While New York City sat at the nexus of many important canals built in the 19th century — the Erie, Morris, and Delaware & Raritan among them — the city had its own internal network of lesser-known canals, some filled in, some never built, and some still with us today. As part of our ongoing virtual program series on canals, we will examine the ambitious schemes from the 17th century onward to connect the city’s bays and streams, from the Heere Graft of New Amsterdam to the Wallabout Canal of Brooklyn.
On the Staten Island Ferry’s 115th birthday, we take a tour of the island’s North Shore waterfront. Seen by Staten Islanders as culturally distinct from the neighborhoods south of the expressway, the North Shore is home to the borough’s cultural and industrial centers, interspersed with forgotten villages and dilapidated mansions. But even here, gentrification and transit investments aim to remake the waterfront just as climate change increases its vulnerability.
Running from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River cuts through the heart of New England. And for a period of about 40 years, a concerted effort was made to turn the rather wild and narrow river into a transportation superhighway to rival the Hudson. Between 1792 and 1835, seven canals were built to circumvent rapids, with the dream of making the river navigable as far as Barnet, Vermont, 280 miles from the Sound. In this virtual program, Andrew Gustafson, who has paddled most of the river by canoe, will trace the history of engineering and navigation, why the effort ultimately failed, and where this disused infrastructure can still be seen today.
Join us for another virtual boat tour aboard a beautiful motor yacht with our friends at Classic Harbor Line. This time we will be heading north, exploring the very northern tip of Manhattan. We will get beautiful views of the Palisades and George Washington Bridge, then tuck inside the narrow confines of the Harlem River and under more than a dozen road, rail, and foot bridges that connect Manhattan to the Bronx. Along the way we will discuss visible landmarks like Yankee Stadium, the Cloisters, and the Harlem River Houses, as well as the extensive rail and barge infrastructure in the area, and the fascinating story of how the famed Spuyten Duyvil was blasted from a meandering backwater into a navigable ship canal.
The Canal Society of New Jersey returns to our virtual program as Joe Macasek will share the history of the Delaware & Raritan Canal. While George Macculloch was working to complete his Morris Canal across the highlands of New Jersey, farther south men like Robert Stockton and Robert Stevens competed for control of a route across the narrow waist of the state. This route would give the winner access to potential profits from the coal trade and control of the already lucrative trade route between the country’s two greatest cities, New York and Philadelphia. Stockton wanted a canal and Stevens a railroad. In the end, the state legislature settled their differences by giving them both charters. Rather than compete, they formed a joint company that, for 30 years, monopolized transportation, introduced technical innovation, and wielded enormous political power.
In late 2020, as part of the long-overdue cleanup of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, dredging of the toxic sediment began, and photographer, filmmaker, and writer Nathan Kensinger has been there to document it. For more than a decade, Nathan has been recording images and stories of New York City’s waterfront, with a special focus on the industrial landscapes, hidden ecosystems, and environmental challenges of coastal communities. In this conversation, Nathan will show some of his photography and film about the Gowanus and discuss the canal’s environmental history, the cleanup process, and the changing neighborhood around it.
For almost a century, New Jersey’s Morris Canal fueled New York City with anthracite coal from northeast Pennsylvania, but now for nearly another century, the abandoned canal has been all but obliterated from the landscape. Join us as Tim Roth of the Canal Society of New Jersey helps uncover this lost canal, its innovative design, and its vital role in the history of New York City. Our discussion will also look at the lives of the people who worked that waterway, and current efforts to return its remnants to public view.
Two hundred years ago New York State was in the midst of digging a canal to connect the Hudson River with Lake Erie, a civil engineering project that would transform the state and the country. Canal builders followed ancient waterways, re-imagining their scale and modifying them several times in relation to evolving technology. The canal still connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, but today, the future of this now almost post-commercial waterway is being re-imagined. Join writer and photographer Will Van Dorp, creator of the recent Virtual Erie Canal tour, to learn about the multiple past re-imaginings of this waterway that made NYC the world port it is.
Best known today for its pollution and gentrification, the Gowanus Canal is an historic waterway that has seen war, industry, innovation, and reinvention play out along its banks. We will speak with poet, preservationist, and paddler Brad Vogel, captain of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club and executive director of the New York Preservation Archive, about the history of the Gowanus Canal over the past 300 years, as well as initiatives today to help the Gowanus small business community weather the current crisis.
Sitting at the mouth of the Hudson estuary with vast shorelines and moderate tides, New York Harbor is one of the greatest natural ports on earth, yet moving goods around the region on land has always been a challenge. This talk hosted by maritime expert Stefan Dreisbach-Williams will look at the forces that transformed New York into a dominant global port, from the mid-19th to the present, despite the fact that its geography poses huge obstacles for land-based transport by train and truck. We will look at the infrastructure and economic forces behind this paradox, and take note of places where the old technologies are still visible, and how new ones continue to develop.