There is a lot of American canal history to see at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter. Many historic objects are outdoors and the site is currently open for self-guided tours from dawn to dusk.
Schoharie Crossing has also opened its visitor center on the east bank of the Schoharie Creek, but there are pandemic rules. You must email or call 518-829-7156 to make a reservation. Masks and social distancing are required inside and gloves are needed if you push the buttons on interactive displays.
The Putman Canal Store on the grounds of Schoharie Crossing has not yet reopened. The grocery, near the former Yankee Hill Lock, was owned by the Garret Putman family from about 1855 to the early 1900s. The basement contained a tavern while the family had living quarters in part of the store.
Harper’s Magazine in 1873 printed this account of groceries along the Erie Canal: "A sparse collection of shabby buildings is also near a lock, foremost being a canal grocery. Here is gathered a pack of ill-favored fellows, vagabonds, and idlers. The interior is gloomy and has a very insalubrious atmosphere, but there is no article in the range of an ordinary boatman's necessities that cannot be obtained from this mart.”
“We have the three major phases of the Erie Canal all right here,” said Schoharie Crossing education director David Brooks. “The 1820s Clinton’s ditch [the original Erie Canal] to the enlarged canal on which they built the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct [1840s] and then we’re right adjacent to the Mohawk River which is today’s canal. We have miles of towpath trails, picnics areas and a boat launch.”
Brooks said, “The original canal crossed through the creek by using a dam to create a slack water pool. And that was a very complicated process.”
The Schoharie Aqueduct was one of one of a number of similar structures that enabled the enlarged canal to pass over rivers and creeks. There was an aqueduct carrying the enlarged canal over the Mohawk River in Saratoga County to the east and other large aqueducts at the Genesee River and Montezuma to the west.
Smaller streams went under the canal using culverts. Culverts were also installed at Schoharie Crossing.
The water of the canal was enclosed in a wooden structure inside the stone aqueduct, enabling boat traffic to pass over the creek.
The Schoharie Aqueduct originally was over 600 feet long with 14 arches. A bit less than half of the structure is still standing.
“It’s still a beautiful example of the engineering and the architecture of the enlarged Erie Canal,” Brooks said. The Schoharie Aqueduct is now a National Historic Landmark.
With reopening of the Schoharie Crossing visitor center, people can see a detailed model inside showing how the aqueduct worked.
There also was what Brooks called a silver lining during the pandemic caused by a late opening of the current canal in the Mohawk River. The low water level enabled outdoor visitors to see more of the aqueduct and dams in the Schoharie Creek.
“The Erie Canal had ingenuity behind it and the audacity of New York state to do it at such an early stage in the republic,” Brooks said.
The commercial success of the Erie Canal led to calls for similar waterways elsewhere, Brooks said, including a proposal to build a canal from Amsterdam or Fonda north to the Adirondacks, possibly linking with the Sacandaga River.
Surveys done in the 1830s, however, concluded such a project would be very difficult and expensive which would outweigh any benefits. That canal was never built.