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Season 1, Episode 1 · 4 years ago

Episode 101 - Bridging The Gap

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Episode 101 - Bridging The Gap

This is under the low bridge, an unconventional history of the Erie Canal. In honor of the two hundredth anniversary of its construction, the history department at the University of Rochester presents six environmental stories and you're listening to here. You are, everybody down part one, bridging the gap. I'm Lollie all BRECK and I'm Molly Robinson. Hey, molly, did you ever play with Legos as a kid? Well, yeah, of course. What kid didn't? Imagine that you're building a Lego structure, but no matter how you tried to fit the pieces together, it keeps falling apart. Frustrating right. But now, in a much, much larger scale, imagine that you're the main engineer of the Erie Canal and you somehow have to continue building the canal across a valley. This was the dilemma of James Getty's, one of the prominent Erie Canal engineers, as he came to deal with the problem of the Arondequit Creek Valley in eighteen o eight and lily. It was quite the problem. The...

Erie Canal was supposed to flow perpendicularly across the Rond Quick Creek Valley. It either had to cross here or the entire canal would have to be rerouted across Lake Ontario. The valley was a mile wide and seventy feet deep, with walls made of soft, permeable soil and had three natural ridges running throughout. For engineers without access to modern technology, this was a bleak landscape for construction. So what could they do? They couldn't build the canal down into the valley because they didn't have enough room for the locks that would be needed to force the water flow back up. So Getty's proposed building an embankment to cross the valley, but the soft soil of the valley wouldn't support this embankment. The engineers then decided to build a wooden aqueduct to carry the water across, but quickly realized the strong winds from Lake Ontario would easily destroy it. The engineers finally decided to use dirt from elsewhere to fill the valley, as well as a combination of supporting beams in the ground and the support of natural ridges in the valley to build this embankment. They also built a culvert to protect the Ironticquick Creek, which ran through the valley. However, the soil that...

...they imported consisted mostly of quicksand and therefore, when it was finished in one eighteen and twenty two, the entire embankment was unstable. The engineers had to drain this section of the Canal nightly for the first few weeks so it wouldn't break and flood the surrounding areas. So they knew that this embankment was likely to break at any time and still went along with the construction. Yep, well, this was a pretty typical attitude to have at the time. It was more convenient for the engineers to bridge the section of the canal with a quick and cheap solution then to reroute the entire canal along Lake Ontario. The attitude of this time treated the land as if it belonged to the people and they could use it as they pleased. And most people didn't see this as a problem. But some, like us, official Thomas mckenney, realized that if a mountain is in the way of the canal, these enterprising citizens make nothing of cutting it down. If a valley, they fill it up and pass the waters across in a bed cut out of the new made Ridge and in ascending or descending blocks are resorted to. Thus do enterprise and skill and money level all things so the convenience of building across the valley outweighed the potential...

...threats to the people living near the Construction Yep. But despite its flaws, the arondequate embankment was an impressive feat of engineering at the time, considering engineers and four men had no access to power tools. New York citizens were really excited about the impressive engineering of the project and were so confident in man's ability to overcome nature that they had no reason to be nervous about the precarious position they were being forced into. Even James Getty's was sure his work would be influential in the future. I had to be sure, lively presentiments, that time would bring about all that I was planning, that boats would one day pass along on the tops of these fantastic ridges, that posterity would see and enjoy the sublime spectacle. And despite the fragile nature of the embankment, the next generation looked at the success of the original canal and believe they could do bigger and better. This attitude of altering landscape for economic gain had become reinforced this was especially problematic for the reconstruction of the embankment in in nineteen eleven. That was a result of the construction of the barge canal, which aimed to improve the original Erie Canal. The new plan decided to cut the length of the canal even shorter by building directly across the Rondaquit Creek Valley instead of using...

...the support of natural ridges. But their success was short lived. It had only been eight days after this reconstruction was finished that a one hundred and fifty foot section of the canal broke. Strike One, and then in September of nineteen twelve, the culvert that allowed the Roge Quick Creek to pass beneath the canal collapsed. Strike two. And the most devastating break occurred on October twenty ninth nineteen seventy four, where two hundred million gallons of water were estimated to pour out of the canal, creating a wall of water two stories high that flooded the town below. And that's strike three. These barge canal error engineers built even riskier designs because they had seen how great the benefits of defying nature could be. By choosing to build an unstable structure that could potentially endanger human lives. Instead of spending the money and time to reroute the canal, the original engineers provided the perfect example of prioritizing economic gain over environmental harm, a theme that's prevalent in stories of environmental exploitation, past or present. Thanks were...

...a lot simpler back in the Lego days. I know right. This episode was made possible by the generous support of several departments at the University of Rochester. The here you are team would like to thank molison meat and the Department of rare books and special collections, Blair Tinker in the digital scholarship lab, Stephen Restner at the Department of Audio and music engineering and, last but not least, the Department of History,.

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