Friday, September 12, 2008

Rare Erie Canal history book is republished

By Richard Palmer
LOCKPORT - The long out of print book, "Looking Back So That We May Move Ahead," has been republished by the Niagara County Historical Society. It was originally written by Alexis Mueller Jr. in 1975 to commemorate the the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal.
Although many histories of the canal were published before or since, this one has been much sought after because of its massive collection of facts and readability, and many rare illustrations.
Not generally known is the fact that a proposal to create an east-west water route across New York State dates as far back as the 1720s. Also, it was Gouverneur Morris, not DeWitt Clinton, who was the actual "Father of the New York State Canals." Morris was an early American statesman of the Revolutionary War period. He was one of the first members of the Erie Canal Commission.
The author used many unpublished or hard to find sources rather than rehash more contemporary writings that are frequently of questionable accuracy. One of these unpublished sources was a collection of hundreds of photographs taken between 1905 and 1925 that were part of the New York State Engineer's reports on the progress of construction of the Barge Canal.
Also used as a fresh reference was an unpublished manuscript by Paul Murphy, a retired Buffalo Fire Department captain, who spent his boyhood close to the canal near Gasport. As a young man he recorded what he saw during construction of the canal.
The third new source, found in the Niagara County Historian's office, was a scrapbook of canal-related newspaper clippings covering the period 1931 to 1935.
The book is also replete with interesting recollections of the days of canal building. Canal workers received $12 a month, and subsisted on pork, flour, biscuits, bread and whiskey.
The book also concisely shows how communities such as Lockport sprang up from huddles of log huts into fashionable cities and towns that exist to this day along the canal system.
The richly-illustrated book sells for for $11.95 plus $4 shipping and handling. For further information go to: www.niagarahistory.org/page/shop.

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