Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bond of Union - book review

Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire
by Gerard Koeppel

American infrastructure, which has been sadly neglected for half a
century, is finally getting another look, from a new administration
confronting economic collapse. What better time to contemplate the
first great piece of American infrastructure: New Yorkís Erie Canal?

It too has been neglected for generations, but the story of its
creation nearly two centuries ago may provide guidance and
encouragement for today's would-be builders: politicians, engineers,
workers, and the American people in general.

In Bond of Union, New York historian Gerard Koeppel tells the story
of the creation of the Erie Canal, from its conception in 1807 by
Jesse Hawley, a western New York grain merchant in debtors' prison who
wrote a series of newspaper essays about the need for the waterway
under the pseudonym Hercules to the canal's completion in 1825,
making it the first great bond between the seaboard American nation
and the vast continental interior.

The canal joined the Great Lakes at Buffalo to the Hudson River at
Albany and, via the Hudson River, to the Atlantic Ocean at New York
City. The immediate and spectacular success of the canal in binding
east to west established New York City as the young nation's economic
engine and New York State as America's Empire State. But like all
great undertakings, building the canal was only accomplished by a
passionate and determined cast of characters who overcame a host of
challenges and many surprising twists and turns that, until now, the
author said, have not been accurately portrayed. Bond of Union sheds
new light on:

The long competition between New York and Virginia to reach the
western territory first; a battle whose most famous generals were New
York's De Witt Clinton and Virginia's Thomas Jefferson, the story
behind Benjamin Wright - the man who has become known as the Father of
American Civil Engineering.

The discovery of American waterproof cement.

The vicious political feud over the eastern end of the canal route
west of Albany, which involved surveyor John Randelóthe man who had
famously laid out the numbered streets and avenues of Manhattan.
The notorious battle between rival settlements Buffalo and Black Rock
to be named the canalís western terminus.

Koeppel is the author of Water for Gotham: A History. He was a
contributor to Water-Works: The Architecture and Engineering of the
New York City Water Supply. He is an Associate Editor of the second
edition of The Encyclopedia of New York City and was a contributor to
The Encyclopedia of New York State and The Encyclopedia of the New
American Nation, for which he wrote the Erie Canal and other entries.

His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New York
Observer, the New Yorker, the New York Sun, the New-York Journal of
American History
, and American Heritage Invention and Technology.

Mr. Koeppel is a former editor at CBS News, and serves on the
Executive Council of the New York City Chapter of the Society of
Professional Journalists. He resides in Manhattan.

-- Dick Palmer

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