While the Erie Canal is still used as a means of transportation today, it is nowhere near as prolific as it once was. The canal was replaced by the New York State Barge Canal in 1918, followed by the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway – which made the Erie Canal all but obsolete. This seaway allowed for much larger, much deeper freight boats to travel seamlessly from the Atlantic Ocean, across the Great Lakes, and down into the Mississippi River. Its demise is also attributed to the growth of railroads and highways across NYS and the country itself.
Throughout the 1900’s, many sections of the Erie Canal were shut down or combined with other canals. In 1992, it became a part of the New York State Canal System, which was comprised of the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals. Since this time, the Canal system has been used primarily by recreational traffic. It is open to small craft and select larger vessels from May through November each year. During winter, water is drained from parts of the canal for maintenance.
In the WNY region, the canal is most accessible in Lockport, where boats still travel along the canal and through the locks. Tours are also given of the Lockport Caves, which takes you underground and allows you to see portions of the Erie Canal that have been covered up for the purpose of building roads above them.
Recently, in 2008, the Erie Canal has seen a resurgence of commercial traffic. Forty-two commercial shipments traveled along the canal during this year, compared to only fifteen in the previous year. To compare this, the Erie Canal moved more than 33,000 shipments in its peak year of 1855.
Throughout NYS, portions of the Erie Canal that are no longer in use have been repurposed into parks and museums. Examples of these include the Erie Canal Village in Rome, NY, the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY, and the Erie Canal Historic District, a national historic district in Cahoes, NY that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. For more information on these parks and museums, as well as recent developments of The Erie Canal, visit here (eriecanal.org).
To learn more about The Erie Canal’s history, check it out here.