Canal Culture

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This song, "The Meeting of the Waters of Hudson & Erie," (1825) was sung at the grand opening celebration of the Erie Canal. It praised American ingenuity and coming together for a common purpose. Courtesy of New York State Library via Empire State Digital Network.

Canal in Song

The Erie Canal was the information superhighway of its day. A song written in New York City could be performed in Buffalo a week later. The first official song about the Canal was “Meeting of the Waters,” composed by Samuel Woodworth. It commemorates the completion and opening celebration of the Erie Canal and is dedicated to DeWitt Clinton. However, the more common entertainment on the Canal was music that could be performed on small portable instruments. Folk songs from the lumber woods and sailing ships were sometimes reworked to reflect life on the Canal. Humor was at the center of these tunes, often exaggerating the dangers of canal travel.

There are many Erie Canal songs, but one popular song can be credited with making the Erie Canal world famous. “Low Bridge Everybody Down (or Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal),” was composed sometime between 1905 and 1912 by Thomas S. Allen, a songwriter for hire. F. B. Haviland Publishing Company copyrighted the song in manuscript form in 1912 and as sheet music in 1913. The release of the song near the end of the “towpath era” on the enlarged Erie Canal may help to explain both its popularity and its content.