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Historic Highways of America


T. M. Ripley of Marietta, Ohio, for advice and assistance.
A. B. H.
Marietta, Ohio, March 4, 1904.
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The Great American Canals
 
 Volume IIThe Erie Canal
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CHAPTER I
THE MOHAWK AND ITS IMPROVEMENT
The “great western” route through New York State to the Lakes has come under
consideration in our study of highways in three places: as an Indian trail, as a
portage path, and as a pioneer road. The old Iroquois Trail, as we have called it,
ran up the Mohawk, which it crossed at Nun-da-da-sis, “around the hill,” (Utica);
thence it made for the Genesee River and the Niagara frontier; an important
tributary pathway led down the Genesee to Swa-geh (Oswego) on Lake Ontario.
This was the landward route from the Hudson to the Great Lakes. As a
thoroughfare in its entirety, it meant much to the Indians, but very little to the
white men before the nineteenth century. Though the lower Mohawk Valley was
sparsely settled early in the eighteenth century, white men did not build their
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cabins along the Iroquois Trail to the westward until nearly a century later, when
the old Genesee Road was opened. Until then the country through which the
Iroquois Trail ran had been a terra incognita where only Indian runners knew the
way through the Long House of the Iroquois. Yet it was a pleasant country for all
the forest shades; from Nun-da-da-sis the trail ran on, leaving the Mohawk River
and Ole-hisk, “the place of nettles”—the famed battlefield of Oriskany—to the
north, passing Ka-ne-go-dick (Wood Creek) and Ga-no-a-lo-hole (Lake Oneida),
the “Lake of the Head on a Pole.”[1] To the southward, the path bore away
toward Na-ta-dunk (Syracuse), the place of the “broken pine-tree,” and Ga-do-
quat (Fort Brewerton). There were the silver lakes strung like white gems on
wreaths of heaviest green. The low lands of the Genesee country, soon to see
the great advances heralded by the famous purchases of land speculators,
intervened; and straight be
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yond, far away across the pine-tree tops, gleamed the Great Lakes and the
plunging river between them; the deep growl of Niagara seemed to warn
voyageurs away to the forest trails on either side. Those falls were the only
interruption in a water highway which in many aspects is, today, the most
stupendous in the world.
Had this winding trail been the only means of communication between the rapidly
filling Hudson River valley and the chain of lakes to the northwest, it is very
probable that a Braddock or a Forbes would have built a military road even
through that bloody Long House; but the Mohawk River, and the Oswego, offered
a waterway which, though difficult and uncertain, was the white man’s route from
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