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Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4, 1825: "The Wedding of the Waters"

On this day in 1825, New York's governor, DeWitt Clinton, stood on the deck of a packet boat anchored off Sandy Hook and poured a barrel of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean. This "wedding of the waters," as it came to be known, was the symbolic completion of the Erie Canal, the most important waterway of its day and the engineering project that once and for all sealed New York's fate as the most important commercial city in America.

We devote many chapters in Inside the Apple to DeWitt Clinton--perhaps the greatest unsung hero of 19th-century New York City--and we won't recap it all here. But it is worth remembering how central the Erie Canal was to New York's consolidation of economic power. Prior to the canal's opening, it was cheaper to bring goods from Liverpool to New York than to haul them overland from Illinois. Once the canal was finished, not only did New York have access to plentiful raw materials from the Midwest, finished products could now also speed to the heartland, opening up new markets for the city's burgeoning manufacturing base.

The canal opened on October 26, 1825, and a cannon was fired in Buffalo to mark the moment. A series of cannons along the canal and the Hudson River had been set up for the occasion and as each gunner heard the shot, he fired his own; in 90 minutes the news passed, cannon to cannon, along the waterway to New York City. Ten days later, the first boat arrived in New York and Governor Clinton poured the water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic. Over the next century, New York's port would expand exponentially, quickly becoming the busiest in America. By the time of the Civil War, New York's control over shipping was so complete that nearly all the cotton being shipped from the south to Europe was being sent out of New York harbor rather than directly from southern ports.

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Read more about DeWitt Clinton and the Erie Canal in

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