Sounder SIGN UP FOR FREE
Hear UR
Hear UR

Season 1, Episode 6 · 4 years ago

Episode 106 - Barging Through The Conflict

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This is under the low bridge and 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, oh, everybody down your neighbor episode five, barging through conflict. This is me here, Khan, and I'm Sophia mccrae. Wow me here. This view is really amazing. We're sitting up here on an old guard gate above the Erie Canal, right outside the University of Rochester. This is basically a thirty foot wall of iron and wood covering just above the surface of the canal. There are series of cobblestone and cement pedestrian bridges in the distance,...

...and I have to say this view makes me feel like I'm stepping out of a painting. As sure as peaceful sitting here, Sophia, the view from the top of this gate has to be one of the best views in Rochester, as in front of us is the crossing of the winding Genesee River and the cherished Erie Canal, as well as a picturesque hills and forestry of Genesee Valley Park. As rustic as this park seems in my eyes, I can't check off the unnatural feeling the Erie Canal brings the canal breath of life and commerce into Rochester during its rust belt routes, and I can still feel that commercial influence through the sounds of the interstate highway next to us and the active Rochster airport just half a mile ahead. The clashing sounds and sites seemed to represent a battle between nature and man. Interesting that you bring that up, because this spot was the source of a huge conflict just over a hundred years ago, one more tangible than the one you described. No way this spot. What do you mean? You see, back in the turn of the twenty century the state engineers of New York had a problem. They were losing...

...money on the much heralded Erie Canal do the competitive rise of the railroads. But what does that have to do with the Genesee Valley Park? Well, there's the dilemma. The existing route of the canal through the heart of downtown Rochester was too small to accommodate the larger ships that could better compete with railroads. So the engineers proposed several new routes for an updated Erie Canal. So they chose straight through the park. Exactly. This new route, which is later called the Barch canal, was the most efficient route for the engineers to avoid construction issues like ninety degree turns and elevation changes. Well, that couldn't have been easy to swallow for Park visitors. But I still don't understand the big problem. Well, you see, there were several actors with different visions for this land. The genesee valley park was open to the public in eighteen ninety one, and just within the first decade of operation, the Parks Commission of Rochester was already at odds with the homestead firm over how land usage had progressed. As in Frederick Law Homestead, he was the Guy Behind Central Park in New York. Right inspired by his travels in the English countryside, his...

...royal park designs and urban settings channeled pastoral landscapes absolutely. Not only did he design GBP in eighteen eighty eight, but he was also hired for Seneca Park and highland park in Rochester as well. Okay, so it sounds like Rochester was also in the midst of Park Omania. Like many other industrial cities around the US and Europe, which was the conversion of public lands and urban areas to green spaces. I know, before such spaces were established, people spent their leisure time walking in places like cemeteries. Right. So in eighteen ninety one, all that was here was the river and different elevations of land. Otherwise, a lot of what we see in front of us had yet to exist. In fact, homestead and his right hand man, CEC Laney, scoped out the entire GVP landscape, planting thousands of trees to cover up railroad tracks, and the even introduced a flock of sheep, white tailed deer, an American Elf and a bear. Ta How sounds. A Wild World Park designed by Olmsted was widely seen as an antidote to modernity. It was a...

...civilizing force of Bourgeoisi values and a place of recreation and leisure, a space where people of all classes could stroll and revel in nature. That's exactly how GVP started, as the original plans for the park contained a compromise. Olmsted got to preserve the lands beauty, whereas the parks department got the recreational haven they sought for the area. With a few small facilities. But in the first decade after the parks completion, the parks commission place an increased emphasis on recreation, as further developments in the park let to facilities like ball grounds and ice skating rink, a boat house and, by one thousand nine hundred and one fifteen holes of golf that spanned almost three miles of the park. Special deals were even made for a merry go round and a refreshment stand. Sounds more like carnival grounds than a rural fantasy of olmsted's creation. But honestly, people must have really loved it. Exactly people did, but olmsted did it. Further adding to the conflict, the city made special deals with the railroad allowing new tracks to be cut through olmsted's carefully planned forests, which allowed people...

...to pour in and diw is INS. So there's Olmstead in the Parks Commission butting heads over the use of the park and state engineers and the railroads of New York stuggling to place the new barge canal. So what happened in one thousand nine hundred and three, the same year that the plans were the barge canal were officially announced, GVP was hit by a flood that damaged the parks rows and bike trails, ruining the merry go round and washing away soil and cinders. GVP was in a floodplain, but this is the worst it had experiences the park's creation. So the park commission thought that adding another waterway was the last thing they needed. Right, that's right. On the other hand, the Olmstead firm thought the canal would ruin the esthetic beauty of the park's Rustic charm. So, given where we are, I'm assuming the canal one. Well, actually, in a way, everyone won. After many nasty negotiations between these people, this ended up being the final part of the entire barge canal system to be constructed. As part of the agreement, the engineers...

...built a damn where the canal intersected the river, which actually helped alleviate the genesee river's flooding, and with engineers building artistic bridges across the canal and river throughout the park, the Omest firm begrudgingly made with they said was the best out of a bad situation. To put the Cherry on top, engineers agreed to take out many of the rail lines that cover GV P to accommodate the canal. Well, considering where we are today, are you sure everyone won? The Erie Canal definitely isn't used for its original purpose anymore, and sitting on a massive iron wall with the highway blaring right next to us, I don't feel almostead's original rustic dream for the city. At this point, the entire dispute seems trivial, not only over the intended design and land use, but it also speaks to the fundamental differences and the way that all these actors perceived and interactive with nature. This space now just serves as a physical timeline of the last two hundred years of transportation and infrastructure change. It has a less peaceful history than we'd like, but those are the layers of history that...

...have been written and rewritten over this land. Each layer just represents the different ways humans have tried to manipulate nature for their own benefit throughout the years. This episode was made possible by the general support of several departments at the University of Rochester. The here you are team would like to thank Melissa Meat and the Department of rare books and special collections. Blair tinker and the digital scholarship, Lad Stephen Messner at the Department of Audio and music engineering and, last but not least, the Department of History,.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (26)