The Erie Canal Village is in Rome, NY. We were there for most of the day, on July 4th, and had an absolute blast.
You can see all the photos I took here at my Flickr site. I’ll showcase only the basic photos for the blog posts. I think our visit, which incorporated seeing and learning so many different things, may take up a few posts. First, some history about the Village. It’s a huge, outdoor living museum where time stopped almost 200 years ago. Really, if it wasn’t for the sounds of traffic on the main road, or the power lines visible behind the fields, you’d think you were really in the early 19th century.
On July 4, 1817, the New York State governor was in this booming town of Rome, NY. This area was the location of the official beginning of the famous Erie Canal, said to be the most incredible engineering marvel of all time. It had been the brainchild of various New Yorkers shortly after the Revolutionary War, who wanted to open up the NY wilderness. Transportation in NY in those days was over rugged country and thickly-forested hills. A man-made waterway connecting the Hudson River/Atlantic Ocean to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie was the dream. Very few leaders were willing to sponsor this “insane” idea. Thomas Jefferson, when hearing about the plan, refused to give any federal aid to the project, saying, “You talk of making a canal 350 miles through the wilderness… it is little short of madness to think of it at this day!” Long before the Erie Canal was bringing in millions of dollars into New York’s coffers, it was called “Clinton’s Folly,” or “Clinton’s Ditch.”
The Erie Canal was completed in 1827, and brought instant wealth to the state. It also proved to be the springboard for Western Expansion, as this area of New York was the only passable way west from the eastern seaboard of the United States. Not long after the completion of the Erie Canal, the railroad system surpassed the Erie Canal as the main method of east to west transport. With the development of the automobile and the interstate highway system after World War II, the canal and railroad system became less used.
The Erie Canal Village, opened in 1978 when Rome, NY, was going through an historical awakening of it’s roots, takes us back to that “boom” time of prosperity in New York. There are numerous museums you can explore– a few settler’s houses decorated as if the families would be back at any moment; a blacksmith shop and horse corral; a schoolhouse and Methodist church; the Harden Museum filled with various horse carriages and sleighs depicting transportation of that era; an ice house, general store, railroad station, and tavern (where you can actually buy food and drink); a museum inside an old cheese factory showing the cheese industry of New York; and more! Best of all– a 30-minute ride on the old Erie Canal packet boat, horse-drawn. What a great day!
We started off by exploring an interesting little museum filled with vintage signs and farming implements. We explored the old barn and marveled at the craftsmanship of some of the tools.
Then, we saw THIS!!!
Wowee! For those of you who don’t know, I have been on a little investigation of the Oneida Indian Stone and how it relates to New York history. This must have been the sign marker that stood at Forest Hill, where the Stone was kept from 1849 to 1974. The Stone has been returned to the Oneida Indian Nation. I hope to see it someday, and take a photo. You can read more about my investigations into this mysterious Stone and its history here and here and here.
The entire village opened up to us from there. We didn’t know where to turn first. We could see a 18th century farmer with long whiskers and straw hat plowing a field with two draft horses; we saw a beautifully arched bridge slung over the Canal with a packet boat (all decked out in Fourth of July colors) below it; we saw a beautiful meadow with whispering yellow grasses and swallows spinning under the yellow sunshine; we saw a crowd of people with cameras and strollers sipping lemonade on the cool porch of the Tavern. What to do?
We decided to see the historic houses. They were from different periods (1801, 1840, and 1890s). It was fascinating to see how our lives and homes have changed in 200 years.
This house, called the Crosby house and modeled after a typical 1840 home, looks a lot like the style of our own home. Ours was built in 1855, and very little has been done to it. It is NO FUN living in a home like this!
This is the Victorian house. It is the Italianate style, judging by its boxy shape and elaborate “icing.”
Over the course of the house styles and contents, you can really see how Americans became more prosperous.
From there, we wended our way to the sunny-looking General Store. You could really buy candy and various little gifts inside. We chatted with the storekeeper, a friendly lady from the area, who explained to us that this store was “today’s WalMart” to the townspeople of yesterday. She showed us the old coffee-grinder. The coffee beans in it smelled w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l.
After seeing the houses, we wandered near the meadow. A farmer was mowing the field with a fascinating mower contraption. Watching the beauty of the draft horses, whose menial labor only heightened the grace in their motions, was mesmerizing. We stopped and were quiet. The smell of the freshly-cut grasses steaming under the warm sunshine was heavenly. Swallows twittered across the grass, undaunted by the strangers watching them as they gobbled up leaping grasshoppers.
The farmer noticed our idyllic state, and paused his mowing to chat with us. As he explained the methods of old-time farming and horse-care, the horses munched noisily on the meadow plants. I could have stayed there forever. It was like something out of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but so much better, because we could feel the hot sunshine and smell the sliced grasses for ourselves.
I felt a twinge of deep regret that our modern lifestyles now shielded us from these experiences. I like my computer and my minivan like any lady, but I long for the slower pace and sweet communion of country-living sometimes.
We wandered to other places, wherever our noses led us. We had to be at the boat by 1 o’clock, so we popped in the smaller displays in a hurry. We saw the old icehouse…
a chicken coop, and the kids saw real chickens for the first time…
the train station…
and an old abandoned train caboose…
When I was here at the Village last, oh…. 26 years ago now (!) the Village had hosted a train ride with a little “train robbery.” I remember the robber trying to take my someone’s watch, lol. I thought it a shame that they don’t have train rides anymore. I loved it.
I’ll have more about our visit on another post. The best part– the packet boat ride– is soon to come!