"That's Fine Traveling"
Becoming an instant sensation at it completion in 1825, the Erie Canal was a key in the commencement of a new age of tourism in New York. Though travel was not new, it also had not been common, especially the notion of traveling for something other than business. Even when traveling for pleasure, people faced hardships that made the experience anything but pleasurable. Droves of tourists, many from different countries were eager to experience what was being touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The canal ran horizontally through New York state, connecting Buffalo in the west to Albany and the Hudson River in the East. In addition to being conveniently situated, the canal provided an inexpensive mode of travel accommodating various social classes in a safer atmosphere than that of past stage coaches. Stage coaches traveled over more dangerous terrain, and produced an overall unpleasant experience for lengthy journeys. One traveler remarked of the canal, “that’s fine traveling…you push along so slick, there’s no chance of getting one’s neck broke as there is aboard those stages on the rough turnpikes; if the boat sinks, one’s only up to one’s knees in water.”
Celebrities of the day like William Cullen Bryant, Edward Everett Hale and Nathanial Hawthorne all rode the canal. Hawthorne was quoted as saying “there is something wonderfully seductive-almost magical-about being pulled along an artificial river, by a team of mules or horses."
Americans, and more specifically New Yorkers took a great deal of pride in the canal, especially when foreign visitors came over to experience the canal for themselves. Europeans, fresh off the Grand Tour of their own countryside, were much more critical of the canal, especially of the traveling conditions. However, Americans and Europeans alike embraced the idea of using a highly technological, man-made method of transportation to see nature. It was the merging of what was old and what was new that was so alluring to people. Travelers enjoyed the breathtaking views that nature had to offer, and there was no more majestic sight than Niagara Falls. If there was anything resembling a destination on the canal, it was the Falls. When people gazed on Niagara Falls for the first time, they felt a rush of fear because they were up so high, but they also felt excitement and awe as they experienced the culmination of their journey.
The canal itself, combined with the spectacular destinations along its route provided for an amazing "buzz", and as one canaller stated “the truth is, the canal was in everybody’s mouth.”
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