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Enterprising Waters
The History and Art of New York's Erie Canal
Enterprising Waters
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Brad L. Utter - Author
Ashley Hopkins-Benton - With
Karen E. Quinn - With
Thomas X. Grasso - Foreword by
Excelsior Editions
Price: $39.95 
Paperback - 432 pages
Release Date: March 2020
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-7826-5

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Chronicles the story of the Erie Canal from its inception to today.

One of the largest public works projects in American history, the Erie Canal inspired a nationwide transportation revolution and directed the course of New York and American history. When completed in 1825, the engineering marvel unlocked the Western interior for trade and settlement, boomtowns sprang up along the canal’s path, and New York City grew to be the nation’s most powerful center of international trade. Millions of people poured into New York (and some through it) to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities provided by the canal, influencing settlement and the social, political, and commercial landscapes of America.

Produced in honor of the bicentennial of the beginning of construction of the canal, Enterprising Waters—a companion catalog to the New York State Museum’s exhibition of the same name—includes reproductions of objects and images from the collections of more than thirty-five different institutions and individual lenders. It also contains reproductions of fifty-nine works of art used in the companion exhibition “Art of the Erie Canal.” Themes of politics, engineering, commerce, life on the canal, and more are paired with full color images of artifacts, documents, and images to bring this unique American story to life, from its inception to today.

“…Enterprising Waters packs an impressive amount of history into its 400-plus pages.” — Hudson River Valley Review

“…the definitive guide about the history of the Erie Canal.” — Jack Rightmyer, Albany Times Union

“Profusely illustrated with captioned period photography throughout, Enterprising Waters is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a two page Bibliography, two pages of Notes, and a fourteen page Index, making it an exceptional work that is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library American Transportation History collections in general, and Erie Canal history supplemental studies lists in particular.” — Midwest Book Review

Enterprising Waters is, like the Erie Canal itself, an ambitious achievement. Its spectacular visual images vividly portray the waterway’s material world as well as its artistic legacy, while the accompanying text concisely covers two centuries of Erie Canal history. No matter how much, or how little, readers know already about New York’s artificial waterways, they can learn from (and enjoy!) this beautiful catalog.” — Carol Sheriff, author of The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817–1862

“A fine presentation in words and images of the great project that inspired New York and the nation.” — Gerard Koeppel, author of Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire

At the New York State Museum, Brad L. Utter, Ashley Hopkins-Benton, and Karen E. Quinn are all Senior Historians and Curators. Hopkins-Benton is the coauthor (with Jennifer A. Lemak) of Votes for Women: Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial, also published by SUNY Press, and Quinn is a contributor to Mount Washington: The Crown of New England, by P. Andrew Spahr.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Enterprising Waters: New York’s Erie Canal

Introduction: Art of the Erie Canal

Part I. Before the Canal

Improved Waterways

Early Supporters of an Inland Canal

The war of 1812

Part II. Clinton’s Ditch

The Politics and Funding of Internal Improvements

Settling the land: Acquisition and Dispossession

An Engineering Marvel

Conquering the Niagara Escarpment

Celebrating Early Achievements

Wedding of the Waters

Early Commerce and Industry

The Windlass and H. G. Root & Company

Moving Goods: the Boats That Made it Happen

Canal Stores

The Canal and the Hudson in the Age of Steam

New Ports and Boomtowns

Life on the Canal

Travel and Adventure on the Erie Canal

Winter on the Canal

Immigration Corridor

Canal Fever

Part III. The Enlarged Canal

The Politics of the Enlargement

Construction and Engineering of the Enlargement

Commerce and Industry: Industrialization and Agriculture

Mother of Cities

The Rise of Railroads

The Age of Social Reform

Decline of the Canal

The $9 Million Act

Part IV. The Barge Canal

The Politics of the Barge Canal

Building the Barge Canal

Barge Canallers

Commerce and Industry on the Canal in the Twentieth Century

Part V. Today’s Erie Canal

The Canal’s Legacy: Art, Advertising, and Community Pride

The Erie Canal Today


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