Monday, May 30, 2005

Making of a Great Nation

Peter L. Bernstein’s new book Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation is a wonderful historical read that shows how a project of vision can transform a region and even an entire country. The early USA consisted of only 13 states all along the Atlantic, separated by the imposing Appalachian Mountains from the rich center of North America. Britain, France and Spain all looked enviously upon this virgin area.

From 1817 to 1825 the 363-mile canal was built from Lake Erie to the Hudson River, which connected to New York City. Prior to the opening of the Erie Canal a shipment of flour could only go 130 miles by road before 50% of its ultimate value was eaten up by freight costs. Via the canal it could be transported 2750 miles. The amount of grain transported to Buffalo increased by 10 times within 10 years, transforming it into the flour milling capital of the USA. Cities on the Great Lakes such as Cleveland and Chicago quickly grew also as a result.

New York City, which was in fourth place in trade behind Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston quickly catapulted into first place and also established itself as the young country’s financial center. It would never again be a horse race for domination. New York never looked back.

Railroads would eventually replace canals, but the demographic and trade shifts that occurred because of the Erie Canal changed cities and regions forever. What project is your agurb® working on that could transform your community?

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