History as Our Intrinsic Quality

Dan Bradt working on an archaeologic dig in Schenectady's Stockade. Gazette Photo by Peter Barber.
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History as Our Intrinsic Quality

Whipple Bridge

This is a whimsical sketch of a small canal barge passing under a (c 1862) Whipple Truss bridge.

As a visiting expert in scenic conservation, Brad Cownover described our Byway was, “the short byway with a long history.”

Actually there are many levels of history including:

  • Natural and Geologic history
  • History of Native Peoples
  • Early European settlements
  • Agricultural history
  • Revolutionary history
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • The waterway west and the Erie Canal
  • The story of innovation and
  • Family history associated with each of the above.

We have discovered that there are many stories and many ways of telling these stories.  But a common thread through each of these stories is a strong sense of place and a definition of time.

Native people in this area called themselves Kanien’kehá:ka (pronounced Gan-yan-guh-HAH-gah).  These people were the most easterly tribe of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy.  Native people to the east referred to these people somewhat derogatorily as “those others”.  Pronounced by the Dutch and further modified by the English this term became “Mohawk.”  These native people were very respectful and reverent of “Mother Earth” and “The Creator”.  The River takes its name from the native people.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in the area with their settlements gradually migrating up the Hudson in the fifteenth century.  Van Schaick Island was one of the areas north of what is today Albany where Europeans settled.  Not long after that there was a Dutch settlement in the area of the Stockade in Schenectady.  Generally the Dutch were able to form alliances with the Mohawk and lived peacefully with their native neighbors.  But in 1691 A group of warriors “inspired” or aided by the French to the north destroyed the emerging community and killed most of those of European descents who occupied the settlement.
Early Canal Boat w/ Passengers
Our principle story is that of the waterway west …the only water level route through the Appalachian Mountains. To improve the travel on this route the Erie Canal was constructed starting in 1817 and was completed between Albany and Buffalo in 1825.  The Canal became so successful that it was expanded to handle larger craft with double locks in 1842.   The method of propulsion on the canal were draft animals (see mules) that towed watercraft from the larger of two berms that contained the canal’s water.  This is the Towpath.  To accommodate even larger vessels, primarily barges, powered by steam and/or fossil fuels, carrying freight the Erie Canal was again expanded in 1917.  Remnants of all three generations of the canal can be seen, studied and marveled along the corridor of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.

Of the six intrinsic qualities this is what defines the Mohawk Towpath Byway.  In fact the name of our Byway is derived from our history including the Mohawk River and the period of Erie Canal history when propulsion was by draft animals on the Towpath.

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