For Immediate Release: 09/13/17

The New York State Museum will open the first phase of Enterprising Waters: New York’s Erie Canal on September 16. On display through October 20, 2019, the exhibition honors the bicentennial anniversary of the Erie Canal’s construction and features artifacts, images, posters, and documents from the collections of the State Museum, State Archives, State Library, and cultural institutions from across the state.

The first phase of the exhibition explores the circumstances leading up to building the canal, the construction, and the famous “wedding of the waters” that marked the opening of the completed canal in 1825. The exhibit features a gigantic canal warehouse windlass (hoist) with a wooden wheel measuring 14 feet in diameter from Mohawk, NY. The windlass was a pulley mechanism that could easily lift and lower heavy cargo from both sides of the warehouse along the canal with only one or two men. From 1831 through 1866, this windlass operated in the H. G. Root and Company Warehouse in the Village of Mohawk on the Erie Canal. The second phase of the exhibition will open in 2018, which will explore life on the canal, the growth and legacy of the canal, and the barge canal still in use today.

"As we commemorate the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, we celebrate the most influential human-made waterway in American history," said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. "As America's greatest public works project, the canal had an enormous impact not only on New York State but on the entire nation. This exhibition is a unique educational opportunity for adults, children, and students to learn about the impact of the Canal through historic artifacts, documents and images from the collections of cultural institutions throughout the state."

“We’re proud to present an exhibition about the Erie Canal at the State Museum,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “The exhibition tells the story of the significant role the Erie Canal played in the economic, social and cultural developments of New York and the nation. I encourage educators to use this exhibition to teach our students about one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and how the canal influenced the state, the nation, and the world.”

“We’re pleased to open the first phase of Enterprising Waters: New York’s Erie Canal at the State Museum,” said Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education and State Museum Director Mark Schaming. “The Erie Canal helped solidify New York as the Empire State and greatly influenced the state and the nation’s transportation, economics, immigration, and trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the legacy of the Erie Canal continues to today, this exhibition is an opportunity for visitors to learn about this important chapter in New York’s history.”

“The opening of this compelling exhibit allows many more people to learn about this iconic waterway,” said Brian U. Stratton, New York State Canal Corporation Director. "As we continue the celebration of the Erie Canal’s bicentennial, the State Museum has done a great job of showing how the canal redefined New York, fueled the expansion westward and helped the nation become an industrial superpower.”

“In this year that marks the bicentennial of the groundbreaking for the Erie Canal, we are proud to partner with the New York State Museum to share the story of the Erie Canal's national impact," said Bob Radliff, Executive Director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. "We hope museum-goers will enjoy the exhibition and then visit the canal itself to see firsthand this historic and enduring waterway."

The Erie Canal directed the course of New York and American history. When the canal opened in 1825, it unlocked the Western interior for trade and settlement, and made New York City the nation’s most powerful commercial center. As one of the largest public works projects in American history, the Erie Canal also inspired a nationwide transportation revolution. Thousands of people poured into New York to work on or along the canal, or just to pass through. Though the canal would eventually be superseded by the railroad, a heady mixture of innovation and determination, and the industrious seeking and creation of wealth, was cemented in the American character.

Photos of select artifacts and documents in the exhibition are available here.

The State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located at 222 Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or
visiting the Museum website.

About the New York State Canal Corporation

The New York State Canal system includes the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca canals. Spanning 524 miles, the waterway links the Hudson River with the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes and Lake Champlain. In 2017, the Canal Corporation will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Erie Canal, which occurred in the city of Rome on July 4, 1817.

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Steven Gosset
Media Relations
(914) 390-8192