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The Kane Brothers' Canal

One of the fascinating aspects of the Kane's Store establishment is that fact that they are reputed to have dug a canal from the river to their storehouse in order to allow boats to load and unload more easily. In fact, it appears that they may relocated out into the countryside to take advantage of some natural features that made this possible.

The most logical explanation of how this was accomplished in an age when the excavation of canals was no small feat, points to an old meander of the Mohawk River - some largely abandoned channel scar where water already was present. To dig a canal through dry land would be an undertaking beyond most merchants in that period.

Kane's canal Kane's canal
These watercolors by Rufus Grider show what he describes as the canal snaking across the floodplain.
Click images to enlarge

Gider's watercolors show the canal as a meandering line across the floodplain to the north and east (upstream) of the storehouse. The impact of the State Thruway construction (1953) on the floodplain between the river and the store location makes tracing this old canal impossible today, although there is a slight indication of it immediately north of the store ruins on the north side of Route 5S.

Although the landscape has all been changed, we do have a good image of what the area looked like before the Thruway was built, and even before the Barge Canal (1917) changed the outlines of the river itself. In 1899, a detailed survey of the Mohawk River was made in preparation for selection of a route for the Barge Canal, capturing conditions on the river that must have existed for at least a century before.

An 1899 map
This is a map of the area of the valley north of Kane's Store before it was modified by the Barge Canal and the NYS Thruway.
Click image to enlarge

This map clearly shows a network of southward trending channels between the river (A) and Kane's Store (red square). There appears to be one active side channel (B) that would allow boats to come into sheltered water off the main channel, and coming off that toward Kane's store is what appears to be a water-filled meander scar (C) from a previous position of the river. The terminal end of this brings one half the way from the Mohawk to the warehouse site. Another long depression (D), the remnant of an even older meander of the river, runs southerly to a point almost in front of Kane's Store, and one can see that the deepening of that depression would, at certain times, produce a navigable channel all the way from the river to the warehouse.

A photograph of the old canal.
This image was found in the lantern slide collection of the State Education Department, made about 1911, and shows the old canal.
Click image to enlarge

A photograph discovered in the State Education Department's collections of educational slides, shows what is described as the old canal. One can see from this picture, taken around 1911, that this channel is less a dug canal than a waterfilled meander of the river itself, and it is probably a picture taken of feature (C) on the map above.

If we re-read Grider's marginal notes on his drawings of this canal, as well as the words used by early history writers describing the Kane complex, we can see that this "canal" was only usable in periods of high water, and that it is implied it was nothing more than an improved natural meander of the Mohawk:

They had availed themselves of a depression in the Flat - had dug it deeper and cleared it of trees & by these means could, when the Mohawk overflowed its banks, (which was the best season for boating) bring boats up to the front of their store...

A little canal which lead from the Kane store to the river is still visible, though nearly filled up and lined with willows...

A canal existed which was used to bring boats near the Store to be loaded and unloaded - it could only be used when the river overflowed its banks - at such time of Freshet the trade was briskest.

Much of their trade was done in river boats, for the accommodation of which they cut a canal across the flats to the river.

Here flat & Durham boats could, when the Mohawk was high, land their freight near the store, a channel or canal ran thro the flat from the river...

Nevertheless, the ingenuity displayed by the Kane brothers in taking advantage of natural advantages and improving on them by artificial means is to be noted to their credit, and exemplifies this era of experimentation and development in inland navigation and transport.

 

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