Avoiding the Mountains

Following the American Revolution, the new nation nearly doubled in size after the 1783 Treaty of Paris was signed with Britain. However, the Eastern seaboard states remained separated from the interior of the country by the imposing Appalachian mountain range. Canals had been attempted elsewhere, but the elevations were too great to allow for a viable canal anywhere except New York. The only place where it was physically possible to build a canal to the Great Lakes without going over mountains was north through the Hudson Valley and west through the Mohawk Valley of New York.

The Hudson River provided a highly navigable waterway to the interior of New York as Henry Hudson discovered when he sailed up the river in 1609 in search of a passage to the Orient. Though the rapids of the Mohawk River prevented him from going further west, his discovery of the river later bearing his name would encourage other Dutch and then English to establish settlements along this broad waterway. The profitable fur trade and the opening of western territories in the Great Lakes region continued to spur innovative thinking and discussion about an overland route across New York.

A map of the territories that comprised the United States of America, following the Peace of 1783. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

This 1909 postcard shows Henry Hudson and his crew sailing their ship, the Half Moon, on the river that would later bear his name in September 1609. Courtesy of Hudson River Valley Institute via Southeastern New York Library Resources Council and Empire State Digital Network.