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189 Years: The importance of the Erie Canal


189 years ago this month, the Erie Canal opened.

That connection between the Hudson River in New York and Lake Erie became extremely important to Michigan, which at the time of its construction was on the road to statehood.

Dan Ward is curator of the Erie Canal Museum. He says the Erie Canal was incredibly influential on the history of Michigan. “Prior to the Erie Canal, in order to get to Michigan, you had to go over a mountain range,” Ward says. The canal allowed settlers to travel to Michigan much more easily and quickly than a journey over land.

Ward says those settlers could bring everything they would need to start a farmstead, such as farm equipment and livestock, through the canal. “People could move an entire household across the country that way,” he says.

Ward says a large percentage of the requests for genealogical information he receives come from people who are from Michigan. Ward says many of them want to know about the experience their ancestors had on the boats. “The accounts from the 19th century are relatively positive,” Ward says. 

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