because it helped to bring into a united body of canal advocates the large number of influential men in attendance and also because it stimulated wide-spread interest in the proposed canal improvements. It is said that it decided the fate of the survey bill then pending in the Legislature.

The occasion was important too because of certain things that were said. The Governor in his remarks showed himself in favor of a suitable canal improvement and pointed out the need of keeping several vital features in view. He declared that the proposed scheme was the only one that offered an adequate check on the railroads which then did or which could show their mastery over commerce, but he warned that the very vastness of the scheme demanded the most careful preparation, in order not to repeat the mistakes of former efforts. He counseled thorough and ardent missionary work to make the people of the state feel the necessity of doing what was proposed; also the need of keeping steadily in mind the all-important fact that the canal is not an outworn method of transportation, experience having proved that during the lifetime of the present generation every great European country in which topographic conditions permitted the existence of canals had developed its canal system to a greater extent than its railroad system. He urged the elimination of party division, since the questions involved were purely economic, and he declared that the only chance of building the canal so that the State would receive a dollar's worth of gain for every dollar expended lay in building it on strictly business principles and not allowing it to become the football of partisan, factional or personal politics -- those who should build and administer it doing their duty solely as administrators and engineers and not as politicians.

Returning to the survey bill we find that its passage through the Legislature was most stormy. It is said that probably no bill was ever fought more bitterly. It will be interesting and instructive, therefore, to follow this battle. The usual hearings were supplemented by a flood of letters, resolutions, petitions and memorials from various parts of the state, but still the bill was not reported out of committee and it seemed for a time that it was dead. In the closing days of the session a last and apparently a forlorn effort to pass the measure was made.

The Senate Finance committee by a vote of six to six had refused to report the bill, but Senator Ellsworth, chairman of the Rules committee, reported a rule which brought it out and on the day before adjournment under his able leadership, supported by Senator Grady, it was pushed through to successful passage.

When the bill reached the Assembly it was referred to the Rules committee, which was opposed to canal improvement and already had under consideration the similar bill introduced by Assemblyman Hill. The canal vote in the Assembly was not sufficient to discharge the committee from further consideration of the bill, but during the night preceding and the morning of adjournment the committee was deluged with letters and telegrams. The Speaker stood with the opposition on this matter and refused to let the bill come before the Assembly. It was only by various organizations working through United States Senator Thomas C. Platt that sufficient pressure was brought to bear to have the bill reported. After the clock had been turned back the Rules committee finally reported the bill and it was passed.

Part of Waterford series of locks

Part of Waterford series of locks -- the most remarkable series in the world -- consisting of five locks having an aggregate lift of 169 feet, situated within a length of channel of 1 1/2 miles. View of three locks of the series. Wide pools between the locks; by-passes around them.

The action of these closing days had been most dramatic. The fight in the Assembly is said to have been one of the most strenuous ever witnessed in that body. To Henry W. Hill is due much of the credit for the victory. If this legislative battle was one of the bitterest ever fought in the state, then the measure itself, so canal men think, because of its far-reaching influence, was on of the most important the state ever enacted.

With the signature of the Governor on April 12 the act became chapter 411 of the laws of 1900. It directed the State Engineer to make the necessary surveys and estimates for constructing and improving the Erie, Champlain and Oswego canals substantially in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on Canals. By specific requirement all surveys, plans and estimates were to be made with the same accuracy and as much care as if the work of construction had actually been ordered. All was to be done in time to report to the Legislature at the beginning of the 1901 session.

The improvement contemplated for the Oswego canal was in effect the completion of the nine-foot deepening, while for the Champlain canal the plans were to provide for a depth of seven feet of water.

In planning the Erie canal provision was to be made for the passage of boats 150 feet long, 25 feet wide and of 10 feet draft, with a cargo capacity of approximately 1,000 tons. The minimum dimensions of prism were to be 75 feet bottom width, 1,125 square feet sectional area and 12 feet depth of water except at structures, where it might be lessened to 11 feet. The locks were to be not less than 310 feet long in the clear, 28 feet wide, with 11 feet of water over the sills and a capacity for passing at one lockage two boats of the size mentioned in the act.

Inasmuch as the route of the prescribed surveys differed in many places from the line of the existing canal, it is well to examine its course with some care, especially since the canal as it was eventually built follows in general this new route. In the western part of the state the existing line was to be used except at certain specified places. These changes included a short section of new canal at Medina and the elimination of two bends near South Greece. At Rochester three routes were to be surveyed -- through the city along the existing canal, to the north of the city and to the south of the city. At Brighton, Macedon, Newark and Lyons short changes of alignment and the elimination or combining of locks were to be made. Easterly from Clyde the survey was to leave the existing canal and follow the valley of Crusoe creek and then proceed through Seneca river, Oneida river and Oneida lake and up the valley of Wood creek to New London, where the existing canal line was again encountered. This was a divergence differing in some places by a distance of about fourteen miles from the line of the existing canal. A spur was to reach Syracuse through Onondaga lake. Between Rome and Cohoes estimates were to be made for enlarging the existing canal and also for canalizing the Mohawk river. Also certain modifications and details were specified at Utica, Fort Herkimer, Little Falls and Schoharie creek and between Cohoes and the Hudson river and for locks at Cohoes falls, Newark and Lockport.

The task laid out by this law was exceedingly large and the time for accomplishing it was short. State Engineer Edward A. Bond lost no time, therefore, in organizing a corps of engineers to undertake the work. In fact the first steps were taken on April 8, two days after the bill was passed and four days before it was signed. By the first of May parties were in the field, the engineers to have charge of various divisions of the work having been appointed and instructions for survey parties having been prepared and passed upon by a special board of engineers prior to that time.

Mr. Bond is to be highly commended for the type of engineers he secured and for the quality and thoroughness of all the work done. He was fortunate too in the selection of his advisory engineers and also of certain experts in special features. What he said concerning this survey in his current annual report shows that he appreciated the importance of carrying out the mandate of the Legislature in a manner that would be beyond criticism or reproach. To quote his words:

"The report upon this survey will be exhaustive, and will include the results of studies by specialists in all the different features involved in the design of a modern canal; it being the intention of the State Engineer that the plans for this work shall be so thoroughly considered and that the estimates of cost for its various portions shall be agreed upon by so many well-known and experienced engineers ... that they shall command the confidence of the public and will enable the Legislature and the people of the State to form a full and unbiased judgment as to the desirability of building this great canal."   1

Mr. Bond appointed as consulting engineers Trevor C. Leutzé, of Albany (division engineer of the eastern division of his department), and David J. Howell, of Washington, D.C., who had charge of the work on the eastern division of the Mohawk and Oswego line of the Deep Waterways Survey, with Mr. Howell acting as engineer in charge of the survey about to be undertaken. William B. Landreth was assigned to the position of special resident engineer in charge of the middle division and James J. Overn to that of special resident engineer in charge of the western division, while to John R. Kaley, assistant engineer, (at one time division engineer of the eastern division of the State canals) was assigned the task of preparing from notes acquired through previous improvements the estimates for the Champlain canal.

The instructions for survey parties were submitted to a board of engineers consisting of George S. Greene, of New York city, Past President of the American Society of Civil Engineers, George Y. Wisner, of Detroit, Mich., Edward P. North, of New York city, Professor Palmer C. Ricketts, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., and J. Nelson Tubbs, of Rochester, N.Y.

The questions concerning high lift locks were submitted to a board of advisory engineers and this board included Elnathan Sweet, ex-State Engineer, chairman, George S. Morrison, a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission and Past President of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Major Thomas W. Symons, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, a member of the New York State Committee on Canals, William H. Burr, a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission and a professor in Columbia University, and Major Dan C. Kingman, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army.

After this board had made its report on the high lift locks, the members, with one exception were retained as a general advisory board. Major Kingman, who was stationed at Chattanooga, Tenn., and could not conveniently continue as a member because of the long travel required, tendered his resignation and Alfred Noble, of Chicago, a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission and also one of the three engineers comprising the Board of Engineers on U.S. Deep Waterways, was added as a new member.

Other engineers to fill important positions were Emil Kuichling, who made the investigations for water-supply, James H. Brace, who had supervision of office work, A. E. Broenniman, an expert computer, who had charge of estimates along the existing canal from Rexford to the Herkimer-Oneida county line, J.T.N. Hoyt, who estimated the bridges, S.J. Chapleau, who estimated the locks, and Chauncey N. Dutton and William R. Davis, who submitted plans for locks of high mechanical lift.

The field work of the United States Deep Waterways survey had preceded this preliminary Barge canal survey by only two or three years and several of the engineers who had been engaged on the former project were available for the new survey. Both enterprises involved the same kinds of work and the men fresh from the first were especially fitted to undertake the second with despatch and vigor. The field work was pushed so rapidly that by September 8 it had been finished on the middle division and by the latter part of the same month on the western division. The office work of making maps from the field notes had been carried along continuously with the surveys and by October 1 the middle division office was closed and a week later the western division office and such men as were suitable were transferred to the office of the consulting engineers at Albany, where the work of making plans and computations was carried on to completion. By the courtesy of the Deep Waterways Board photographic copies of the maps prepared from the earlier surveys were made available and these aided materially in the new work, many miles of surveys and mapping being saved thereby.

While the engineers were busy doing their part, canal advocates were not idle. The success of their efforts in the legislative strife gave new life to their enthusiasm. The opponents of the canal were also very active, all over the state. Through their grange organization the farmers were bitterly fighting all canal improvement. The railroads were doing everything they could, both openly and secretly, to defeat the project. One railroad emissary was especially prominent during the years between the failure of the nine-million scheme and the early stages of Barge canal construction. This was John I. Platt of Poughkeepsie. But he fought in the open, often was a delegate to the canal and commerce conventions and sometimes was invited to address these conventions and express his views in opposition.

The second annual State Commerce Convention met in Syracuse on June 6 and 7, 1900. A larger number of delegates attended than were present at the convention of the year before at Utica and it is said that the feature of the convention was the unanimity of sentiment in favor of canal improvement. There was a pronounced division of opinion, however, as to what that improvement should be.

The State Committee on Canals, it will be recalled, had placed two projects before the people -- one a modification of the nine-foot deepening and the other a 1,000-ton barge canal. The Committee had come out boldly and in most decided terms had recommended the latter scheme, but it was evident at the Commerce Convention that the majority of delegates lacked the courage to take an equally bold stand. Or perhaps it was faith that they lacked, the faith to believe that the people of the state were ready to solve their transportation problem by building an adequate rather than a make-shift canal, and so they were going to be satisfied with a half loaf, lest otherwise they might get nothing.

The New York city delegates at this convention stood almost alone in their advocacy of the larger plan and in the end they were beaten. It is true, as one member of the committee on resolutions has said, that the most serious problem before the convention was the form of endorsement which should be given to the canal project, and also that it was a delicate matter to decide in advance of the surveys then being made what action was wise, but in the light of subsequent events it seems probable that the building of the Barge canal was delayed one and possibly two years by the failure, not of this convention alone -- it merely reflected a prevailing sentiment -- but of canal and political leaders generally to appreciate what the situation demanded and then to act upon their conviction.

The convention adjourned to meet again after the State Engineer should make his report to the Legislature. The canal resolution it adopted was merely a spineless declaration "that the future prosperity of the entire State requires the improvement and enlargement of its canals in a manner commensurate with the demands of commerce and to a capacity sufficient to compete with all rival routes."

The convention prove effective, however, in giving publicity to the canal question and in keeping it a live issue in the state. The delegates from interior towns carried back with them to their several localities new interest in canal affairs. Also this convention appointed a committee to appear before both the Republican and the Democratic State conventions and urge the insertion in their respective platforms of a plank favoring canal improvement.

There was another organization which helped to secure canal planks in the party platforms of 1900. A delegation from the canal committee of the New York Produce Exchange called upon the political leaders to urge the importance of their views. Both parties heeded these appeals and adopted canal planks. The Republican plank was constructive in standing for a full study of the canal problem. The Democratic plank denounced Republican canal administration and pledged support for the canals, but only in general terms.

During 1900 there was formed a most important canal organization, the Canal Association of Greater New York, representatives of ten of the leading commercial organizations of New York city being present at the initial meeting and nearly an equal number of organizations joining later. Organized for the purpose of forwarding canal interests, it did valiant service in the next three years -- a most critical period in State canal history. By means of public meetings, press articles and the distribution of literature it carried on a lively and persistent agitation for canal improvement. After the election in the fall of 1900 a committee from this association called upon Governor-elect Odell and laid before him their views on the subject of improving and enlarging the State canals.

In the canal agitation which has been going on since 1884 -- the year from which the present era of consecutive improvements may be dated -- the centers of aggressive activity have been New York city and Buffalo. We have seen something of what New York was doing in 1900, but Buffalo was also busy.

A committee was appointed by the Buffalo Merchants' Exchange to undertake a systematic and thorough campaign of education. Under this committee there was organized what was known as the Canal Bureau of the Merchants' Exchange, with George Clinton as chairman, George H. Raymond as secretary and Howard J. Smith as assistant secretary. The credit for raising the funds to finance this bureau, which continued its work from 1900 to November, 1903, is due chiefly to Alfred Haines, President of the Exchange. To prepare the way for proposed legislation at the 1901 session a dozen stenographers and other office force were employed and they were engaged largely in sending out to all parts of the state an enormous number of letters, circulars and printed matter. Also newspapers were furnished with articles and especial attention was given to country newspapers, about 200 country weeklies being supplied with "plate." Moreover meetings were arranged and speakers were sent to address them, and this form of campaign was extended particularly into anti-canal localities. The object of all this was to make it possible for the people of the state to have a thorough understanding of what the 1,000-ton barge canal really meant to them, how the commercial interests would be affected by it and how even the farmer and the inhabitants of the counties at a distance from the canal would be benefitted.

All of this publicity on the part of the canal advocates naturally resulted in discussions which brought out both sides of the question. We find numerous canal articles in the technical and popular periodicals of this year, 1900, and also of the next few years. As an evidence of the interest the subject awakened among professional men of high standing it may be said that in the October, November and December, 1900 and the February, 1901, proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers appear papers and their subsequent discussion on canal topics. One, entitled "Canals between the Lakes and New York," was presented by Joseph Mayer, and another, "Economic Dimensions for a Waterway from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic," was presented by George Y. Wisner.

In his annual message to the Legislature of 1901, at the beginning of his administration, Governor Odell did not give the slightest hint of his attitude on canals, merely stating that he would defer making any recommendations until the forthcoming report should be received.

This report, the result of the survey for the proposed 1,000-ton barge canal, was presented to the Governor by the State Engineer on February 12, 1901. The Governor in turn transmitted it to the Legislature on the 15th day of the following month. Together with this report was another which the State Engineer had prepared at the request of the Governor and which contained estimates of the cost for completing the improvements begun under the law of 1895, the act which authorized the expenditure of nine million dollars in deepening the canals. In his message accompanying these reports the Governor plainly showed his opposition to the barge canal project and proposed instead the completion of the partially finished deepening.

But before considering the Governor's message we shall look for a little while at the State Engineer's report of his survey -- the report of the preliminary Barge canal survey, as it has now come to be known. In its printed form this report consisted of a volume of 1020 pages and an atlas supplement containing 35 plates of maps, profiles, plans and diagrams. Considered from an engineering standpoint this report left little to be desired, and request for copies of it, coming from engineers who wish to use its valuable data in the design of other projects, has continued down to the present day, although the edition was exhausted very soon after its publication. In addition to the descriptions and estimates in detail of the various routes and the many alternate portions of routes, the volume contains the reports of the State Engineer, the Consulting Engineers, the Board of Engineers on high lift locks and the Engineer on a mechanical lift lock, also a study on tractive resistance to be overcome in navigating the restricted channel of a canal, a copy of the instructions for survey parties and the report of the Engineer for Water Supply, the latter occupying 350 pages and containing especially valuable information.

In reporting on the cost of the proposed 1000-ton canal the State Engineer gave four sets of figures and these represented the estimates on an equal number of possible routes. At certain places several alternate surveys had been made, so as to determine the best location, but these minor selections had been made by the engineers and only the four main lines appear in the summary of costs. These four routes for the Erie canal are denominated in the report as lines A, B, C and D.

Line A was in general a canalization of natural waterways as far west as Clyde (the Mohawk river, Wood creek, Oneida lake, Oneida river and Seneca river being utilized) and an enlargement of the existing canal from Clyde westward to Buffalo except a detour south of Rochester. This brief description, however, does not take account of the many places where the proposed line entered and left the stream channels and the existing canal, or where bends were cut across or other deviations made.

Line B coincided with line A from the Hudson river to Three River Point, the hamlet at the confluence of Oneida and Seneca Rivers. Thence it followed Oswego river to Lake Ontario. Leaving the lake at Olcott it rejoined line A a little west of Lockport and coincided with it again for the remainder of the route.

Line C was the same as line B except that Lake Ontario was utilized to the mouth of the Niagara river and lower Niagara river was followed to Lewiston and the upper river from LaSalle to Black Rock with a new canal between Lewiston and LaSalle. According to the law authorizing the survey the Oswego canal was to be improved only to the extent of completing the nine-foot deepening, but in making it a part of a possible new Erie, or main line, canal it was necessary to plan for a 12-foot channel. As a result two estimates were made for the Oswego canal, one for a nine-foot and the other for a twelve-foot depth.

Two estimates were made for the Champlain canal also, but these were for two choices of route, one the canalization of the Hudson river and the other for the improvement of the existing canal, which was almost entirely an independent, or land line channel.

Line D was generally an enlargement of the existing Erie canal. Aside from the portion between New London (a few miles west of Rome) and Clyde, where it coincided with line A, the deviations in alignment from the existing canal, though numerous, were not long.

Line A (Erie canal) was estimated to cost $72,264,826. With $1,481,012 for the nine-foot Oswego branch and $4,750,608 for the Champlain by way of the Hudson, the total for construction by this route was $78,496,446. From this might be deducted the estimated value of abandoned canal lands, $1,941,380 on the Erie and $22,620 on the Champlain, leaving a net total of $76,532,446 for Line A. The distance between Troy and Buffalo by this route was 342.66 miles.

The estimate by line B between Troy and Buffalo was $46,765,755, exclusive of the Oswego canal. Adding $5,170,129 for the Oswego branch, which by Line B became a part of the Erie canal and had to be 12 feet deep, and $4,750,608 for the Champlain (canalized Hudson), the total became $56,686,492. The land values to be deducted were, Erie, $1,953,202, Oswego, $2,391, Champlain, $22,620, making the net total $54,708,279. By line B the distance between Troy and Buffalo was 338.66 miles.

The estimate for line C differed from that of line B only in the cost of the Erie canal, which was $48,984,220. This made the total for construction $58,904,957 and the net total $56,926,744. From Troy to Buffalo by line C was 347.57 miles.

By line D the Erie canal would cost $81,578,854. The nine-foot Oswego would add $1,481,012 and the Champlain improvement of the existing canal $5,787,929, totaling $44,847,795 for construction. Deducting $1,530,225 for abandoned Erie canal lands, there being none to abandon on the Oswego and Champlain branches under this plan, the net total became $87,317,570. This line gave a distance of 347.66 miles between Troy and Buffalo.

In all these estimates it was assumed that the Federal government would improve the Hudson river from Troy to Waterford, estimated to cost $737,683, and the Niagara river from Black Rock harbor to Buffalo, estimated at $538,051. Without this Federal aid the sum of these two amounts, $1,275,734, was to be added to all totals.

In estimating the amount of work to be done there was used a minimum land line section of 75 feet bottom width with 12 feet depth of water and slopes to give 123 feet width at water-surface. In rock cutting the channel was 94 feet wide at bottom and the sides nearly vertical. The river channels, in both earth and rock excavation, were 200 feet wide at the bottom. The locks were planned with a length of 328 feet between quoins, a width of 28 feet and a depth of 11 feet of water over the bottom at the ends. The chambers of the locks, however, had curved floors, which were 11 feet below water-surface at the side wall intersections and 18 inches deeper at the center. In locks of over 8 feet lift culverts for filling and emptying the locks were provided in the side walls. From these culverts there extended smaller branches, or ports, which entered the lock chamber at the bottom of the side walls.

These details are all of considerable interest and also rather important, since they explain why certain dimensions or particular types of construction were later incorporated in the law or adopted in the contract plans. An innovation in one certain kind of material is noteworthy. Up to this time, on State work at least, but few sizable masonry structures had been composed of concrete. In the new lock plans the only cut stone was at the hollow quoins and in the face of the lift, or breast, wall at the head of the chamber. The report left the subject of dams in a somewhat uncertain state. In general concrete dams were to be build where rock foundation was encountered and timber dams where gravel or other kindred material was found, but definite plans were not drawn, although the estimated cost was placed at a sum ample for whatever type later experience might dictate. Movable dams were discussed by the Advisory Board but no decision reached.

The Governor's message transmitting the report on the Barge canal survey must have been a bitter disappointment to advanced canal advocates. Not only did he oppose the project recommended so heartily by the Committee on Canals, but he even went a step back of the smaller scheme presented by this Committee, and this smaller scheme had been submitted by the Committee not to endorse it but simply as a possible subject for consideration. What the Governor did was to recommend the completion of the nine-foot deepening, and that too with provision for boats only 98 feet long, 17 1/2 feet wide, of 7 or 7 1/2 feet draft, and of 315 to 340 tons capacity. The plan for the nine-foot deepening presented by the Canal Committee, it well be recalled, carried with it a lock modification to enable two boats, each 125 feet in length, 17 1/2 feet in width and 8 feet in draft, with a cargo capacity of 450 tons, to travel tandem and be locked at a single lockage without uncoupling. What the Committee said in regard to this their smaller proposition, even back of which the Governor was going, is pertinent here.

"In our judgment," says the Committee's report, "arrived at after long consideration, and with some reluctance, the State should undertake the larger project (1,000-ton canal) on the ground that the larger project will permanently secure the commercial supremacy of New York, and that this can be assured by no other means." And again: "We believe it is unwise to spend large sums of money in a mere betterment of the existing canal; what the present situation requires is a radical change."

The State Engineer's estimate for completing the canals according to the 1895 plan, as reported by the Governor, was $19,797,828, the amount for the Erie being $14,973,323, that for the Oswego, $2,135,388, and that for the Champlain, $2,689,117. The Governor suggested that it might be possible, by lock-lengthening and similar changes, to use larger boats and secure more expeditions locking, evidently referring to the smaller project submitted by the Canal Committee. In this case several millions more should be added to the estimate.

In his message the Governor put the canal problem before the Legislature in the form of a three-fold question -- "First, shall the canals be abandoned? Second, shall they be enlarged so as permit the passage of 1,000 ton barges? Third, shall the improvement begun under the act of 1895 be continued along the line of the route of both the Erie canal and its feeders?"

Neither the people of the state nor the Legislature had as yet, of course, given a categorical answer to these questions, but the people a few years earlier had twice expressed their desire for improvement rather than abandonment. And now, if nothing beyond the scheme of 1895 was to be undertaken, the years of investigating and waiting, the elaborate surveys and plans of Federal and State governments, the herculean struggle and brilliant victory of canal legislators in the preceding session had all been vain.

The Governor argued the subject at considerable length, evidently to his own satisfaction, and arrived at two conclusions: That the advantages to be derived from a 1000-ton canal were not commensurate with the expense; and that the purposes for which the canals should be maintained were more for protection against unfair rate discrimination than for actual use. In reading the message, however, one is inclined to think that the latter conclusion was not really a conclusion with the Governor but rather was a premise which molded, unconsciously perhaps ,his whole reasoning. If that was his idea of the chief value of the canals, and we fear that it has been for years an all too prevalent idea throughout the state at large, then his search after the cheapest way to retain the canals for any degree of service was at least consistent and can be understood.

The Governor said, moreover, that there seemed to be no excuse for the Legislature to delay in submitting the matter to the people, since a large proportion of the citizens evidently desired positive action. In his closing words he summed up the situation as he saw it. We quote him:

"I therefore recommend that the question of improving the canals along the line of the act of 1895 be submitted to the people at the coming election, in the belief that it will meet with greater approval, that the expenditure can be more easily met, and that it will serve all the purposes for which the canal was originally designed."

This recommendation, of course, immediately aroused the canal advocates. On the day after its presentation a meeting of the canal committee of the Buffalo Merchants' Exchange, at which there was manifested decided opposition to the Governor's plan, appointed a committee to meet with canal friends from other cities and map out a course of action. This conference was held in Albany on March 20 and representatives were present from New York, Catskill, Utica, Oswego and Buffalo.

On March 26 the adjourned meeting of the State Commerce Convention met in Syracuse. This meeting is described as being even more enthusiastic than the two previous conventions and as showing conclusively from the attitude of the delegates that the fight for adequate canal improvement was now fairly on and that no compromise or defeat would be permitted. It is said, however, that serious differences of opinion were still present, as at the convention of the summer before, and that the Buffalo delegates tried to prevent a declaration for a 1,000-ton canal.

We have looked with some care at the message the Governor sent to the Legislature in presenting the report of the canal survey. The resolutions of the Syracuse convention demand equally careful attention, since they are in effect a partial answer to the Governor's arguments and also they show how irreconcilably opposed to the Governor were these representatives of the commercial interests from various parts of the state.

The resolutions declared that the State canal system was the first great factor in the growth of the state, that it had been the chief means of building up the greatest line of prosperous cities and villages found anywhere on the continent, that it made New York one of the greatest seaports and Buffalo one of the greatest lake ports, and that this growth had brought signal benefits to all classes, the laborer, the farmer and the merchant, in all lines of commercial industry.

These were statements calculated to controvert the Governor's conclusion that the chief function of the canal was regulative. Then the resolution takes up and emphasizes this view of the Governor, but intimates that it is not the most eminent service of the canal, saying that "in addition to its direct influence upon the prosperity of the State," the canal had been such a factor in controlling freight rates that nowhere else on the continent were rates of transportation by both rail and water so moderate as in New York.

Because of its bold challenge the remainder of the resolution should be quoted verbatim. "The condition of the canal system of the State," it says, "is most critical. The present and future commercial prosperity of the State is in great danger. Adequate improvement of the canals must be undertaken. Largely increased facilities for water transportation must be secured in the State's commercial supremacy is to be maintained; therefore,

"Resolved, That it is the sense of this convention that the commercial interest of the State will be best fostered, promoted and protected by the construction of the one thousand ton barge canal."

The convention also sent a committee to confer with the Governor. They called on him on March 29, but their appeal was in vain. He stood squarely for the improvement he had recommended and was not disposed to accept anything looking toward the 1,000-ton canal.

Probably at no time during the History of the Barge canal project have conditions been so peculiar as they were at this juncture. The Governor was obdurate. In disregard of the emphatic recommendations of a body of expert investigators, who had been chosen because of their ability to render an unbiased and sound verdict, he stood firmly for an improvement which had first been proposed a generation before and was generally considered obsolete. The dominant political party feared to endorse the obviously adequate plan because of the opposition of much of its constituency and at the same time was reluctant to accept the Governor's proposition and thereby displease New York city. The minority party was in almost the same predicament. Canal forces were divided and so wide apart were they that we find the radicals lined up with the enemies of the canals in legislative contests. The only happy individuals were the canal opponents. Nor for a decade had the prospect been so bright for defeating all canal improvement in the state.

After numerous conferences the canal men from Buffalo and from "up state" and a part of those from New York decided to make a fight for what they thought there might be some possibility of getting. This was a compromise measure -- practically the smaller proposition presented by the State Committee on Canals, except that the Oswego canal was to have as large locks as the Erie. It was a completion of the nine-foot deepening but with lock modifications which would increase boat capacities to 450 tons. A bill authorizing this improvement and carrying an appropriation of $26,000,000 was introduced in both branches of the Legislature.

The bill brought protests from various organizations, among them the State Grange, the State Farmers' Congress and the State Tax and Transfer Tax Reform Association. The protest from the Canal Association of Greater New York, however, calls for our special attention, because it was this wing of the canal forces, aligned with the enemies, that decided the fate of the bill then pending and eventually also the ultimate fate of the whole canal problem. This association, moreover, exerted a political power that had to be reckoned with.

On April 8 this association adopted resolutions unequivocally declaring its belief that the 1,000 ton canal was the minimum of improvement that should be undertaken and that the expenditure of public funds for any lesser project was unwise. The framers of the resolutions state that they would be stultifying themselves in accepting or recommending acceptance of any improvement that failed to meet the requirements, and that they were asserting their beliefs, not in a spirit of capricious or unreasonable criticism but in full consciousness that the gravity of the situation demanded a larger rather than a smaller development, and that it was their duty not only to themselves but to those whom they represented to make their position known to the Governor, the members of the Legislature, the commercial bodies throughout the state and the public at large.

Seventeen of the most influential commercial organizations of New York city joined in signing these resolutions. As a further act they directed the chairman of the meeting to telegraph the senators and assemblymen from Greater New York, urging them to vote against the pending canal bill.

Incorporated in these resolutions were two excerpts from the report from the State Committee on Canals. We have already quoted one of these passages. The other is worth noticing and we quote further. The policy here enunciated is the one for which the New York city advocates were standing firm, even with the certainty of delay and at the risk of losing all. But it is the policy which prevailed finally. In the end all friends of the canal conceded that New York's insistence on a 1,000 ton canal was wise. While the fight was on it was another matter.

"We confine ourselves," say the members of the State Canal Committee, "solely to advising you what in our judgment is the proper policy for the State to pursue in regard to its canals, leaving to those on whom the responsibility rests to decide whether these views should be carried into effect. We feel confident that on mature reflection the Legislature and people of the State will ultimately adopt these views. We have hesitated to recommend the expenditure of a sum of money which, although small in proportion to the resources of the State, is still a very great sum; but after much deliberation we are unwilling to recommend any temporary or partial settlement of the canal question. We do not believe that the adoption of the smaller plan will result in permanent benefit to the State of New York, and as the money expended on the smaller project would be almost entirely wasted in case a larger project should be determined upon later on, we do not feel justified in recommending the expenditure of so large a sum as $21,000,000 for a temporary purpose."

With canal forces divided and a part of them even siding with the anti-canal faction and with the opponents making the most of their opportunity, there could be but one result. The fight was kept up for a time, a hearing being held and the bill being reported out of committees and reaching the stage of third reading in the Senate and second reading in the Assembly, but when the Tammany assemblymen withdrew their support the fate of the measure was sealed.

After a long conference of the Republican legislators in the Executive Chamber it was finally decided to recommit the bill with instructions to strike out the enacting clause.

Something which one of the senators said at this conference deserves a wide publicity and we quote it here. It was Senator George E. Green who was speaking and what he said may help us understand why certain localities, even those which might be expected to have pro-canal proclivities, have so persistently opposed various canal improvements. It will be recalled that Senator Green was a member of the State Canal Committee and that he is said to have entered on his work with this committee an anti-canal man. In the speech just referred to he said: "I come from an anti-canal Senate district. I want to say that we legislators are to blame for this anti-canal sentiment. We go around our districts inveighing against the canals for political effect and our statements have their effect upon the people. Hereafter let us go about telling the way canals will improve the commerce of the entire State. The people will get an improved canal some time. I hope before next year's session of this body that the divided canal interests of this State will come together on the canal improvement question."

Undoubtedly Senator Green gave expression to an important truth. If we could trace community sentiment to its ultimate source we should probably find that in many cases some one individual or a small group of individuals through newspapers or public speaking have been able to mold the minds of their fellows to their own way of thinking.

There was one measure that was passed by the Legislature of 1901, however, which was along the line of advancement in canal affairs. It carried out one of the recommendations made by the State Committee on Canals. And the State Commerce Commission had also made the same recommendation. This was an amendment of the law governing transportation corporations and it removed the restriction which had limited to $50,000 the capital stock of companies carrying on a transportation business on the State canals.

Just why this limitation had been imposed is not fully evident. On its face it was for the benefit of boatmen of small means who owned one or two or possibly three or four boats. The rapidity with which great corporations were gaining control of elevators and other terminal facilities and the large diversion of traffic from the canals because of excessive terminal charges, and the connections of these navigation companies with other and competing transportation lines had threatened the existence of the small boatman. To correct this condition the general law governing transportation corporations was amended in 1896 so as to apply to canals and other waterways and the stock of companies navigating the canals was limited to $50,000, while the minimum was lowered to $5,000 in place of the $20,000 minimum in force before. There is some reason to believe, however, that the good of the small boat owner was not the only motive back of this amendment. At all events it did not seem to work out greatly to his benefit and it surely prevented the formation of companies large enough to command the coöperation of connecting transportation lines or to carry on their business affairs according to modern methods. This break in the chains of transportation, where the small boatman had to be dealt with individually, doubtless accounts for much of the non-use of the all-water route by Great Lakes shippers.

The amendment of 1901, while it eliminated the $50,000 restriction, sought to retain protection against abuses by adding the clause, "No railroad corporation shall have, own, or hold any stock in any such corporation."

Before we return to legislative matters or to the affairs which were interesting canal advocates so deeply at this time, we may notice an occurrence which had to do with practical navigation on the canal. In his report for 1901 the Superintendent of Public Works stated that the three fleets comprising eighteen steel canal boats, which had been operating successfully for a few years and which had been heralded with such acclaims of hope when they had been put in service, had been withdrawn from the canal and sent to the Philippines. These boats had been built by the Cleveland Steel Canal Boat Company and were an innovation in canal boat construction. They made possible and also profitable the establishing of a through line of transportation between Cleveland and New York, since insurance companies would insure these steel boats on the lakes, a risk they had never taken on the wooden boats navigating the canal.

The trail trip of the first fleet -- one steamer and five consorts -- was made in August, 1895. It was so successful that other boats were added to the service during the next year. They made the trip from Cleveland to New York in from ten to twelve days and their ability to withstand heavy gales on Lake Erie was encouraging. At that time the owners expressed their belief that the boats could compete successfully with the railroads as they then existed at a fair margin of profit. When the boats were withdrawn from the canal the owners admitted that they had made money but that there was opportunity for greater profit in their new venture. Their further statement forms an interesting commentary on the report which the State Commerce Commission had made to the Legislature in the preceding year. They said that their canal profits were meager because of the lack of terminal facilities at Buffalo and New York and they added that the decline in rates could be met by boats if it were possible to secure dispatch in handling cargoes but that the canal was destined to be a failure without such facilities.

In all the agitation for canal improvement up to this time and even until several years after the new canal had been under construction, little if any attempt had been made to show the need or to advance the claims of terminal facilities, without which, as these boat owners said, any canal would be a failure. From our present standpoint this omission seems strange. It is generally conceded now that, lacking terminals and freight-handling devices, the Barge canal was pre-doomed to failure. Perhaps the agitators did not then appreciate the absolute necessity of terminals, and on the other hand perhaps they did not want to complicate the canal problem until the new channel itself was well on its way toward accomplishment. We are inclined to think that they were in influenced in some measure by both reasons. In passing, it may be added that so far as we are aware no other steel canal boats were in canal service until those placed there by the Federal government in 1918.

At the close of the 1901 legislative session canal affairs were in a decidedly unpromising condition. The want of harmony in the canal ranks was probably the largest factor in the failure to make progress, and harmony seemed to be the one thing which was impossible of attainment at that time. None of the canal men were opposed to improvements; no, they were all united in thinking that something must be done and that it must be done quickly, but the conservatives did not believe that the people would vote the vast sum needed for the 1,000-ton project and so were willing to accept what they could get, while the radicals thought that to build anything less than the large canal was a waste of money and they were standing firmly for that or nothing. It happened that the cleavage between the two wings had also a local aspect. It the main it was New York city against the rest of the state.

During 1901, therefore, we find the two factions trying to get together. In this they succeeded to the extent of all uniting in a renewed effort, by means of agitation and a campaign of education, to secure the adoption of necessary legislation and the approval by the people for a barge canal. In doing this work a new method of attack was adopted. The attempt was made to convince both political parties that they could no longer ignore the canal question, as had been the practice in the past, in fear of offending the rural voter.

The State Commerce Convention of 1901 met in Buffalo on October 16 to 18. This was the year of the Pan-American Exposition, which was being held in Buffalo. By that time the New York city views had gained such ascendency that the convention went on record with practical unanimity in favor of a 1,000-ton canal and even urged on the Governor and the Legislature the necessity of providing this canal in the shortest possible time.

Late in the year 1901 there occurred an event which, although of a comparatively private nature, had a marked influence on public affairs. It was a dinner given by Gardiner K. Clark, Jr., in his home at 38 West Fifty-third street, New York city, on December 6. Mr. Clark was a public-spirited man, a friend of the canals and a member of the committee on canals of the New York Produce Exchange. To carry out a desire on the part of the Greater New York Canal Association to acquaint Governor Odell with the ideas held by New York canal men, Mr. Clark invited Governor Odell, Lieutenant-Governor Woodruff and several well-known men of affairs to meet in this social way and discuss informally the canal question. Covers were laid for eighteen and the after-dinner discussion brought some important facts and also a certain suggestion that doubtless guided the Governor in recommending what he did to the next Legislature.

One of the men at this dinner was Andrew Carnegie and a statement he made was most interesting. He said that Carnegie Steel Company had purchased 5,000 acres of land surrounding its port of Conneaut on Lake Erie and had plans ready to begin work at an estimated cost of $12,000,000 and one of the reasons for selecting this site was the fact that New York was spending money in enlarging the Erie canal and also the implicit confidence he and his associates had that the State would never fail to enlarge this waterway as necessity dictated. He declared also his belief that nothing could prevent the western part of New York, along with the lakes, from becoming one of the principal seats of manufacture if a suitable waterway were kept open between Buffalo and the ocean. "I am certain," he said, "that the Empire State can maintain her position as the Empire State only by developing her manufacturing facilities through the Erie canal."

But it was Lewis Nixon who made the suggestion which bore fruit in subsequent action. His proposition was a compromise between the 1,000-ton project and the plan of completing the nine-foot deepening; it was to build new locks of the 1,000-ton size, while the canal prism should be nine feet deep, the thought being that later, if it were deemed advisable, the channel might be enlarged to correspond in size with the locks.

This scheme evidently appealed to the Governor, for he said he would consider it, and when he sent his annual message to the Legislature at the beginning of the 1902 session he proposed a plan of action which was based on this idea.

In discussing in this message the subject of canals Governor Odell said that recent investigation had convinced him that the Legislature should adopt a definite policy as to future canal expenditures. But he seems to have retained his former conception in regard to the chief function of the canal -- to be a regulator of railroad rates -- for he says, "One is impressed by the fact that the canals as at present conducted are sufficient for all local business, but if they are to be as they have been in the past a restraining power upon the freight rates of the railroads, then some policy to make them more serviceable to the community should be adopted." He adds, however, that he does not believe the people would sanction the expenditure of money for the sole purpose of making the canal a funnel for the traffic of the far west and that what is desired by the building up of internal commerce is to attract capital by offering inducements to manufacturers and thereby give employment to the people of the state.

In his further discussion he mentions a few very important truths. In extenuation of railroad discriminations he states that in fairness New York must recognize its own shortcomings and seek to remedy existing deficiencies. "New York itself must act," he says. "It must make it possible for the railroads to have terminal facilities equal to those of other ports. It must make it possible for the canal boat owner to have equal consideration in the matter of dockage and other essentials." He deprecates the impossibility of canal traffic getting through bills of lading, such as railroads have. This latter drawback, by the way, is only just now, after all these intervening years, being remedied and not fully at that, and moreover all through the past it has been an obstacle but too lightly considered. Canal advocates have not always been practical transportation men and often they have failed to see the importance of this matter, but it is a factor which under present business methods will largely make or break the success of the canal.

The plan the Governor proposed at this time was the building of new locks of a capacity for thousand-ton barges and in the process reducing the number from 72 to 44 and making certain incidental changes of alignment; also the completion of the nine-foot deepening. The estimated costs of these projects, according to figures furnished to the Governor by the State Engineer , were $13,694,540 for the locks and $15,076,936 for the deepening. The Governor made two recommendations, first, that the proposal to enlarge the locks to 1000-ton barge capacity and to provide a new nine-foot channel from the Hudson river to Rexford Flats be submitted to the people as a separate proposition; second, that the canal be deepened to nine feet on such portions as were then less that than depth and that this proposition also be submitted to the people.

The Governor's recommendations related to the Erie canal alone. Naturally this proposal aroused considerable opposition from those who were interested in the Champlain and the Oswego canals and this caused some little delay in the introduction of a bill to carry out the Governor's suggestion. But on January 20 Senator George A. Davis of Buffalo introduced such a bill and a similar measure was introduced in the Assembly by John A. Weekes, Jr. Of New York. This bill carried a bond issue of $28,800,000.

As reported from the Senate committee the bill included the Champlain canal and the amount of money had been increased to $31,800,000. The Senate passed the measure in this form. When it emerged from the Assembly committee both the Champlain and the Oswego canals had been added and the appropriation amounted to $37,200,000. All these complications and the bitter feeling that had been engendered between the several localities played directly into the hands of the anti-canal forces and allowed them to score another victory. The measure was defeated, first with the Oswego canal included and then with the Oswego out.

One of the schemes adopted by the enemies of the canals during this legislative session was a concurrent resolution proposing to eliminate the constitutional prohibition against selling the canals. The resolution further provided that in the canal bed should be constructed a railroad to be used exclusively for carrying freight. This resolution was never reported out of committee.

One piece of legislation was enacted in 1902, however, which has had a direct but not widely known effect on the financial side of canal construction. This was a proposed constitutional amendment to provide for using surplus moneys in the treasury in paying interest or principal of the bonded indebtedness of the State or in forming a sinking fund to pay such indebtedness. It the surplus moneys were sufficient to meet the needs of interest and sinking fund in any year, then a direct tax for that year need not be imposed. This amendment was passed by a succeeding Legislature and in due time, after receiving an approving popular vote, became section eleven of article seven of the State Constitution. Under its provisions the State was without direct annual tax for several years in spite of being in the midst of canal and other large public works construction.

While speaking of the financial aspect of the canal question we may anticipate certain legislative action taken in 1903 which eventually amended section four of article seven of the Constitution and extended the bonding period for which State debts might be authorized from eighteen to fifty years. The early bonds for canal construction were sold prior to the time of this amendment became effective, but the later bonds under authority of this provision are running for fifty years.

In the legislative contest of 1902 the New York city interests, the back-bone of the effort to secure a 1,000-ton canal, were aligned with the main body of canal men. Not that they were in hearty accord with the various measures proposed, but the building of the new locks was a step in the direction of their desires and they were willing to join the conflict in the hope that more would follow. They did their part in sending out literature to a large number of voters throughout the state. But it cannot be said that they greatly regretted the defeat of the bills, and in the end the failure of the proposed legislation of 1902 proved to be beneficial to the canal cause. The enemies of the canals, on the other hand, were pleased with their success, and among them were the railroads, which had shown again their cleverness in killing canal improvement by disingenuous but effective methods. Their pleasure, however, might have been chilled, had they perceived the real service they were rendering to the canals in bringing all advocates to a united effort for the large canal project.

The failures to pass canal legislation during the sessions of 1901 and 1902 were not attributable in both years to the same causes nor indeed were they due either year to a lack of endeavor by canal men nor even to an indisposition on the part of the people of the state to do the right thing by the waterways. In 1901 the anti-canal rural vote and the other enemies of the canals were strengthened by the ultraradical canal wing, while in 1902 they gained a controlling voice by reinforcements from the disappointed local factions.

On the whole, canal men may have been well pleased with the result of the 1902 legislative session. It is to be doubted whether the Governor's hybrid plan would have wrought anything but a temporary makeshift and a very costly one at that. But progress was being made; gradually the Governor was coming around to the barge canal idea.

In these pages we have been considering canal affairs almost to the exclusion of all other interests, but this subject was far from absorbing much of the thought of the vast majority of citizens. To be sure their orators and their statesmen had been telling them for years that upon transportation depended in great measure national and personal welfare and that adequate waterways held a large place in a proper transportation system, or as a former Governor put it, "The chief element in the prosperity of every State or Nation is the economy of transportation of persons and property. It is the most marked fact in the difference between civilization and barbarism. 2   And their historians had informed them that their own little Erie canal in the first half century of its existence, even in its diminutive size, had been the greatest single influence in bringing marvelous wealth and prosperity to the city and state of New York and to a wide expanse of the Middle West. But the influence of the canal was too remote and to vague to make a lasting appeal, and things which called louder and with greater insistence held the people's attention.

One of the subjects of public concern in New York state was the good roads movements. In 1898 the State had begun in a modest way the improvement of its highways. So-called highway improvement had existed of course as long as the highways themselves, but in such crude form as seldom to be worthy of the name. In the early eighties the agitation for good roads had been started by the League of American Wheelmen. The movement had been taken up by other organizations and had grown to such a size that by the time of which we are writing the Supervisors' Highway Convention, meeting on January 28, 1902, in its third annual convention, passed resolutions calling on the State for a bond issue of $20,000,000 to build State highways. In this movement the city dweller and the country resident stood shoulder to shoulder. For the first time in years, perhaps, the farmer arrayed himself in the ranks of public works supporters. He could easily see the direct benefit he would gain. In the case of the canals, however, the advantage was too far removed to seem real, and the fact that cities paid nine-tenths or more of the cost of all public improvements, highways as well as canals, did not seem to weigh heavily.

In the summer and fall of 1902, moreover, the fierce political battle preceding the general election absorbed universal attention and many other things were forgotten. The reëlection of Governor Odell over Bird. S. Coler by a plurality of less than ten thousand votes shows how intense was the contest.

The canal question, however, had a more prominent place in this year's campaign than ever before. For the first time both political parties were forced to take serious notice of a growing sentiment for canal improvement. This came about by a determination of canal advocates to end their modest and retiring attitude and compel political recognition. To gain their object the press was used and strong editorials in certain leading publications had their effect. The Buffalo papers were the first to begin this campaign. There was some talk even of forming a canal party, but this plan did not meet with general favor, it being deemed wiser to bring so much pressure to bear on the existing organizations that neither of the two great parties should dare longer to ignore the canal question.

When the State conventions were held in the fall at Saratoga, the Republican on September 22 and the Democratic on October 1, the canal men were there in force. Committees had been appointed by the Canal Association of Greater New York and by President John D. Kernan of the State Commerce Convention and these delegates represented the strong canal centers of the state. Senator John Laughlin was chosen to present the matter to the Republican convention and Theodore S. Fassett to the Democratic convention. In the Republican assemblage John I. Pratt was there in behalf of railroad interests to oppose any canal improvement plank, but the canal men prevailed and the party committed itself to the enlargement and improvement of the canals -- to such an extent as fully and adequately to meet all requirements of commerce, such being in substance the language of its declaration. Although the canal people secured their plank, the rural constituency was still strong enough to influence its phraseology and the result was a statement that dealt with generalities and had little real meaning. The Democratic convention on the other hand adopted a strong and unequivocal canal plank, which pledged the party to prepare and submit to the people immediately a plan of canal improvement that would give a 1000-ton capacity to the Erie and Oswego canals and adequate improvement for the other State canals.

Terminal at Erie basin, Buffalo

Terminal at Erie basin, Buffalo, a well-equipped terminal, the point of transfer between the Great Lakes and Barge canal traffic. A 500 by 80-foot brick freight-house, with a 40 by 80-foot head-house, on the pier; a frame warehouse on the other pier. A 20-foot harbor, paved terminal areas and track connections. A track yard just to the right of the view.

Thus the Democrats, as the "canal party," made their appeal to the voters, but this difference between the two platforms was practically nullified by Governor Odell's speech of acceptance. He had been coming around to the opinion of the canal men and in accepting the nomination for Governor he declared definitely for a 1,000 ton canal. During the campaign the friends of the canals saw to it that the candidates of both parties showed where they stood on the canal question, and these tactics compelled the political leaders to declare that their respective parties stood committed to canal improvement.

There was one occurrence soon after the State conventions which should receive our attention. Meetings were held by the Buffalo Merchants' Exchange and the New York Produce Exchange at which there was a strong sentiment in favor of committing the canal men of the state to the Democratic party because of its positive canal plank. As it turned out such action would probably have dealt the canal cause a serious if not fatal blow. The Democrats were defeated and if the canals had shared that defeat they might never have recovered. But canal interests were not intrusted to a single party. Led by Buffalo and especially by George Clinton, resolutions in appreciation of the canal planks adopted by the two political parties were passed by both the Buffalo and New York organizations and canal men were saved from making a sad blunder.

Before continuing with the political campaign and the events which followed the election, we shall consider a few activities of the days between the adjournment of the Legislature and the beginning of the fall campaign.

In the latter part of April at a joint meeting of committees from the Greater New York Canal Association and the New York Produce Exchange a committee was appointed to confer with people from Buffalo and Oswego with reference to choosing which of the various 1,000-ton canal routes they should favor. This conference was held in Buffalo in May and State Engineer Bond was present upon invitation. After prolonged discussion and careful deliberation the route which extended by canal all the way across the state from east to west was selected, this in preference to the route by canal from the Hudson river to Oswego and thence to Buffalo by way of Lake Ontario and either a short canal beginning at Olcott or the Niagara river with a canal around the falls.

But to digress a moment: To one who is familiar with the history of the New York canals this discussion of routes brings back most interesting memories -- those of the time now nearly a century and a quarter gone when this same old question, older than the canal itself, was a burning topic. In the first days of the Republic, when the thought of a canal from the Hudson to the great interior lakes began to get hold of the early settlers it was taken for granted that it would follow the line of the natural waterways. Strangely, however, the first legislative action connected with what developed into the State canal system was a resolution looking toward a survey of the "most eligible and direct route" for a canal between the tide-waters of the Hudson river and Lake Erie, but so firmly fixed was the idea of the Ontario route, as the natural waterways route came to be known a little later, that the intention of the original resolution was disregarded, the legislators not being willing to sanction so wild a project, and for it was substituted a resolution which directed a survey of the rivers and streams along "the usual route" and such other route as the Surveyor-General might deem proper. At that time little was known of the territory where the canal eventually was built, but when the interior country was explored it took its place as a rival of the lake route and from then on, all through the agitation for the original Erie canal, the question was hotly debated, even until the time of deciding to build a canal. An early writer, speaking of the "Canal Memorial" of 1816, the famous document which turned the tide of public sentiment canalward, says, "It effectually exploded the Ontario route, and silenced forever its advocates."

But it seems that nearly a century later the question had to be settled again and this time as before the way in which individual localities would be affected and the need of the votes of all canal territory had as much to do with the decision as the consideration of engineering features or comparative costs or of what would be best for the canal as a whole. In the Legislature of 1902 the attempt was made to put through a measure for the Erie canal alone, but without success. The survey of 1900 had shown the Mohawk-Oswego route much cheaper that the route all inland to Buffalo, but nobody was foolish enough to try to put that proposition to vote. Without the support of the western section no canal legislation would hope to succeed. During 1902 the sentiment gradually turned to the plan of using the inland route for the Erie canal and enlarging the Oswego canal to a channel of like dimensions. The legislation of 1903 shows this development. In effect this solution of the problem of routes consisted in the choice of both and, as we shall see, this was the solution eventually approved by the people.

To enlist the press of the city in their cause the Canal Association of Greater New York and the canal committee of the New York Produce Exchange gave a dinner to the principal editors at Delmonico's on September 11, 1902, with the result that the New York papers soon were taking as lively an interest in canal affairs as were those of Buffalo.

The Republican ticket was successful in the election of 1902 and Governor Odell was reëlected. Soon after the election steps were taken to draft a canal bill which should embody the ideas of canal advocates. The New York men undertook this and in doing it they availed themselves of the valuable services of Abel E. Blackmar, counsel of the New York Produce Exchange. In drafting the engineering and technical portions Mr. Blackmar was ably assisted by Major Thomas W. Symons. Also the aid and advice of George Clinton and Senator Henry W. Hill were secured in framing this measure, which it was planned to introduce in the Legislature early in the session.

Early in December a new complication arose. The Governor proposed making the route which utilized Lake Ontario between Oswego and Olcott the one to be favored. This stirred up canal men. Meetings were held in New York and Buffalo and in a few days a delegation of men from these cities waited on the Governor and laid before him the advantages of the inland route as compared with any route which used Lake Ontario. The Governor would not commit himself, but his suggestion had had the effect of uniting all canal interests in a determination to stand for and 1,000-ton canal or nothing and also for the interior route.


    1   Report of State Engineer for 1900, p. 11.
    2   Letter of ex-Governor Horatio Seymour to chairman of Assembly canal committee on February 27, 1882, when Constitutional amendment to abolish canal tolls was pending.

Erie Canal home page   |   Historical Documents page