The canal was first proposed in 1808 as an alternative transportation route linking the eastern seaboard
and the Great Lakes region. Proponents argued that a canal could be used to move goods faster and cheaper
than horse drawn carts.
The canal project faced several daunting obstacles. To accomodate the 600 foot rise in elevation between the eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes region a series of locks would be required along the 360 mile length of the canal.
Eventually, New York governor DeWitt Clinton was able to secure $7M from the New York legislature for construction of the Erie Canal. The project and governor had many detractors. The canal project that Governor Clinton championed was derided as "Clinton's Folly" and "Clinton's Ditch".
Never the less, construction of the massive Erie Canal project was initiated in Rome, NY in 1817. The construction was very slow and labor intensive. The canal was created by excavating a channel 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep. The bottom of the channel was lined with clay. The sides of the canal were lined with stone inlaid in clay. The excavated soil was used to build a berm or walkway, i.e. towpath, adjacent to the newly excavated canal. Canal boats were pulled by horses and mules that walked along the towpath led by a young driver or 'hoggee'.
The construction of the canal was completed in 1825. Governor Clinton sailed from Buffalo to New York City over ten days to celebrate the completion of the canal project.