Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Wednesday, October 31
Colonie to Albany
The Final Stretch.
The Final Stretch
It was 9:00 when Jerie dropped me off at the park in Colonie where I had left off the night before. It was a beautiful sunny day and quite warm so I could travel without a coat.
Although it was 16 miles to Albany and the sun was setting earlier and earlier, I really wanted to finish the trek today since I was scheduled to take part in a health forum about diabetes on Thursday night. Similarly, on Friday, I was participating in a proclamation for diabetes awareness by the mayor of the town of Cohoes.
Since I wanted to be fully rested for both events, if I didn’t finish today, I would have to wait until the weekend. Having left my backpack at the motel, I should be able to walk at a pretty good pace. The path was the Crescent Branch of the Mohawk River Trail Way, but I soon realized that I was walking along a railway bed rather that the towpath of the Erie Canal. A concrete marker dated 1907 was embedded within the reinforced embankment. It was the Troy-Schenectady line, the same train that stopped at the station on the western side of Colonie where I had rested yesterday.
Upon examination of the maps, I realized the old canal had gone north at the Rexford Aqueduct just east of Schenectady and crosses back to the south side at the Crescent Aqueduct just before Cohoes. The former structure was 750 feet long carried by 16 piers while the latter was 1200 feet long with 26 piers. It must have been a thrill to glide along the canal over 30 feet above the Mohawk River.
Mohawk River.
Mohawk River
From Schenectady to Troy on the Hudson, merely 16 miles as the crow flies, the altitude drops over 200 feet. This necessitated the inclusion of 27 locks during the construction of Clinton’s Ditch. The number of locks was reduced to 20 along the enlarged canal. When the Barge Canal was built using the canalized Mohawk River it merged with the Hudson at Waterford which lies on the bank of the Mohawk opposite Cohoes. With this new modern canal, only seven locks were needed to transverse the same distance to Schenectady.
Great Falls at Cohoes.
Great Falls at Cohoes
At Cohoes the river drops 70 feet. To get around the falls, five locks were built to span a distance of only about a mile. Besides the Erie Canal, several other power canals were built along with factories which used hydropower to drive looms in the production of fabrics. The Harmony Mill is reputed to have been the largest mill in the world.
Harmony Bill.
Harmony Mill
Enlarged Erie Canal.
Enlarged Eries Canal
Across the Hudson from Cohoes is another city that owes its prosperity to the canal. Coal and iron ore were brought to Troy where steel was milled and shipped to all parts of the country.
Another claim to fame for Troy is that it was the home of Cluett, Peabody, & Co., manufactures of the famous Arrow shirts which for over a century were the height of fashion for the well dressed male. The shirts were known for there patented detachable collars.
Lock #1, Troy.
Lock #1, Troy
Today Troy is the location of the first lock of the modern Barge Canal System. It enables boats to transverse a series small rapids where they can continue up the Hudson to the Champlain or turn west at Waterford and go up 5 locks to the modern Erie Canal.
1907 ad for Erie.
1907 ad for Arrow
After Cohoes I crossed a bridge over what I thought was the Mohawk River but latter learned was remnant of the Enlarged Erie Canal which led to the last weighlock before Albany. Now known as Green Island, it was originally called West Troy and the location of a forge. After construction of the canal, woolen mills and other factories sprang up along the canal. Today to old tenement row houses where the mill workers lived line a street which used to be a the power canal for some of mills.
Just south of Green Island is the town of Watervliet which grew from a Dutch settlement founded in 1640. During the Revolutionary war, the town was an important compound for the soldiers waiting to be ferried across the river. In 1813 an armory was established which is still an active armory for the U.S. armed forces.
Another interesting fact is that Watervliet is the location of the first Shaker community which was founded in 1776. They took the name Niskayuna Community which was the Indian name for the area in the western part of the township where they established their farm’s communal buildings. The Niskayuna Community was the inspiration for the many Shaker communities that spread throughout New England, New York and the midwest.
Nineteenth century America was greatly influenced by the Shakers not only from simple and trim design of their furniture but also the development of many inventions including the rotary harrow, the circular saw, the screw propeller, and an early wheel driver washing machine. Two of their inventions have served housewives until this day—the clothes pin and the flat broom. Seriously, many American architects and designers follow the Shaker precept that “form follows function.”
My stomach told me that I better get something to eat so I looked around found a pub to have lunch at get some rest. It was good that I did because I learned that the final stretch of the trail (about seven miles) was through a park that had no amenities, didn’t permit motor vehicles, and had limited access.
Known as Schuyler Flats, it was a pleasant stroll along well groomed trails along the Hudson Along the border were large hardwood trees such as maples and oaks. As a former biology teacher and an avid birder, I was in heaven.
As I walked along, I couldn’t help but think about the local politician who wanted to develop this area. The only that was stopping such action was Interstate 787 which ran north from Albany to Watervliet. All that needed was to relocate the superhighway. What a nut!
White Tail deer.
White Tail deer
At one point I came to a clearing which had a couple of benches and a sign. The sign displayed an 1896 picture of a blast furnace of the Troy Steel and Iron Company. What a difference a century makes. Certainly there are better places to develop!
Iron Works, 1896.
Iron Works, 1896
For about four miles I walked in solitude. It gave me an opportunity to contemplate what I had just done. I started at the banks of the Niagara River on the first of the month. Now, here I was at the Hudson on the last day of the month. For 31 days I had traversed 363 (more or less) across the state of New York, a state whose history I had been woefully ignorant. For most of my life I had been impressed by Yankee ingenuity and their ability to get things done. The planners and builders of the Erie Canal were equally ingenious. The upstate farmers and canalers were as industrious as any New Englander.
Site of Iron Works, 2007.
Site of Iron Works, 2007
Suddenly I was jostled out of my reverie by a jogger blowing by me. I realized that I was reaching the environs of Albany. Soon the path was crowed by more and more people out walking their dog, bicycling, or jogging.
It seemed like I should let Jerie know that I was making the final approach so she could meet me in Albany at touchdown. I called her cell phone and we agreed to meet at the end of the canal. Since she had a photo copy of today’s trip from my guide, I though that it should be easy to find each other. Think again!
Sinset over Albany.
Sunset over Albany
Eventually I came to a series of docks where a couple of rowing crews were removing their shells from the Hudson. Just beyond that I came to a sign indicating that I was at the site of the Albany Basin where boats waited to enter the first lock of the Erie Canal. Another sign indicated that I had reached the end of the trail.
Albany Basin.
Albany Basin
I called Jerie and told her that “the eagle had landed.” She told me that she had been scouting out Albany establishments where we could have a celebratory meal and a drink. At that moment she was in a pleasant little bistro not far from that park. She would hurry right over to the river. I sat down on a bench and waited to be rescued.
Sitting there contemplating what I had done, I was surprised how I felt. I wasn’t happy or excited. Nor would I say that I was sad. The feeling was that of a mild disappointment. The refrain from that old song—“Is that all there is, my friends, is that all there is?—kept playing in my head. I had a similar feeling after my second walk across Spain. I realize that, for me, it is the journey itself that is exhilarating rather than reaching the goal.
The sun was setting and no sign of Jerie. I called her and asked where she was. She said that she was at the park and looking for me. I looked up and down the promenade and saw a few women here and there in the distance. I asked: What was the color of her coat? Pink! I didn’t realize how popular that color was until I look around and saw at least five women (at least, I assumed they were women) around me. So, I said “Wave your arms!” No one waved.
Frustrated, I told her to go to where the bike trail ended and we could meet at the sign. A few minutes later I called her and asked “where in the hell” was she? She insisted that she was at the end of the bike trail. In fact she was even touching the sign. But I was standing at the sign!
It turns out that there were two bike trails that ended about a mile apart. I was at Route 9 and she was at Route 5. I was at the terminus of the Erie Canal. She thought she was at the end of the canal because a not so bright cop responded to her question: Where is the place the canal ended? With “Right Here!”
Once we realized the mistake we were able to meet up quickly. Jerie was quite relieved to see me and gave me a big hug. She had been getting quite nervous being in a strange city park after dark—alone! She then led me to the restaurant she had scouted. It was in a 300 year old building constructed during the days of the Dutch settlement. It was named Nicole’s Bistro after the proprietor who is a French émigré. This appealed to her because she is a Francophile. While I don’t share her appreciation of the Gaullist culture, and prefer the opposite side of the Pyrenees, I was mollified by the fact that the restaurant had an excellent Spanish Rioja wine and also served tapas, the small snacks that are served almost every Spanish bar.
Besides, the barmaids were cute. They were dressed in costume because of Halloween. A party was planned for later in the evening.
Unfortunately after just a few drinks we had to leave. I was too tired to say boo!
Trick or Treat.
Trick or Treat