Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/New York Barge Canal

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NEW YORK BARGE CANAL, a gigantic engineering construction, which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. The term canal is employed in a more extended sense than usual, as it includes not only the artificially created waterway, but the intervening lakes and rivers which are utilized as links in the system.

There are four main branches of the canal, the largest or Erie branch, which, starting at Buffalo, extends across New York State until it joins the Hudson; the Oswego branch which extends from midway on the line of the Erie to Lake Ontario; the Champlain, running from the head of Lake Champlain and tapping the eastern terminus of the Erie, and the Cayuga and Seneca, which extends from the Erie to the lakes of those names.

The Barge Canal is really an enormous development of the old Erie Canal, the usefulness of which had been steadily dwindling because of its lack of adaptation to the demands of modern commerce. Various measures for its improvement proved simply makeshifts. The locks, for instance, were lengthened in 1884, but this measure was inadequate to solve the problem. The first radical step in the line of recasting the whole system was taken in 1894, by an article of the Constitutional Convention held in that year, submitting to the people a proposition for its enlargement. It was found, however, that this was like sewing new cloth on an old garment, and in 1900 the whole matter was taken up in earnest, and after overcoming determined opposition an expenditure of $101,000,000 for the canal was authorized in 1903 by a popular vote. Actual construction was not under way, however, until 1905, and in the interval since that date many additional millions have been required to bring the work to completion.

The entire length of the Barge Canal is 801.3 miles. Of this, 358.7 miles is made up of the lakes and rivers along its course, and 442.6 miles represent artificial construction. The dimensions of the canal, although the minimum size is fixed by law, vary considerably. The artificial channel is 75 feet wide at bottom and 123 to 171 feet wide at the surface. The width is from 150 to 200 feet in the natural waterways. The depth is 12 feet.

The operation of the locks is electrical. The locks are built of concrete, both sides and floor, except where natural rock makes this unnecessary. Terminal and dockage facilities are located at more than fifty points along the canal, and legislation has been adopted that secures connection at desired places between the canal and adjacent railway lines. How important this gigantic waterway promises to prove to the public is indicated by the fact that three-fourths of the population of the State, whose products demand transportation, live within half an hour's walk of the Barge Canal system. The total cost exceeds $140,000,000.