Need for Body of Canal Supporters -- Organizations during Agitation -- Formation of State Association -- Its Place in Canal History -- Its Members Men with Altruistic Ideals -- A Tribute to Them.

We have said that after the authorizing act of 1903 the canal passed from the hands of the advocates to those of the engineers. Perhaps this would seem to imply that the project had no more need of such support as its well-wishers had been giving. But this was not the case. The Barge canal has been a growth, a product of development, an evolution, and as the various accretions have come, the waterway has assuredly needed a strongly-organized body of friends -- to create public sentiment, to secure the passage of new legislation, and to guard and forward its interests in many other ways. Doubtless the association which was formed for doing this work has not met these needs to the full nor even attained to the goal of its high aims, but is has done much; for one thing it has held the banner around which on emergent occasions canal forces might rally, and for what it has done it deserves praise.

During the period of Barge canal agitation there had arisen a rather numerous company of supporters and these were drawn largely from among existing commercial, industrial and civic bodies. At the forefront stood the men who had been members of the canal organization that had existed under several names and with a few interruptions since 1885. For pressing the claims of the Barge canal during the stage of its agitation these various elements had become somewhat closely associated, but when construction work began this organization, never united on a permanent basis, fell apart. Possibly these men themselves, although as individuals most of them remained active, deemed their mission as an organization accomplished. However that may be it was 1909 before formal association was effected.

At the time of beginning the Barge canal and also during the years that have followed, there has been abroad in the land, as we have seen, a well-pronounced and wide-spread movement for waterway improvements. New York was leading the states in actual accomplishment and it naturally followed that she should have a waterways association. Other such organizations had been founded in those years; there was the National Rivers and Harbors Congress, country-wide in its interests and its membership, and the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association, which embraced all the Atlantic seaboard states, so why not an organization in the state that was doing the most in waterway construction?

Delegates from New York state at the fifth annual meeting of the National Rivers and Harbors Congress at Washington on December 9, 1908, formed a temporary organization and authorized a committee to formulate plans for a New York State Waterways Association. This committee had a meeting in Albany on the 13th of January following and another in New York city a week later. At the same time as the latter meeting there was held a conference under the auspices of the Manufacturers and Business Men's Association of Brooklyn, which was well attended by delegates from various parts of the state and at which numerous carefully-prepared papers on a wide variety of waterway topics were read. It was at this conference that the permanent organization was effected. Its president for the first year was Robert J. MacFarland of Brooklyn, and for the second year, Patrick W. Cullinan of Oswego. Then Henry W. Hill of Buffalo was chosen president and he has been reëlected each succeeding year to the present time.

It is not our purpose to discourse at length upon the New York State Waterways Association, but this organization has had an important place in Barge canal history and still has a place of influence in canal economy, and to understand that history we must be cognizant of the existence of this association and also appreciative of its work. It came into being just in time to lend its aid to the projects of the Cayuga and Seneca improvement and the canal terminals. It has helped to secure whatever other additions have been made to the canal scheme, such as funds to complete the waterway after the original money was exhausted, Hudson river terminals, grain elevators, a canal traffic bureau, a law to secure harmonious relationships between railroads and canals, appropriations for additional canal surveys, investigations to further the schemes for Federal waterway construction in the state, and the improvement of the Harlem river and the Bronx kills. The Association has also backed many projects, both State and Federal, that as yet have not been undertaken, such as a Deeper Hudson, the construction of the Long Island south coast canals, the Black River extension and the Flushing-Jamaica canal, the reconstruction of the Chemung canal, the enlargement of the Glens Falls feeder and the construction of an international canal from Montreal to Lake Champlain. It urged Government use of the canal in time of war emergency and when that control proved detrimental it was loud in its demand for a return of the canal to the State. It has tried to stimulate greater use of the canal since its completion and just now it is panoplied for the battle against United States participation in constructing the St. Lawrence ship canal.

Although the annual gatherings of this Association are not attended by numerous delegates and while much that is said at these meetings may not be followed by effective action, the body really has a rather large constituency, including most of the commercial and industrial organizations of the state with their large memberships, and on occasion it can wield considerable power. Its latent possibility of influence, moreover, has been one of its chief virtues. It has sometimes happened that there has been urgent need for quick action in supporting or opposing State and Federal legislative enactment or in other emergent crisis and then the organization has been at hand, ready to respond to the call. That the members of the Association are generally men who have no personal interest at stake in the measures they recommend has added greatly to their influence. Sometimes it has happened that public officials on whom has rested the responsibility of approving or rejecting certain projects have looked to this organization for an unprejudiced opinion on the merits of these propositions.

We would speak not alone of this waterways association but also of the men who make up its membership. Although comparatively few in numbers, some of them have been the faithful few who could be counted on always to uphold to the utmost of their time and ability anything which promised for the public good in the way of waterway improvement. With no chance for personal gain, without even the incentive of much honor, their disinterested espousal of the canals has been an inspiration. Waterways to some of these men have become a passion; they might almost be said to be an obsession, but that word poorly describes their state of mind; moreover it is banal. But whatever the controlling motive it surely is altruistic and the result has been that the State has benefited by their unselfish zeal.

It seems fitting to quote here what appears to be an almost unconscious tribute to these men by one who is known as the Nestor of canal advocates, one who for about forty-five years has been at the forefront of canal agitation, George Clinton, grandson of De Witt Clinton. Mr. Clinton spoke these words when he was called upon to address the State Waterways Association a few years ago.

"Your praise gratifies me," said he, "but always brings tears to my eyes when I think of the noble men who have gone to the shadow of death, who worked shoulder to shoulder thirty years ago with those of us who began the agitation. Well, gentlemen, we have done our work. Some of us are growing old. The young men in the community must be induced to take an active interest in these matters, to study them and to devote their time, such as they can spare, to the public interest without hope of either reward from the public treasury or honors in office."

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