Advances in technology change the way we live, and life in the 18th century was no exception when tracks were laid, creating a new path for change across New York state.
In 1825, the creation of the Erie Canal made a trip that once took weeks from Albany to Buffalo, now only a five-day
• What: Canals and Railroads: From Collaboration to Competition
• When: Saturday, June 28, through November
• Where: Schenectady County Historical Society Museum, 32 Washington Ave., Schenectady
• How much: $5 per person
• Info: schenectadyhistorical.org or 887-5073
journey on the canal. Often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the canal made New York the Empire State. In 1825, more than 40,000 passengers traveled the new waterway. That is, until the railroad came to town. The invention of the steam locomotive and the creation of a vast network of railroads changed history in New York.
The Schenectady County Historical Society Museum is now offering an in-depth look at New York State’s railroads and canalways in the exhibit “Canals and Railroads: From Collaboration to Competition,” which opens Saturday, June 28.
“The first railroads in New York state were built not to compete with the canal, but to enhance and improve it by providing improved traffic and transit times,” said David Gould, historian and exhibit curator from the ALCO Technical and Historical Society. “The best example is the Mohawk and Hudson which provided a shortcut across the Pine Bush from Albany to Schenectady, avoiding the locks in the Erie Canal on the Mohawk.”
The Mohawk Hudson Railroad, the brainchild of George W. Featherstonehaugh, an Englishman who lived in Duanesburg, was completed in 1831, despite the fact that there was resistance to the railroad because it would compete with the Erie Canal.
Mary Zawacki, curator at the Schenectady County Historical Society Museum, said the railroads were initially meant to be a lateral system connecting the canals, but that quickly changed when passengers realized they could ride the railroad on a direct 16-mile journey from Albany to Schenectady, saving 10 miles.
“It went from a collaborative system of transportation to competition between the two,” she said.
The New York legislature then restricted the railroad to carry freight. By 1850, there were 29 railroads in New York. Slowly the canals began to disappear and the railroads started laying track in the old canal beds.
The traveling exhibit explores the beginnings of the canal era and New York state’s railroads and will feature artifacts, maps, photographs and other archival material.
“Canals and Railroads: From Collaboration to Competition.” is the result of an Erie Canalway Grant awarded in 2013 to ALCO for the education of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. Nine organizations throughout the state were awarded $45,800 in grants to assist with telling the story of New York’s legendary canals.
“The grant is to reach out to the widest possible audience and educate people on the subject,” Zawacki said.
Gould said the exhibit’s stop at the historical museum allows it to be enhanced and enlarged by including museum artifacts, such as clothing and photos.
“The nice thing is it lends itself to the capabilities of the local historical society on display, enlarges the exhibit and provides a hands-on teaching opportunity for schoolchildren,” he said.
The exhibit will stay at the museum for six months and then move to other canal-related historical groups throughout the state.
Gould will also do a presentation about the exhibit at an opening reception on Saturday, June 28, at 2 p.m. at the Schenectady County Historical Society located at 32 Washington Ave. in Schenectady. Admission is $5 and free for society members.