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Introduction

Wilderness engineering in the 18th century For the past several years the State Museum has been researching the contributions made by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company (1792-1820) to the opening of westward transportation in New York. This private company was chartered by the New York Legislature in 1792 to find ways to improve the inland water route from Schenectady to the Great Lakes. Among the improvements made were several short canals, with dams and locks, that bypassed obstructions to navigation, thus issuing in an age of canal travel decades before the better known Erie Canal crossed the state from Albany to Buffalo.

The core of the State Museum's on-going research - known as The Durham Project (after the river boats that used the improved waterway) - has been the discovery of archeological remnants of these historic engineering works and the development of a plan for their preservation. Publications and public presentations have resulted from this research, and between 1992 and 1995 an educational program was initiated to bring some of the research findings of The Durham Project to public attention during the bicentennial years of the building of the works of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company - the true beginnings of the Canal Age in New York.

Daniel Boorstin, former historian of the Smithsonian Institution, stated during the American Revolution Bicentennial that "...our main highways to the past remain what they were in the pre- electronic age before photography, before radio and television: our books and our landscape." We can best experience history in the primary documents that record past events and in the original field environments where these events took place.

The Durham Project has collected and digested documents that record the era of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company. This bicentennial program is designed to connect these documents to the surviving archeological sites and environments they describe and to allow the public to experience the past in the field through these connections. We hope that this research project, and the educational programs it drives, will promote different ways of looking at familiar places and will attune our vision to see the past in the present.

In few places along this ancient navigation route can be found preserved physical remains as representative of this era of inland trade and transportation as in the vicinity of Canajoharie.

Here we see:

The foundations of Spraker's Tavern
an inn mentioned in numerous accounts of early batteau travel, serving river traffic throughout the 1790s.
The site of Keator's Rift
the worst on the river and a challenge to every boat crew that approached it in the years before the building of the Erie Canal.
The ruins of Kane's Store
the most important warehouse complex west of Schenectady until the early 1800s.

For this reason, the theme of this pamphlet, and of the bicentennial living history program for which it serves as guide, is the archeological evidence still found along the Mohawk in spite of two centuries of change. These fragile remains are the legacy of that almost forgotten age of canal building and river navigation - providing an opportunity to reflect on a part of our cultural heritage in which we can continue to take pride.

 

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