History: Clinton's Big Ditch

Mozelle Martin

Starting in 1801, the United States was excited.

Americans were envisioning new areas of settlement west of the Appalachians even though westward routes were slow and costs to relocate were exorbitant.

In 1810, Dewitt Clinton was elected the leader of the Erie Canal Commission. Part of his job was to help plan a canal route to Lake Erie. Another of his tasks was to obtain federal funding for the project. When he couldn't secure federal funding, he approached Ohio’s legislative committee.

In 1812, they agreed that the idea was a great way to advance societal interests. They approved the funding under the idea that linking the Great Lakes with the Hudson River was a project of "national concern." It wasn't enough that President Madison was against the project because the War of 1812 interrupted the plans anyway.

Although the idea of using a canal to link the Great Lakes with the eastern seaboard had been considered for decades, no plans were in place until 1817, when the birth of the Erie Canal began.

With a $7-million price tag, foes of the operation called it "Clinton's Big Ditch" due to its reference to the project's most prominent advocate, New York governor Dewitt Clinton.

The construction wasn't completed until 1825. During those eight years of labor, more than 1,000 workers died. One would imagine the physical risks taken in such a feat. However, most deaths were due to swamp-borne diseases.

After completion, this big ditch was labeled the "Eighth Wonder of the World." This project cut 363 miles through thick forest and swampland to link Lake Erie at Buffalo with the Hudson River at Albany.

Becoming a favored pathway for the great migration westward, it slashed relocation and transportation costs by an impressive 95%. As a result, it granted unprecedented prosperity to small towns along the route that otherwise would've likely turned into ghost towns.

Read more about the history of this project at American Antiquities and Archaeological Conservancy.

Clintons Big DitchPhoto byArchaeological Conservancy

Wouldn't it be great to find excitement in our country again?

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