Category Archives: Erie Canal

James Knight Moves His Tavern

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Knight's Tavern and Lock 22

So many things to stare at on this beautiful map of Rexford and Aqueduct Crossing, from somewhere after 1842 when the original Erie Canal was expanded. The first aqueduct, now too narrow for the new specifications, was replaced by an entirely new aqueduct, and the narrow old lock was replaced by a double-lock, the new Lock 22.

Just to the west of the locks, old and new, we noticed the land and tavern of James Knight, and it made us curious. It turns out that James Knight was none too happy about the relocation of the lock.

A petition to the Committee on Claims indicated that Knight owned land at “Rexford-Flats, a short distance from the upper aqueduct, and directly opposite the upper lock, on which was erected a large and commodious building occupied as a tavern and grocery.” Location was everything, and “the site was rendered valuable by the unavoidable detention of boats at that place.” So widening the canal and doubling the lock was already not going to be in Knight’s favor, because boats would no longer be forced to linger, and the canal itself was going to be relocated to the west of its original course, pretty much through Knight’s grocery. So, he moved it. The Canal Commissioners appropriated forty feet of land in front of the tavern, and Knight moved his building. All cool, right?

Well, no. Because at some point after that decision was made in 1834, the Canal Commission changed the path. Instead of putting the new canal to the west of the existing canal, it would go to the east. That not only “leaves the petitioner much further from the enlarged canal, but forty feet farther from the old canal; that the use of said petitioner’s buildings has been worth much less since the removal; and that the basement room before removal would command a rent of $300, now not over $25 or $30.” To add insult to injury, “a building stands directly opposite that of the petitioner, on the other side of the canal, and is occupied for a similar purpose, and about the same distance from the canal the building of the petitioner was before it was removed. And the said building of the petitioner being now forty feet farther from the canal, it renders it almost useless for a grocery, in consequence of the building on the other side being now so much nearer the canal.”

We’re of the mind that people who were capable of life on the canal, arduous by all reports, were capable of hauling themselves an extra forty feet, but perhaps he had a point. An act was submitted to the Legislature and passed in 1842, requiring the canal to ascertain the amount of damages sustained by Knight going back to 1835. What was done, and whether he moved the Tavern again, we don’t know.


A Map of Beauty

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We worry sometimes that in this digital age, knowledge of the world as it is is ephemeral. Perhaps this will change and there will be a realization of the need to document what we know and what we think we know in something other than alterable electrons. When our children and grandchildren want to reconfigure the world as it was when they were growing up, what will they turn to? There are no city directories, no phone books, no maps.

No maps. For the first time since reproduction was possible, we aren’t creating tangible representations of the world as we understand it. Sure, there are still some paper maps being made, almost exclusively for the purpose of navigating by motor vehicle. But the maps that really show what is where, that denote specific buildings or residences, those are gone. Google maps has democratized aerial/ satellite views for everybody and introduced the miracle of StreetView — but when they decide to update the images, the old ones are likely just gone. Future researchers who want to know what used to be there will simply be out of luck (or worse, at the mercy of the terrifically fallible memories of the hivemind).

For a long time, though, we’ve been deprived of the incredible beauty that maps can provide. To be sure, some modern paper maps are graphically pleasing, even elegant, especially when compared to what was possible when color printing was prohibitively expensive for local mapmakers. But they have nothing on something like this beauty:
Trees from Rexford map

Yeah, that’s a map. Or at least part of one. Depicting some topography, woods, possibly a fenceline. It’s just gorgeous pen and brush work. (How it was reproduced, we have no idea.)

Church from Rexford map

Just look at this lovely church, located just up the hill from the river on the “Road to Burnt Hills.”

Team from Four Mile House from Rexford map

And, at the Four Mile House (and tavern?), this team and wagon.

They’re all on this beautiful map, posted by Paul Garrow over on the Schenectady History Facebook page. The date is uncertain, though since it shows the newer aqueduct and its predecessor, it’s at least post-1842, when the newer structure was in place. (Or possibly drawn with the plans for the enlargement of the canal.)

rexford-aqueduct crossing mapsmaller

The Markers Speak: Aqueduct

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AqueductWhen the Erie Canal was originally constructed, it didn’t use any of the existing rivers – natural waterways didn’t work well with the need for predictable water levels and mule paths for hauling barges. But the layout of the canal required crossing rivers, and so there were aqueducts. One of them was at a place that is still known as Aqueduct, commemorated by this marker.

G.G. Maxon

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G G Maxon.jpgThis billhead is from what was then one of Schenectady’s most prominent businesses, G.G. Maxon & Son. They owned a large grain elevator right up against the Erie Canal, and dealt in flour, grain, meal, feed, produce, lime, cement and more. The elevator was right up against the canal at the corner of Pine and Jefferson streets, pretty much where the Grossman’s Bargain Outlet on Erie Boulevard is today. In fact, I have often wondered if part of the building on that site was part of the original Maxon complex. (The naming of Maxon Road, which is now an eastern continuation of Erie Boulevard, might lead one to mistakenly believe the Maxon elevator was further east than it was. Larry Hart wrote that the road was so-named because it connected to Maxon’s “country” estate, well outside the city at where Van Vranken meets Anthony Street today.) Maxon also had a flour and seed store on Wall Street next to the old train station, in a building known as the Maxon Block. In addition to bulk goods, Maxon started the Schenectady Insurance Company, housed in the Maxon Block, and he served as president of the Mohawk National Bank.

George G. Maxon was born in 1818, and died in 1886. His once-fine home at 404 Union Street, not far from the grain elevator, later became Physicians’ Hospital, then Mercy Hospital, and later was home of the Spencer Business Institute. It still stands. 

This billhead from 1873, part of The Biggert Collection, depicts the elevator with a canal boat docked alongside.


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Whatcha gonna do when the rent comes round?

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Rent receipt
My grandfather once, for a very short time, ran a drive-in restaurant on Aqueduct Road outside of Schenectady. it was right about where the bike path crosses Aqueduct Road, where there is now an auto parts business. His landlord (Ken Williams?) didn’t know how to spell my grandfather’s last name (he wasn’t the only one, though the spelling hints that perhaps he couldn’t pronounce it, either), but maybe it was okay because $65 a month, even in 1957, doesn’t seem like a lot of rent for a commercial property. On the other hand, Aqueduct Road was hardly a highway at the time, and even today doesn’t seem like the kind of place where you would plop down a drive-in restaurant and expect it to do any kind of trade. It didn’t.

If you don’t know, Aqueduct was named Aqueduct because it was once home to, what else, the Rexford Aqueduct. The Aqueduct carried the Erie Canal across the Mohawk River, from Rexford on the Saratoga County side. Remnants of the old structure still remain alongside the current Route 146 bridge.

Where the Erie Canal met the Hudson

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Albany canal entrance modified.jpg

Once, it might have been the most important transportation intersection in the United States: the spot where the Erie Canal opened into the Hudson River. Here, barges carrying grain and hundreds of other products from the Great Lakes region had to be lifted from mule-drawn packet boats the plied the canal and moved onto sailing ships and steam vessels that would carry the goods down to New York harbor. And imported goods that had arrived in New York, or any of its many manufactures of the time, had to be manually loaded onto canal boats for their journey west. In the days before the railroads, and even for decades after rail reached over the Appalachians, the water level route was the commercial lifeblood of our nation.

Erie Canal at Albany marker DSCN8357.JPGAnd we still remember it today, with preserved pieces of the original canal scattered here and there throughout the Capital District, noted by the blue-and-yellow markers. But this particular spot, once the busiest harbor in the state outside of New York City, is now a riverside park with no hint of its industrial past. Now part of the Corning Preserve, the site has a bike path, a boat launch and lots of parking, but only a lonely historical marker gives any indication of its former importance. You have to follow the filled-in canal quite a way up the aptly named Erie Boulevard before you can find the first trace of old canal infrastructure, unmarked and forgotten, a little bit of lock wall right in front of the Huck Finn’s Warehouse.

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