Syracuse and the Erie Canal will be in the international spotlight starting Sunday when the World Canals Conference gets underway. This year marks the bicentennial of the start of construction of the canal, and WAER News is kicking off a series this week exploring three key locations along the canal route. We start with the Erie Canal Museum downtown.
Executive Director Natalie Stetson says excitement has been building ahead of the four-day conference, and she expects every attendee to come through the door at some point. Stetson says they already see their share of international visitors who are in awe of the canal and how it was built.
"We had some tourists from Sweden. Grandma and grandpa lived in Sweden, and they traveled to Philadelphia to visit their children and grandchildren. Grandpa wanted to go to the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse. So they drove from Philadelphia to Syracuse just to visit us because he was curious about our canal system and how it relates to the Swedish canal system."
She says the Erie Canal was monumental at the time, and piques curiosity to this day.
"The Erie Canal is something people have heard of, that they know about. But they're surprised to learn that it still exists, that it's not just a piece of history...it's still an active waterway, a little different than the historic canal which doesn't go through downtown Syracuse anymore. The Erie Canal has a reputation. It has prestige, and there's excitement that surrounds it internationally."
Stetson says this is just the beginning of eight years of celebration. The canal was completed in Syracuse in 1820. It took another five years before all 363 miles came together.
"Two thousand twenty-five should be a huge year for New York State. That's the year the wedding of the waters happened. The year that DeWitt Clinton got on a boat, and they fired cannons all the way across the state and down to New York City. It took 90 minutes for news to arrive in New York City that he boarded a boat in Buffalo. It was a huge celebration."
Stetson says she’s also hoping to keep Central New Yorkers intrigued.
"I think people don't realize or forget how this city got here and why. It's really an interesting and exciting story. If we as a community can work to bring that awareness back to our community, I think that excitement will carry beyond the bicentennial and past the conference."
She says there’s a national trajectory to recognize and celebrate our past, and find new ways to explore it. Stetson says the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the Canal Corporation, and the plan to create an Empire State Trail that follows the Erie are essential in that effort.
A community celebration will take place Sunday, Sept. 24th between the museum, Hanover Square, and the Inner Harbor. The museum will be open until 5 p.m.