Erie Canal Part 2: Weeping Owls

By June 12, 2006General

If you saw the blog yesterday on the Erie Canal, you may want to know more about it and its relevance to our 21st century world. Toward the end of the blog, I noted a speech given on Friday by the Chancellor and President of Syracuse University, that referenced the Wedding of the Waters.

I noticed that Chancellor Cantor also gave a speech back in March at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and when looking at it, thought that it bears excerpting some of what she said that day. If you want to know everything she said, click on the link to the full speech at the bottom of this blog. (And if you know why the owls were weeping, you just have to scan this excerpt for the answer).

“President Shirley Ann Jackson, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to speak at Rensselaer, a sister institution of Syracuse University in proximity and in history, sharing many alumni and pursuing similar educational philosophies.

“Steven van Rensselaer, who founded RPI, was a driving force behind the Erie Canal and, therefore, deeply connected to the city of Syracuse, which until the construction of the Canal was only a trading post for the local salt mines. In 1820, a visitor described our area as “so desolate it would make an owl weep to fly over it.”1 Once Syracuse could export its salt in bulk through the Canal, it grew in just 30 years from 250 people to 22,000.2 The salt industry gave rise to a chemical industry and later to a broadly based manufacturing sector, so that 70 years later, Syracuse produced everything from clocks and china to soda ash and steam engines. The story was repeated in city after city.

The Erie Canal was more than a masterpiece of engineering. In linking New York City and the East Coast to the riches and trade of the American West-and creating cities all along the way-it became the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.3 The history of the Canal is a powerful reminder that a small group of committed people can make a tremendous difference-can, literally, re-route history. The history of the Canal carries another important lesson. It was created by networks of interest, and it, in turn, created new business, social, and even religious networks4 by connecting a series of communities, each nested in its own geographical area.”

To read her whole RPI speech, click here.