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.
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.
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.
This image was found in the lantern slide
collection of the State Education Department, made about 1911, and shows the old
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
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.