The Cohoes Crescent Road

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January 23, 2015
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The Cohoes Crescent Road

– Kevin Franklin, Town of Colonie Historian

The 1842 Erie Canal is in the foreground with the towpath now the Cohoes Crescent Road between the canal and the Mohawk River. - photo from the Fonda Family Collection.

The 1842 Erie Canal is in the foreground with the towpath, now the Cohoes Crescent Road, between the canal and the Mohawk River. – photo from the Fonda Family Collection.

Originally, Cohoes Crescent Road may have been a foot path beside the south bank of the Mohawk River between the Hudson River and points west and used for centuries by Native Americans. The Native Americans knew places where the river was shallow and safe enough most times of the year to cross sides by fording through only a couple feet of water. Eventually early Europeans settled along both banks of the Mohawk River above the Cohoes Falls and used these same fording points as well.

Canal and towpath between Cohoes and Crescent

After the enlarged Erie Canal was completed in 1842 it was discovered that three mules could pull two barges more efficiently than two mules pulling one barge. Here the practice was documented on this stretch of the Erie Canal. From the Charles Holle Collection.

When the original Erie Canal was completed in 1825, a series of sixteen locks were needed between the Erie Canal basin at Albany and the canal aqueduct spanning the Mohawk River at Crescent in order to rise above the height and natural barrier of the Cohoes Falls. Known as the “Terrible Sixteen’s” as it took an entire day for a boat to pass through them all. Once above the falls, the Erie Canal wound its way along the southern bank of the Mohawk to the Crescent aqueduct where it crossed into what is now Saratoga County slightly east of where State Rt. 9 crosses today. The canal here was formed and protected by an earthen berm separating and protecting the canal bed from the waters and winter ice of the adjoining Mohawk River.

Towpath becomes Cohoes Crescent Road

Early travelers used the Erie Canal Towpath to travel between Cohoes and Crescent.
From the Charles Holle Collection.

This berm doubled as the towpath between the lock at the top of the falls to the aqueduct structure at Crescent which also supported a wagon bridge connecting both sides of the Mohawk. Being slightly longer than two miles in length, the berm eventually became known as the Cohoes Crescent Road. Early stages used this route to travel between Cohoes and points north in Saratoga County.

The Erie Canal here was abandoned by the State of New York with the construction of the new, New York State Barge Canal System of the early 20th Century. Large concrete dams were built here at Crescent raising the level of the river and obliterating the old river fords. The new Barge Canal locks at Waterford replaced the series of locks at Cohoes. The Mohawk River itself was now used by motorized canal boats. The road was eventually abandoned to the Town of Colonie. It became part of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway in 2003.

4 Comments

  1. Fred Miller says:

    Eric: Great article about a historic road that is traveled so much today by folks that had no idea of the importance of it – but now they do. Excellent work!
    Fred M

    • Fred: The article was written by Colonie Town Historian, Kevin Franklin. Most of the material will be used in an interpretive kiosk planned for New York Power Authority property adjacent to the power plant and Crescent Dam. We will have it installed by the end of the year. It will be set back from but still in sight of the Cohoes Crescent Road.

      • Fred Miller says:

        Thanks for the update. NYPA was a good organization to work with and I had good experiences with upper management there during my flood recovery business. Let me know if I can help.
        Fred Miller

  2. A really enjoyable read! and great images! Thank You!

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