Biking the Erie Canal, I pedaled through history

UniqueThis 87 August 22, 2023
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Alfredo Sosa/Staff

A kayaker waits his turn at locks 34 and 35 in Lockport, New York. The newer steel locks sit next to the 1825 Flight of Five, a five-lock stair that lifted boats 60 feet in a stretch of 450 feet.

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| Along the Erie Canal, N.Y.

When I set out to ride my bicycle from Ontario to my home in Rhode Island, I knew very little about the Erie Canal.

I didn’t know that it was considered an engineering feat when it was completed in 1825, or that it changed the economy of the region by allowing faster transportation of goods from Buffalo to New York City.

A story focused on

What do our usual modes of transportation keep us from seeing? Riding his bike from Ontario to Rhode Island, the Monitor’s director of photography caught unexpected glimpses of an oft-forgotten past.

What I do know is that I love to travel by bike. I love the pace that cycling allows. In a way, it’s not too different from the pace of the motorized boats that replaced the original barges, which were towed by mules. 

As I rode along the canal’s towpaths, stopping to watch the locks in action, visit historic sites, and talk to people, I was transported to a time when this thoroughfare facilitated economic and – just as important – cultural and social interactions. The photos in this essay were taken from my bike on the Erie Canalway Trail.

When I set out to ride my bicycle from Ontario to my home in Rhode Island, I knew very little about the Erie Canal.

I didn’t know that it was considered an engineering feat when it was completed in 1825, or that it changed the economy of the region by allowing faster transportation of goods from Buffalo to New York City. And I surely did not know how the canal transformed towns along its 339 miles, not unlike the Interstate Highway System more than a century later. 

What I do know is that I love to travel by bike. I love the pace that cycling allows. In a way, it’s not too different from the pace of the motorized boats that replaced the original barges, which were towed by mules. A guide at the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron, New York, told me that the canal cut the travel time across the state from three weeks to a single week. 

A story focused on

What do our usual modes of transportation keep us from seeing? Riding his bike from Ontario to Rhode Island, the Monitor’s director of photography caught unexpected glimpses of an oft-forgotten past.

As I rode along the canal’s towpaths, stopping to watch the locks in action, visit historic sites, and talk to people, I was transported to a time when this thoroughfare facilitated economic and – just as important – cultural and social interactions.

The photos in this essay were taken from my bike on the Erie Canalway Trail and are a small portion of the visual treats I found along the way.

A view of a section of the original Erie Canal and its towpath during early morning hours near Fairport, New York.
A boat enters Lock 8 Park along the Mohawk River in Schenectady, New York. A retractable dam next to it controls the river's water flow.
My bicycle leans against an overpass at a section of the Erie Canal between Rochester and Syracuse during a rest stop.
A boat waits to be scrapped at the dry dock in Lyons, New York. The facility maintains and overwinters canal boats, dredges, and barges.
A church perches above the canal bank in Little Falls, New York. This section of the Erie Canal was built to bypass the falls on the Mohawk River.

A horse-drawn buggy uses a designated parking spot outside a bank in Canajoharie, New York.

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