Crossing through time

Halldor Sigurdsson courtesy of Schoharie Crossing State Historical Site The Visitor Center of the Schoharie Crossing is shown in this undated photo.

FORT HUNTER — David Brooks, director of the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, expects some 700 elementary and junior high students to visit the Erie Canal site by schools’ end.

The site is more than ready.

Besides the outdoor displays and nature, the site has added an indoor museum that describes the history, technology and geology of the area.

In the center of the museum is an under-glass replica of the Erie Canal as it crossed the Schoharie Creek aqueduct. “The students eyes widen up, and they ask questions about the model,” because it allows them to visualize the past, Brooks said. “They get a better sense of the scale of the canal.”

Among the relics are parts of the mechanism that opened the sluice doors and regulated the water flow between locks, so the water levels were adequate for barges. If the water level was too low, the barges would go aground on sandbars, if too high, the turbulence of the barges might erode the sides of the canal, he said.

Photo by Halldor K. Sigurdsson courtesy of Schoharie Crossing Historical Site The reamins fo the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct are shown in this undated photo.

One wall panel shows the topography of the site–which enables students to understand the STEM–science, technology, engineering and math–that went into building and maintaining the canal, he said, including the impact of Ice Age glaciers on the state’s topography.

Another panel shows the chronology of floods which hit Fort Hunter and Schoharie Crossing. That includes the collapse of the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek in 1987 and Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, which accidentally uncovered the foundation of a blockhouse that archeologists were able to explore, Brooks said.

Both teachers and children “are really grateful to get out of the classroom to see the canal and artifacts, especially on a sunny day,” he said.

When students and other tourists go outside, “it creates a memory,” he said.

“They have a better sense of the scale of the canal, and they have a physical connection and can sit on the rocks of the canal,” Brooks said.

Photo by Halldor K. Sigurdsson courtesy of Schoharie Crossing State Historical Site The kayakers and canoers make their way past the remains of the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct.

The older youths get more history from being at the site, while the younger ones learn more about the flora and fauna around the canal. The site has two named trails already in use–the Woodchook Trail and Tow Path Trail — but the Friends of Schoharie Crossing are clearing a new, two-mile trail — the Overlook Trail — along the Mohawk River to the Canalway Trail in south Amsterdam.

Two museum panels quote Thomas Jefferson, who was president during the building of the canal. Jefferson at first thought the building of the canal “a little touch of madness” but later applauded the achievement, Brooks said.

The canal was built without federal money because President James Madison vetoed funding for it, he said.

“America was a new republic and was expanding westward,” Brook said.

Goods that western settlers needed were shipped to them while they sent back finished products.

the site in Fort Hunter is opening a new museum with a centerpiece model of the Erie Canal to help students, and other visitors, to visualize what the canal and Schoharie Creek aqueduct looked like. (Eric Retzlaff/The Leader-Herald)

The canal was built between 1817 and 1825 and initially crossed the Schoharie Creek. Later an aqueduct was built for the canal to go over the creek, so that the creek’s water flow wouldn’t impede the barges.

Eventually, part of the aqueduct was torn down by the Army Corps of Engineers because the pillars and ice jams would sometimes cause the surrounding area to flood.

In the canal’s heyday in the 1880s, 400 million tons of cargo annually passed through. The canal was later merged with the Mohawk River to become the Barge Canal System.

Highways and railroads became competitors of the canal, so fewer goods travel by water these days, and the canal has also become a recreational waterway.

Brooks said that in recent years cargo traffic on the canal has increased because “you can ship things by water you can’t put on trucks or trains,” he said. For example, General Electric has transported turbine via the canal because it is “a cheaper way to move heavy cargo,” such as sand and gravel, he said.

David Brooks, director of the Schoharie Crossing site, points to a topographical map in the site’s new museum that gives visitors a better sense of the area’s geology. 9The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

The canal has a lot of potential for hydropower. “The potential of the canal [for hydropower] is only limited by the imagination of people,” he said.

Visitors to the canal site can learn a lot, but they also can hike trails and picnic at the site. The bicentennial of the Eric Canal has really been effective in promoting what the canal has to offer, Brooks said.

Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene uncovered the foundation of a colonial blockhouse on the Schoharie Crossing site. This was a boon for archeologists. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

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