Stairway to Empire: Lockport, the Erie Canal, and the Shaping of America

Stairway to Empire: Lockport, the Erie Canal, and the Shaping of America

  • ISBN-13: 9781438425276
  • $46.66

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The stunning achievement of the Erie Canal's completion is brought to life in this riveting story. In the spring of 1821, thousands of workers descended on the isolated village of Lockport, New York, twenty miles east of Niagara Falls. Their goal was to dig and blast a waterway through the so-called Mountain Ridge, the escarpment over which the Niagara River flows, and to divert some of that river's flow eastward, thus completing the Erie Canal. This final obstacle would take five years to overcome, and the Lockport Locks, the ingenious device that carried boats to the top of the ridge, would come to be seen as an icon of American achievement--like the Erie Canal itself, a stairway to empire. Taking advantage of a rich trove of construction records, travelers' writings, and visual material, Stairway to Empire examines the triumphs and tensions of this iconic American accomplishment and its place in the larger narrative of American modernity and progress. In the decades that followed its completion, the canal rearranged political and economic power on the continent, forming new connections and rupturing old ones, and creating winners and losers in the process. Piercing the barrier of the Appalachian Mountains, the Erie Canal established New York City as the American metropolis, the North's economic ascendance over the South, and the United States as the dominant power in North America. Yet even as it explores these local and continental implications and the divergent meanings that have been attributed to them, Stairway to Empire also attends to the silences and shadows of a particular event (cutting through the Mountain Ridge), a particular place (Lockport), and the stories we have constructed to try to understand them.

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