Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Erie Canal: Chittenango Landing

I was fortunate enough to be asked to join my son's field trip to Chittenango Landing yesterday. This park/learning center is located on along the Erie Canal and part of American history. Over 100 years ago transporting from the East to the West was done by a man made canal system that spread from Albany to Buffalo. In Albany your canal boat could turn South and do straight shot down the Hudson river to NY City. All along the state there are reminders of the Erie Canal and it's significance to NY. Chittenango Landing was actually a stop along the canal that was particularly important to people who needed a boat fixed, or have a new one built. The entire location had been grown over at one point and volunteers had re-earth it and attempted to make the exact replica of what Chittenango may have once looked like.
What the canal looks like today and below what the canal looked like in the early 1800's. It has since been filled with dirt in many of the areas and roads developed though out the state. In Syracuse, Erie Blvd. stretch's the length from Dewitt through downtown Syracuse to Camillus, which was once the canal. In Dewitt there is also a park that host's canal remembrances,  as does Camillus. The whole length and where it exactly ran is unknown to me, but several town have small or large parks to show the existence and significance of the canal. My youngest and my eldest had a visit, years ago to one such park called Erie Village that has a replica of a town along the canal including an actual steam engine. I recall taking a field trip myself as a child to some similar park to learn about the canal as well. Throughout the CNY area there are ton's of Canal trails that people can hike and I have though out my days walked/biked on several of them. On one such walk my daughter who had to of been about three nearly fell into the remainder of the canal. I caught her by her clothing before she ended up a wet mess. One of the pictures we were shown showed a child tied to a canal boat, and were asked why this might be. Several of the kids guessed the small child wearing a dress although he was male, which made the kids think, was being punished. Of course the real answer was for safety, much like the car seats we use today, a young child may have been tied to the boat to prevent falling off the boat.
My son and I had to get on the school bus at 8am, to get to Chittenango by 9am and begin our structured class tour. I had an opportunity to get to know my son's teacher, whom I have had a sour taste about in the past,(a whole other story and one I would like to be still with) so it was nice to have a new opinion about her. I honestly do not know who was more excited, me or my son. I have always loved history and learning about what once was, so this was really exciting. Ironically I had been going over small trips to take this summer with my son and had come across this site as well as some of the other Erie canal locations. I had noted a possible day trip here when they do a big canal day festival next month. The bus trip there went fast and was uneventful. (the return ride was LOUD and crazy).
We arrived with no problems, were assigned to a volunteer and began our tour. The kids were given a numbered site and needed to find each site read the information and go on to yet another site. We were quizzed upon completion.
 Arriving and getting situated and below being educated on the sites.
My son and his friend Ryan took to their assignments and addressed each site. Some of the sites were things like the warehouse. (where we are sitting in the above picture). A sunken canal boat, that was actually as we were informed, simply left by the captain once the canal was no longer in use.
 You can see the slats sticking up through the water in this picture. Volunteers had placed sod around the structure. Apparently there are several boat like this one that had been abandoned along the canal or buried with the dirt as they became useless to the owner. Other site visits included the foundation of the owners home and the boarding house, the blacksmith shop, mule barn, and what was most significant about Chittenango Landing the Dry Docks.
 The mule barn.
 The boys attending to their assignment and below the Blacksmith shop.

Here is the dry docks from the canal side. They looked much different when they were functioning and the point at which this picture was taken would not have existed. I would have actually been standing in the canal. They have since built a bridge across it.

Pictured above the bridge and an up close view of the canal. The canal would actually not flow into this bay and I am sure there was a name for areas that jetted off the canal way.
Upon completion of our site search, we were given a tour of each sight with a more in depth narrative. Below is the blacksmith shop where we learned that the model canal boat was made much like the original boats of the time by volunteers. The blacksmith noted that he hand made several (although they ended up using modern nails as the process took much to long) of the nails used to built the boat. The importance of a blacksmith was for all metal items on the Landing. Nails, horseshoes (or mule shoes in this case), and any other metal pieces on the land.
 The sawmill, which I forgot to mention was also an important part of the Landing, and below speaking with the Blacksmith. He has been a volunteer for 11 years.

 Check out some of the metal pieces. I don't know if I could eat off that spoon. The kids agreed.
Some of the children in the mule barn. Next we all went on an archeological dig. In groups of 5 we were assigned a section on the grid to dig and excavate. The kids had fun shifting through the dirt, and finding a host of objects. One group actually found a candle holder.

Here is our groups finds. Several pieces of glass, a metal latch, coal and ceramics. It was cool to actually dig and find things. I think the kids enjoyed this part the most.  I observed mostly as I really did not want to get down in the dirt. Our findings were discussed and exploration about why these things might have been here and it was time for lunch. Lunch was held in the visitor center and this was a National historical area identified with the National Passport, so I tried to get a stamp, but they couldn't find it. Opps! One stamp we cannot put in our Passport book. Lunch was fun, I enjoyed eating my P.B and J with my son and his friends, before we were back on our Canal lesson and learning some new things. This time we explored the Museum. There were several hands on exhibits, as well as DON NOT TOUCH areas. The kids got to dress dolls in period clothing and identified what objects were used for. Really cool were the canal village replica donated to the park. Riddle or should I say question....HOW would the canal boats pass each other on the canal? This was the question posed to the group. Some thought they would lift the thick rope over the mule and its guide. For sake of those who might  not know..the canal boats were pulled with a rope and a mule/team of mules on the tow path lead by a hoggie. The hoggie would take the mules off the boat, walk the tow path in whatever weather for six hours a day, return the team of mules, feed water etc the team. Sleep eat and do it all over again six hours later, to switch with the second hoggie shift. All life on the canal boats was a big job, and all members were expected to do their share of the work.  It was a life I personally would have no desire to live. The answer is the boat traveling towards Albany had the right of way. The Buffalo bound boat would then stop their boat allow the pull of the rope to submerge into the canal, the Albany bound boat would then pass allowing the mule team to walk over the rope and pass. It seemed that the whole process was well thought out and apparently worked well.
 Exploring the what do these items do area. And below playing dress up. My son was extremely tolerant to the doll dress up and wore her hat, he also danced with her.

 Here is one of the replicas.

I wish I took more pictures of the replicas they were really cool and intercut.
Playing checkers.
After we "played" in the museum, we headed to the replica canal boat. This boat was actually hand built just as they would have been made in the period, by volunteers. It was purposely cut and not finished to show the detail of the boats.
Here is the backside of the boat with the rudder to help steer. I never got a picture of the whole boat, but it was here that we met "Granny" who with her family was waiting at Chittenango Landing as her family boat was being built. She informed the group that as the boat was being assembled the family resided in the area that was completed. We were told about the boats construction and shown just how many boards were used and how they insulted in between the slats. The kids each got a turn insulating.  Here is Gavin putting this into the walls. It took 50 workers to complete a boat.
 Gavin putting insulation into the boat. Below is Granny and the home area of the boat, where the family was housed while on the canal. It was very tight quarters and there were lots of jobs that needed to be attended to. The beds hung to the walls and tucked away during the day. These beds were made of wood and rope and often needed to be tightened. We were told the saying "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" originated from such beds. Granny informed the children of the job duties on the boats, and the responsibilities of each family member. She asked the kids if they would have like to live on a canal boat. Most raised their hands. NOT me. It looked like a lot of work and I would go crazy in those cramped quarters.
We ended the day with a class photo and an hour drive back to Liverpool. The bus ride home was somehow much louder and I was pretty pooped. We all enjoyed the trip. Gavin claimed he liked the digging and the blacksmith shop the best, and they all became much more knowledgeable. I was glad to be a part of my son's field trip, I learned some things, and got a new perspective on life in the day as well as my son's teacher who plans to retire this year. It was great fun and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to join in on this field trip. Now its on to another busy day. I am attending the Vera House recognition luncheon at noon, then tonight I will be having my very first Pure Romance party at Cathy's house. The weekend is full to the rim with stuff too, so I better prepare.
Class picture! What a great trip and good group!