Onondaga Lake near Syracuse, NY began healing in 1986 when its major industrial polluter, Allied Chemical Corp, closed. Locals are still talking about this Lake’s history of raw sewage and industrial dumping that included lots of mercury even though its water is improving. Onondaga Lake was on the old Erie Canal.
Oneida Lake is northeast of Onondaga. It was connected to the original Erie Canal by a canal ten years after it opened. Almost 21 miles long, Oneida is the largest lake entirely in New York State, relatively shallow, and the only large lake lying east to west in the entire state. It was Lake Oneida that Heat-Moon crossed in his attempt to sail across the USA.
Heat-Moon entered the Erie Canal after sailing up the Hudson and entering it near Troy, NY. The designers of the old Erie Canal used as many natural rivers in their plans as they could including the Mohawk, Seneca, and Niagara; and the author mentions seeing a sign at Waterford, NY pointing left to the Erie Canal before he called it “a marvel of 19th-century engineering”. Soon Heat-Moon entered his first lock to raise the water’s level so he might proceed. There were 96 locks on the original canal that terminated in Buffalo, NY after traversing 363 miles.
Like old Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles, there is not much left of the original Eire Canal. I was told in Syracuse’s Erie Canal Museum that the best place to see what the historic Erie Canal was like was to go to the nearby Camillus Erie Canal Park where all can see a restored 1842 aqueduct, take a boat tour, and more. However, it was April and the Sims Store Museum in Camillus didn’t resume operations until May, and year round hours included only Saturday and Sunday for many features. Ruth and I had to content ourselves with learning about America’s greatest waterway via this museum’s displays that included an excellent film called Boom & Bust. This film contained footage of the last boat in operation on the original canal in the 1950s. It also had a display of an important undertaking that began in Syracuse in 1900 when Gustav Stickley began making oak furniture here. It became known as the Arts and Crafts Movement.