Dr. Roger Hecht - Clinton`s Ditch: the Erie Canal in WNY

Nature, Nationalism, Tourism:
The Erie Canal and the
Quest for America
American in the Early Republic
John Krimmel, 4th of July, 1819 in Philadelphia
American in the Early Republic
American in the Early Republic
American in the Early Republic
Identity Crisis
 “Roof without Walls”
 National identity can’t be sustained by high
ideals alone
 Too abstract, not part of daily life
 Nationalism seeks to build identity through
race, environment, and history
 “Imagined Community”
Washington at Valley Forge
Battle of Lake Ontario
Howard Chandler Christy, Scene at the Signing of
the Constitution
National Allegory
Columbia Magazine (1786)
Edward Savage, Liberty in the form of
the Goddess of Youth Giving
Support to the Bald Eagle (1796)
Neo-Classical Ideal
Greek Revival House, Elmira, NY
Horatio Greenough, Enthroned
Washington (1840)
America Needs Its Own Culture
 Lacks material from which to build a culture:
Epic history
Long literary tradition
Monuments and Ancient Architecture
 Too many artists were copying European themes and
literary models
Finding America in Nature
“The region in which [the Revolution] took place
abounds with grand and beautiful scenery,
possessing some peculiar forms. The numerous
waterfalls, the enchanting beauty of Lake George
and its pellucid flood, of Lake Champlain, and
the lesser lakes, afford many objects of the most
picturesque character…. Nothing comparable to
this…can be seen in any part of Europe.”
--William Tudor (1815)
“By freeing himself from a habit of servile imitation; by
daring to think and feel, and express his feelings; by
dwelling on scenes and events connected with our pride
and our affections; by indulging in those little peculiarities
of thought, feeling and expression which belong to every
nation; by borrowing from nature, and not from those
who disfigure or burlesque her—he may and will in time
destroy the ascendency of foreign tastes and opinions, and
elevate his own in the place of them.”
--James Kirke Paulding (1820)
Getting to Know America
Thomas Cole, Shroon Mountain
Asher B. Durant
The Beeches
Kindred Spirits
As wealth has accumulated, the country become populous, and society more fixed in its
character, a return to those simple and fascinating enjoyments to be found in country life
and rural pursuits, is witnessed on every side. And to this innate feeling, out of which grows
a strong attachment to natal soil, we must look for a counterpoise to the great tendency
toward constant change, and the restless spirit of emigration, which form in part our
national character; and which are. . .opposed to our social and domestic happiness. . . . The
love of country is inseparably connected with the love of home.
Andrew Jackson Downing, Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1841)
Visual Aesthetics
The Beautiful
 Platonic ideal
 Smooth
 Delicate
 Mild in color (not garish)
Claude Lorraine, Pastoral
The Sublime
 Dramatic, overpowering
 Source of powerful feelings
from awe to terror
 Obscurity
 Vastness
 Without clear lines of
Salvator Rosa, The Bandits
The Picturesque
 “Middle ground” between
Beautiful and Sublime
 Complex & eccentric form
 Irregular surfaces provoke
viewer’s curiosity
 Associative—landscape evokes
cultural memories, analogies,
& emotions
Jasper Cropsey, Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania
Thomas Cole,
“Essay on American Scenery”
It is a subject that to every American ought to be of surpassing
interest; for, whether he beholds the Hudson mingling waters with
the Atlantic—explores the central wilds of this vast continent, or
stands on the margin of the distant Oregon, he is still in the midst
of American scenery—it is his own land; its beauty, its magnificence,
its sublimity—are all his; and how undeserving of such a birthright,
if he can turn towards it in an unobserving eye, an unaffected
The delight [of looking on Nature] a man experiences is not merely
sensual or selfish, that passes with the occasion leaving no trace
behind; but in gazing on the pure creations of the Almighty, he
feels a calm religious tone steal through his minds, and when he has
turned to mingle with his fellow men, the chords which have been
struck in that sweet communion cease not to vibrate.
The Grand Tour
The Northern Traveler (1826)
Highlights of the Grand Tour
New York City
Catskill Mountains and Catskill
Mountain House
Saratoga Springs/Ballston Spa
White Mountains/Willey
Trenton Falls
Niagara Falls
Tourism and the Erie Canal
How Erie Canal Aided Tourism
• Access to Interior
• faster passage to Niagara
• improved roads and
infrastructure alongside canal
• as canal towns grew, so did
• Canal became a tourist
attraction in its own right
• by 1820, passenger vessels
• by 1822 packet lines
Tourist Highlights of Erie Canal
 Progress
 The growth of cities and farms in what was once wilderness
 The Canal as Engineering Achievement
 Locks and Aqueducts
 Five-tier Locks at Lockport
 Dramatic Natural Scenery
 Little Falls
 Trenton Falls
 Niagara Falls
This is one of the largest and most important of the western towns. Here the river, the
great road, and the canal all meet again. . . . There are several handsome churches in
Utica, and one or more for almost every domination. The streets are broad, straight,
and commodius; and the principal ones well built with rows of brick stores, or elegant
The Northern Traveller (1832), on Utica
The Aqueduct over the Genesee is one of the finest works on the course of the
canal, and is no less remarkable for its usefulness than for its architectural
beauty and strength. It is borne across the river’s channel on ten arches of
hewn stone. The river dashes rapidly along beneath while boats, with goods
and passengers, glide safely above.
The Northern Traveller (1832), on the Rochester Aqueduct
Wm. Bartlett, Lockport (1840)
This is one of the interesting places on the canal. Here is the noblest displays of locks,
two ranges, made of fine hewn stone, being constructed against the brow of the
Mountain Ridge, where the foaming of the waste water, the noise of the horns, and the
bustle of occupation excite many lively feelings.
The Northern Traveller (1832), on Lockport
This most interesting vicinity is
well worthy the attention of
every person of taste, being
justly considered one of the
finest natural scenes in this part
of the country. . . a stranger
might spend some time here
very agreeably in observing [the
falls] at leisure, and in catching
the fine trout with which the
creek abounds.
The Northern Traveller (1832), on
Trenton Falls
Wm. Bartlett, Little Falls at Night (1840)
The country presents a varied surface, and increases in interest on approaching
Little Falls, which is the most romantic scene on the course of the Erie Canal.
. . . The stranger should, by no means, neglect the view of this place. If he
reaches it early or late in a pleasant day, particularly near the rising of the sun,
the beauty of the scene will be redoubled.
The Northern Traveller (1832), on Little Falls
Niagara Falls
Walter Kelly, Waterfall of Niagara (1830s)
Fr. Northern Traveller
Frederic Church, Niagara Falls (1857)
Other Highlights of Erie Canal Travel Writing
 Manners in America
 Both British and American writers note to manners of locals (often quite
Basil Hall on table manners (ECR 37-38)
Thomas Hamilton on baptism (ECR 53)
Frances Trollope on Yankees (ECR 64-65)
Nathaniel Hawthorne on travel writers (ECR 81-82)
 (Dis)comforts of Canal Travel
Hamilton on boredom (ECR 55-56)
Harriet Martineau on bridges/heat/filth (ECR 71-73)
Harriet Beecher Stowe on the chaos of the women’s quarters (ECR 96-102)
Useful Readings
Cole, Thomas. “Essay on American Scenery” (1836). https://www.csun.edu/~ta3584/Cole.htm
Conron, John. American Picturesque. University Park: Penn State UP, 2000.
Downing, Andrew Jackson. Landscape Gardening and Rural Architecture (1841). New York: Dover, 1991.
Dwight, Timothy. The Northern Traveller and Northern Tour: with the routes to The Springs, Niagara, and Quebec and the Coal
Mines of Pennsylvania; also, the Tour of New-England. New York: J & J Harper, 1831. (available on Google Books)
Gassan, Richard H. The Birth of American Tourism: New York, the Hudson Valley, and American Culture, 1790-1830.
Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008.
Miller, Angela. The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825-1875. Ithaca: Cornell
UP, 1993.
Paulding, James Kirke. National Literature (1820). Gordon Hunter, ed. American Literature, American Culture. New
York: Oxford UP, 1999. 24-25.
Sears, John F. Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth-Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts
Press, 1989.
Sherrif, Carol. The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996.
Tudor, William. Essay from North American Review (1815). Gordon Hunter, ed. American Literature, American Culture.
New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 12-23.
Westover, Paul. “How America ‘Inherited’ Literary Tourism.” Nicola J. Watson, ed. Literary Tourism and NineteenthCentury Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 184-195.

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