The spot where the original western terminus of the Erie Canal was located is now marked with a newly-dedicated plaque. Those dedicating it Wednesday recalled the importance of the Erie Canal in building not only Buffalo but also New York State and the United States.
"Professional land surveyors have applied their analytical and measurement skills and researching historic documents in determining the earlier outlines of Buffalo's street grids, property boundaries and Erie Canal lands," said Brian Skalman, regional secretary and former president of the Niagara Frontier Land Surveyors Association. "We have retraced and recreated the history of the spot, marked by this new monument."
New York State is currently commemorating the bicentennial of the construction of the Erie Canal. Work began in 1817 and was completed in 1825. Joel Dombrowski, a local historian who runs Buffalo Double Decker Bus Tours, says what's remarkable is how the original 363-mile route between Lake Erie and the Hudson River was made.
"We did not have one engineer to make the body of water that we call the Erie Canal," he said. "Three hundred sixty three feet long, 40 feet wide, four feet deep. You guys have done a little gardening in the spring, and after 15 minutes you're done with it? Think about building 40 feet wide, four feet deep, 363 miles long without one machine. Just shovels."
Dressed in a replica vintage police constable's outfit, Dombrowski spoke further of how the Erie Canal changed not only Buffalo but elevated New York into the Empire State.
"When (President) Thomas Jefferson would not give us funding for this canal, because he said it would bankrupt the country, New York State had to go to private investors. They went to a little place called Wall Street," he said. "That's what made Wall Street, Wall Street. Profound impact here, ladies and gentlemen, with this Erie Canal."
Placement of the western terminus also set the stage for Buffalo to become one of the United States' most important inner ports and, for many decades, one of the nation's largest cities.
How much different it could have been, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz noted, if the western terminus had been located not far away in what was then the Village of Black Rock, instead of what was then the Village of Buffalo.
"The forefathers and the foremothers of the Village of Buffalo understood the importance of it and they fought, tooth and nail, to ensure that the Erie Canal terminus was here, and not just a few miles up the river in Black Rock," he said. "Otherwise, we might be celebrating the Black Rock Bills and the Black Rock Sabres and everything else about it."