United States. Inland Waterways Commission.

Preliminary report of the Inland Waterways Commission. Message from the President transmitting a preliminary report online

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that time the cost of transportation from Buffalo to Montreal was $30 per ton, and the
return transportation from $60 to $75. The expense of transportation from Buffalo
to New York was stated at $100 per ton, and the ordinary length of passage twenty
days. In other words, on the very route through which the heaviest and cheapest
products of the West are now sent to market the cost of transportation equalled nearly
.3 times the market value of wheat in New York, 6 times the value of corn, 12 times
the value of oats, and far exceeded the value of most kinds of crude provisions. It is
not without interest to note that prior to the construction of the Erie the wheat of
western New York was sent down the Susquehanna to Baltimore as the cheapest and
best route to market. The trade of the West was chiefly carried on throup;? the cities
of Baltimore and Philadeli^hia, the latter at that time being the first city of the
United States in population and wealth and in amount of its international commerce.

It is difficult to estimate the influence this canal has exerted upon the commerce,
growth, and prosperity of the whole country. But for this work the West would have
held out few inducements to the settler, the East would have been without elements
of growth. The canal supplied it with cheap food and has opened an outlet and created
a market for the products of its manufacturies and commerce.

By 1825, on the opening of the Erie, the canal idea seems to have
taken a firm hold on the minds of the assembly, for in that year was


passed an act directing canal commissioners to make a considerable
number of surveys and estimates for routes for navigable communica-
tion. At that time the future possibilities of the railroad could not
have been anticipated and the canal was looked upon as the great
highway for distance transportation. A company to construct the
Oswego Canal was incorporated in 1823, the canal commissioners
being given power to assume control of the same if necessary, as a
part of the improvement between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and
in 1825 they were authorized to borrow money for that purpose. In
1826 a canal board was created to consist of the canal commissioners
and the commissioners of the canal fund. Tliis board was given
charge of the construction and regulation of the canals in which the
State had any interest.

In 1827 by act of assembly the Erie and Champlain canals were
declared to be completed and the navigable communications con-
structed and in process of construction by the State were designated
and described. These were the Erie Canal, the Champlain Canal, the
Cayuga and Seneca Canal, and the Oswego Canal. The canal fund
was defined as consisting of (1) lands granted for the construction of
canals; (2) debts due for portions of such lands as had been sold; (3)
tolls and commutation money on navigable communications belong-
ing to the State; (4) duty on the manufacture of salt under the act
of April 15, 1817; (5) proceeds of all commodities or goods sold at
auction except $33,500; (6) money received from the sale of surplus
waters from any canal, and (7) money recovered in suits for penalties
instituted under the canal laws.

Between 1828 and 1836 a number of private canal companies were
incorporated by the State, and the canal commissioners were author-
ized to construct the Crooked Lake Canal, connecting Seneca and
Crooked lakes; the Chemung Canal, which ran from the head of Seneca
Lake to Elmu-a on the Chemung River, formmg a chain of communi-
cation from the Erie Canal to the Susquehanna; the Chenango Canal
running from Binghamton up the Chenango River to its headwaters
and thence to the Erie Canal ; and the Genessee Valley Canal, extend-
ing from Rochester thi-ough the Genessee Valley to the Allegheny
River at Olean. The abandonment of these four latter canals, how-
ever, was authorized in 1878.

The volume of traffic passing through the Erie canal soon taxed its
capacity, and in 1835 the commissioners proposed new locks and
increased depth; and this enlargement was authorized, but was not
finally completed until the year 1862. This enlargement increased
the depth to 7 feet, the width at the bottom to 56 feet, and at the
top to 70 feet.

The act of April 20, 1894, is an important one in canal legislation.
It designated and defined the State canals, defined the powers and
duties of the canal board, provided for a superintendent of public
works and his assistants, giving him general care and superintendence
of the canal with power to enforce the canal law; defined the powers
and duties of the State engmeer, and in general repealed nearly all the
statutes relating to canals and the general canal legislation that had
been passed from 1829 to 1893.

The decline in importance of the Erie Canal, owing to its phys-
ical inability to meet modern commercial requirements and the pos-
sibilities of its enlargement appealed to the assembly in 1895,
when $9,000,000 was appropriated for the improvement of the Erie,


Champlain, and Oswego canals. After most of this amount had been
expended, however, it was found that it would requu-e $12,000,000
additional to complete the work that had been undertaken. It
seemed best to formulate a general canal policy for the State, and in
March, 1899, the Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New
York, appointed a board of 5 commissioners, who were practical men
and who had made a study of the problems of transportation, who
were acquainted with the history of canal transportation as affected
by railroad competition, and who were familiar with the experience of
other countries in canal matters. As a result of their report the State
of New York by the act of April 7, 1903, previously referred to on
page212, provided that $101,000, 000 should be devoted to the improve-
ment of the Erie, Oswego, and Champlain canals. The people ratified
this act, and the work of constructing the Barge Canals was begun.

The recommendation of this commission of 1899 was strongly
adverse to the abandonment of the State-owned canals, and they
earnestly advised the enlargement of the Erie to accommodate boats
of 1,000 tons, 150 feet long, 25 feet wide, and of 10 feet di-aft, carrying
33,333 bushels of wheat. Such an improvement, in then judgment,
would permanently insure the commercial supremacy of New York
State by restoring its former share of the western grain and other
traffic and foster the growth of the iron and steel industries in the
State. Their recommendation contemplated deepening the Oswego
Canal to 8 feet for boats of 320 tons capacity.'* It has been estimated
that up to 1899 the sum of $360,000,000 "had been paid for fi-eight
money, and tolls on the New York canals. The disbursement of this
money has built up the great interior cities of the State. The original
impetus to their growth came from the construction of the canals,
particularly the Erie, and the railroads, when built, followed the line
that had been marked out by the canal. The railroads, however,
owing to theu' present more modern and economical handling of
fi-eignt (not to mention other methods of controlling canal traffic),
had reduced the proportion of fi-eight carried by the canals from
44 per cent of the entire tonnage carried across the State in 1868
to 5 per cent in 1898, and in grain this decrease was even more marked,
falling from 76 per cent in 1868 to 10 per cent in 1898. An interest-
ing table showing the relative proportions carried by the railroads of
New York and the New York canals, year by year, from 1854 to 1898
is shown on pages 182 and 183 of the Report of the New York Com-
mittee on Canals, 1899.

Cost and management. — From 1817 to the end of 1882, when the
tolls on the canals were abolished, the State had paid out for con-
struction and enlargement the sum of $78,685,580, and for superin-
tendence and repairs $48,399,286, and had received in tolls and other
revenues the sum of $135,418,325, leaving a net balance of income
over expenditure of $8,333,459. The profit on the Erie Canal dur-
ing this period was more than $42,000,000 over and above the cost
of construction and maintenance. It appears from the balance sheet
of the canals that the Champlain, Oswego, Cayuga, and Black River
canals have not been profitable in themselves, but since they form a
part of the great canal system, it is only fair to consider the system
as a whole. But the profits of the canal system of the State of
New York are not measured alone by the figures shown in the

"Report of Committee on Canals, New York, 1898, p. 31.
31673— S. Doc. 325, 60-1 15


balance sheet, for over and above the difference between income and
the expenditures there are to the credit of the canals the indisputable
benefits to the commerce and prosperity of the State. C^.-(Tl'QiCiOQOSQOOC^

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Online LibraryUnited States. Inland Waterways CommissionPreliminary report of the Inland Waterways Commission. Message from the President transmitting a preliminary report → online text (page 21 of 83)