Friday, June 30, 2017

News flash! Clinton Street wasn't named for Hillary Clinton

      July 1 is an important date in American history.
     And no, not because, barring a miracle, that date will mark the beginning of the third year Illinois has gone without a budget.
     As if that grim anniversary were not bad enough, this July 1 history taps us on the shoulder and reminds us who we used to be.
     Two hundred years ago Saturday, DeWitt Clinton was inaugurated as governor of New York.
     Who was DeWitt Clinton?  He was a politician who wanted to dig a canal across New York State. That way, Atlantic Ocean commerce could pass through the port of New York, move 150 miles down the Hudson River, meet the proposed canal at Albany, float west 350 miles, then enter Lake Erie at Buffalo.
     A project of this magnitude seemed to demand national effort. Clinton first tried to get the budding federal government to foot the bill. Thomas Jefferson dismissed the canal as  "little short of madness."
     But just as states now are picking up balls dropped by our paralyzed federal government, so Clinton brought the battle home. He ran for governor vowing to build the canal if elected.
     Clinton won, and was inaugurated July 1, 1817. Construction of the canal began ... wait for it ... three days later, on July 4, just outside Rome, New York. The heart breaks.
     The canal — 40 feet wide, four feet deep and 363 miles long — was dug by hand, with shovels and picks, with the occasional black powder explosion. It required 83 locks to surmount 675 feet of elevation. and aqueducts to cross streams. Before the canal, it cost $100 to move a ton of freight from New York City to Buffalo. After the canal opened in 1825, the same shipment cost $10 and got there in a third of the time. Tolls repaid the cost to dig the canal within a decade.

To continue reading, click here.


  1. Very informative-and it shows the importance of diversifying. Something the southerners didn't see the need for at first.

    As to Jefferson, he also had wanted the nation to remain agrarian. So while he was ahead of his time on some thought-he missed the big picture on others.

  2. Read the year-old column (about the decay of Constantine, MI at least partly because of automation) after today's and the question immediately came to mind: "Where did that $100 per ton of freight go before the canal was built?" I'm thinking teamsters mostly and townsfolk along the wagon route who supplied food and lodging for the teamsters and their animals. Could be a few towns in New York State withered away after Clinton's technological innovation.


  3. Uh oh, looks like someone made a mistake when they located the Presidential Towers on Clinton Street. It seems like Illinois can never catch a break, New York gets The Erie Canal, and Illinois is stuck with an obsolete boondoggle like the Hennepin Canal.

  4. Very interesting piece on the importance of infrastructure in our country's history and continued prosperity. Family legend tells of a far-distant ancestor who helped dig the I&M canal.
    One minor quibble: NYC to Albany is upriver. Hence the term "sent up the river," referring to journeys to the prison in Ossining, NY.

  5. Efficiency in state government; who knew? It makes me SMH in shame at how our home state of Illinois is being jerked around.

    Very interesting read. Not knowing the backstory of DeWitt Clinton, I never would've guessed the reason why Clinton Street is one street west of Canal Street in Chicago's loop; now I know!

  6. And DeWitt Clinton Elementary on California north of Peterson. Great history lesson.

  7. Excellent column! I always appreciate a good history lesson. Keep 'em coming, Neil.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.