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What Difference Could A Waterway Make?: And Other Questions about the Erie Canal

What Difference Could A Waterway Make?: And Other Questions about the Erie Canal

By: Susan Bivin Aller
Publisher: Lerner Classroom
Publication Date: August 2010
ISBN: 978-0761361244
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: October 2010

The original thirteen colonies were bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Appalachian Mountains on the other. Trade was easy from north to south and vice versa, but expansion and trade to the West was greatly hampered by the chain of mountains as access was quite limited. After the American Revolution it was important for Americans to become self-sufficient and be able to explore and trade within their own land. This land also included the frontier, “lands [that] would become the modern-day states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and part of Minnesota.” Opportunities lay right across the mountains, but how were Americans going to take advantage of the rich resources the frontier had to offer?

Individuals and family units who did cross over into the unknown may never be seen again, “even form a separate country,” or create alliances with more powerful countries. Debates began in earnest as to how to solve this dilemma and move the country forward in a positive direction. An obvious solution would be to create a “water highway” that would connect the frontier to the thirteen colonies. Early leaders and thinkers, such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington favored the idea of canals. New Yorkers were adamant that their idea of a canal would benefit not only them, but the rest of the country. They asked the government for help, but were turned down. Not to be thwarted by critical jabs that suggested it was an insane proposition, they decided to go it alone.

Gouveneur Morris, who had never wavered from the idea of a canal in New York, led the group that would explore the possibility. De Witt Clinton and other explorers “Planned to find a way for a canal to go across New York to Lake Erie.” By 1810 the search was on and despite hardship they persevered and eventually a route was mapped out. Debates continued as there were many details to sort out, but everything came to a halt with the War of 1812. In this book you will learn how the public rallied to support the canal, how the legislature passed a canal bill, how the canal was designed, how individuals received contracts, how the canal was built, and you’ll discover many more amazing facts about the wonders of the Erie Canal. In all, you will explore the history of the canal by learning the answers to several very interesting questions!

This is an excellent historical resource depicting how the Erie Canal came into being and why it was needed. I found this book to be a fascinating look at the canal, especially the debate that came before its construction. For example, we hear that in 1807 Thomas Jefferson actually scoffed at the idea saying to James Geddes, the New York surveyor general, “Why sir, you talk of making a canal 350 miles (560 km) long through the wilderness. It is little short of madness to think of it at this day.” The material is presented in such a way as to make it quite easy to understand and exciting in its presentation due to the excessive period debate. There are questions presented in the sidebars that are answered in the main text. There are numerous art reproductions, photographs, maps (including those on a modern day GPS), and informative side bars. In the back of the book there is a travel account by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a suggested individual/classroom activity, a timeline, an index, source notes, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.

Quill says: An excellent book to add to your classroom to aid in the study of the Erie Canal.

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