Warren County Historical
Society Presents …
The Digital Version “REWIND”
January 1, 2017
The Feeder Canal Park with the canal towpath on the right. Photo courtesy of Joseph Dawson.
Commerce on the Water
By Joseph Dawson
While we can say with certainty that man’s first method of transportation in Warren County was by foot, we may also say with certainty that man’s second method was by a boat, the canoe. We do know that the Iroquois frequently traveled on Lake George to hunt and on go on raiding expeditions against the Hurons and Algonquins in the St. Lawrence valley.
The first written record of travel by a European in Warren County is the story of Father Isaac Jogues, a French Jesuit missionary, who, having been captured by the Iroquois in 1642 in what is now Canada, was transported by canoe on Lake George to their winter home in the Mohawk River valley. There is also the travel recorded by the Dutch down Lake George on a trip from Albany to Montreal and return, probably in 1650.
The movement by boat of the armies of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution up and down Lake George is well recorded. After the turbulence of the late eighteenth century in Warren County and to a lesser extent the beginning of the nineteenth century, settlement of the area began in earnest. With settlement came the beginnings of industries such as the production of lumber which used the Hudson River for the movement of the raw materials to mills in the area of Glens Falls. Lime production was also underway at this time.
After Robert Fulton’s Clermont steamed up the Hudson River to Albany in 1807, the age of steam began in the North Country the following year with the first steamboat on Lake Champlain in 1808. Transportation by steamboat on Lake George soon followed and today’s Lake George Steamboat Company traces its beginning to 1817. Its founders were James Caldwell, Isaac Kellogg, John Winans, Samuel Brown and Halsey Rogers. Their first steamboat was the James Caldwell – launched in 1824 and in service until 1837.
The next ship was launched in the spring of 1838. It was the William Caldwell and it operated until 1848. After these first two steamboats, a third was launched in 1850 and Lake George has seen continuous steamboat service to the present day. The source of this information and an excellent chronology of steam on the lake is The History of the Lake George Steamboat Company: 1817 through 2000. The growth and diversity of steamboat transportation on Lake George to the present day is well documented and a number of recent books on the subject provide excellent in-depth information for those who may have an interest in the subject.
After a false start by General Philip Schuyler in 1795, the New York State Legislature in 1817 authorized the construction of the Champlain Canal, which utilized the Hudson River from Albany to Fort Edward and then converted Wood Creek into a canal from Fort Edward to Whitehall and thence to Lake Champlain. The first alignment of the Champlain Canal began operation on September 10, 1823, and it resulted in an increase of commerce along its route.
Soon after its opening, the original source of water for maintaining canal operations was determined to be inadequate and a new method of moving water from the Hudson River to the high point of the Champlain Canal was sought. This resulted in the construction of the Glens Falls Feeder Canal, which began in 1823 and opened in 1832. This not only solved the problem of consistent water for navigation on the Champlain Canal, but resulted in an explosion of commerce in the Glens Falls area which now had an economical method to transport goods south as far as New York City and north as far as Montreal.
The Feeder Canal Park. Photo courtesy of Joseph Dawson.
The Feeder Canal became so important that after only 13 years of operation after its opening in 1832, it was widened (1845) to allow two canal boars to pass in opposite directions. The transportation of finished lumber, lime, agricultural and other products by means of the canal between 1832 and 1880 was so important to the industrial development of Glens Falls and the adjacent areas of Warren, Washington, and Saratoga counties that the Glens Falls Feeder Canal may be considered instrumental in the areas growth in the nineteenth century. There were 85 canal boats registered in Glens Falls in 1880.
It was the advancement of the railroad into Warren County in the 1880s that eventually caused the demise of the transportation of local goods by canal boat. The canal was officially closed to navigation in 1931 and all commerce on it ceased in 1945.
Today, due to the efforts of local citizens, the Glens Falls Feeder Canal and the towpath adjacent to it have been restored to create a beautiful park-like corridor from its beginning at the Feeder Dam just west of Glens Falls on the Hudson River through Glens Falls, Queensbury and Kingsbury to the dramatic Five Combines of locks in Hudson Falls. Whether walking or riding a bicycle along the towpath, one cannot fail to be impressed by the engineering skill which went into its construction or the tranquil beauty of its historic setting.
The 5 Combines on the Feeder Canal, looking down from the top. Photo courtesy of Joseph Dawson.
Over the years the commercial and industrial growth of Warren County has benefited from the availability of the Hudson River, Lake George, and the New York State Canal System for transporting people and goods both within its boundaries, throughout the region, and as far as New York City and Montreal. Even today, Warren County’s economy benefits from its location as a center for recreation and tourism much of which is dependent on the lakes and rivers within its boundaries.
Looking at the Five Combines from below. Photo courtesy of Joseph Dawson.
This article was written by Joseph Dawson for the Warren county Historical Society. Joe is a past Board of Trustees member, worked on the Military Road project, and he was instrumental in securing the Seelye/Eggleston collection for the Society.