Majestically located near the confluence of the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River, the remains of the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct harken to an ever-industrializing era in American history. These “Roman arches over Indian waters” carried the second version of the Erie Canal over the dangerous waters of the creek. In its first iteration, the canal crossed through the creek by way of slack water dam and windlass ferry system. Evidence of the dam system is only visible during low water periods such as the off season of today’s modern Barge Canal System that utilizes the Mohawk River. The water impounded by the dams in the river back up the Schoharie Creek, providing a higher level and calmer surface on which to explore by kayak or canoe.
Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site was established in 1966 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, but its importance spans centuries. New York State was intrigued by the idea of creating an Erie Canal park and state legislators trekked across the route between Buffalo and Albany seeking ideal locations for their “Canal Town, USA.” A canal park was established near Rome, NY and Schoharie Crossing in the towns of Florida and Glen within Montgomery County.
Because the hamlet of Fort Hunter contained what remained of the Aqueduct, as well as two intact enlarged era canal locks with canal prism, a section of the original “Clinton’s Ditch” complete with two locks from that 1820’s canal, it was an obvious location to create an historic site. One that could speak to the history of the canal, but also of the Mohawk Valley and the Haudenosaunee who occupied it before European displacement. The Fort Hunter Canal Society had formed in the 1950’s to advocate for its creation and worked to get the canal features listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
Otis Eddy constructed the most prominent feature, that of the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct. Built between 1839 to 1841, it carried the canal from 1845 to 1916 when the canalized river took charge of barge traffic. Noted as one of the single biggest improvements of the enlarged canal, at 624 feet over fourteen arches, the aqueduct was an impressive sight to behold. By the early 1940’s, after several flooding events caused by ice jammed behind its stonework, arches on the east end of the aqueduct were intentionally removed. The stability of the structure was thus compromised, and additional arches have fallen. Six remain today, and a preservation effort is again underway.
With wide spaces, easy access to highway routes and adjacent to the modern system, the site has also become a prime location for recreation. Paddlers make use of the western end of the site, with the amenities of a fine boat launch into the Schoharie Creek. From there they can explore the aqueduct remains as well as witness features of today’s system such as Lock E12 and Dam #8 between Tribes Hill and Fort Hunter. Running parallel to the historic site on the southside of the Mohawk River is also the Erie Canalway Trail/Empire State Trail, on the bed of the former West Shore Railroad as it passed through the county. Miles of old towpath, where mules once pulled barges on the canal, are now nature filled walking paths. Taking in the sights along the canal wouldn’t be complete without seeing how humans were able to transform geography; creating an artificial river that spurred industrialization, religious, social and economic transformations in the early American republic. It helps tell the story of not just New Yorkers, but Americans and humanity in general.
Thanks to Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site for contributing this article