The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2005

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Early Transportation Trivia

contributed by Richard F. Palmer
Other articles by Richard Palmer about early transportation.

Ontario Repository, Canandaigua, N.Y.

Tues., July 30, 1816

A boat large enough to accommodate 20 passengers, has lately arrived at Montreal from Schenectady; having ascended the Mohawk, to the little canal at Rome, which connects it with Wood Creek; thence into Oneida Lake, Oswego River and Lake Ontario, &c. When we consider that a cut of 15 or 16 miles from the Mohawk to the Hudson would have enabled this very boat to fetch a freight to Albany or New-York, we may estimate the immense importance of a canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson. Till that be made our produce and wealth must flow to Montreal and Quebec.

New York Columbian. Ontario Repository, Canandaigua, N.Y.

Tues., July 29, 1817

Cincinnati, (Ohio), July 4


Arrived at this port on Monday morning last, (30th June) a small schooner built boat of about six tons burthen, 30 days from Rome on the Mohawk river, state of New-York! The boat was conducted by Capt. Dean and four Indians; - passengers, two squaws and an Indian boy. It was a handsome mode, painted in a neat style, with two masts and sails, and an appropriate flag. They sailed hence on the same day for the Wabash; their avowed object is to enter lands on behalf of their tribe, and then to ascend the Wabash to its source, cross over with their boat to the Maumee, and return by the way of Lake Erie.

This boat left Rome on the 1st of June, passed into Lake Ontario by way of Wood Creek, Oneida Lake and Oswego River, and after navigating the southern coast of that Lake, was conveyed round the falls of Niagara on wheels, eleven miles, then by the way of Buffalo, across the end of Lake Erie to the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek, and up it to a portage of eight miles and a half across to the head waters of the Allegany river.

It arrived at this place, after passing two portages amounting to nineteen and a half miles! During this time they were detained nearly ten days by head winds and rains.

Geneva Palladium, NY, Dec. 4, 1822

From the Pittsburgh Statesman, Nov. 12

There is now lying at the mouth of Wayne-street, in this city, a shallop rigged Keel Boat, thirty-five feet long, with several families on board, who embarked in this boat at the mouth of Wood creek, head of the Oneida Lake, state of New-York.

The course pursued to reach Pittsburgh, was by passing down the Oneida Lake and thro' Oswego river into Lake Ontario, thence up to the Niagara to within five miles of the Falls. The vessel was then carried round the Falls on wheels, and placed in the river two miles above the Falls; then pursued her course to Portland, on Lake Erie, and was again placed on wheels, and carried seven miles along a good road to the Chatauqua Lake and creek into Conewaga creek-entered the Alleghany river at Warren, Erie county, Pa. and arrived safe at Pittsburgh.

Facts like these are worth preserving and their diffusion may be of ultimate utility. It is also a practical evidence, that a water communication between Pittsburgh and New-York can be opened without difficulty.

Yates Republican, Penn Yan, Aug. 9, 1825


The Subscribers, having recently received their Steam Engine from New-York, are under the necessity of stopping their Ferry-Boat from plying between the villages of Dresden and Lancaster, until the steam apparatus can be attached to the Boat. Every possible exertion will be made to expedite the labour, and due notice given to the public of its completion.

Good skiffs are provided, and will be in readiness for the accommodation of foot passengers, until the Steam Boat commences her regular trips.


It wasn't until the following season that this boat was ready to re-enter service.

Yates Republican, June 1, 1826

Steam Ferry Boat

The Steam-Boat Seneca, will run regularly on the Ferry across Seneca Lake, between Baleytown and Dresden villages. Times of departure as follows, viz:

From Baleytown at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
From Dresden at 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

This Boat has a good Cabin, in which Passengers can be safe and comfortable at all times. Travellers who pass over the Lake at this Ferry may be assured of a safe and expeditious passage. J. MAYNARD, and others, Proprietors. June, 1826.

Oswego Palladium, Aug. 29, 1859

Traveling in Old Times

Before the Canals were built, years and years ago; when Detroit was very far west, and "outside of creation," and Buffalo a long journey from Schenectady; when populous cities on the line were mere villages or settlements, in a howling wilderness, people had to travel, and freight required transportation. Although the traveling public was then a very small circle of adventurous men, and the freight interest in its babyhood, yet both existed and had to be accommodated. The thing was accomplished by bateau, a primitive craft.

The Schenectady News, in an article on early traveling, furnishes the following sketch of the route to the West:

Starting from Schenectady, with a crew of from three to five men, the bateau would follow the Mohawk through the counties of Montgomery, Herkimer and Oneida, until it reached in the vicinity of Rome, when the bateau passed through a canal five miles to Wood Creek, thence down the Creek to Oneida Lake; thence the whole length of the Lake to Fort Brewerton; thence through the outlet into the Oswego River.
On reaching Oswego Falls, pilots were necessary, and the load of the bateau had to be lightened. The falls were from six to eight feet. The vessel then proceeded down the river to Lake Ontario, through the lake to Queenstown, from which point it was carried over land to Chippewa River above Niagara Falls; thence by the way of Fort Scholosser to Tonawanda, going through Lake Erie to Detroit. Fort Scholosser was an encampment where the French unloaded their stores. it is two miles above Niagara. The old storehouses are now all fallen into decay, and there are not probably three buildings standing. Navy Island is some brief distance above Fort Scholosser. The trade from Niagara to Montreal was principally in the hands of the British. A bateau was considered to make excellent time if it reached Niagara in sixteen days after leaving Schenectady.

Hazards of 'Inland Navigation'

by Richard Palmer

In the days before canals, water navigation was primarily by rafts and "arks" and even those experienced in handling these crafts found it dangerous business. Near Cortland, N.Y. was a place known as Port Watson, which was at the head of navigation on the Tioughnioga River, a tributary of the Susquehanna, via the Chenango River, at Chenango Forks.

Warehouses were located at Port Watson where goods were stored until the water was high enough in the spring to float craft down the river. This usually occurred once or twice a year, in the early spring. Although the boats, some 90 feet long, had colorful names, they were short lived and were cut of for lumber once they reached their destination because it was impractical to return them to Port Watson.

Cortland Republican, Saturday, April 11, 1818


Port Watson
High water...Monday, 6th inst.
Ark Exporter, G. Rice, master, for Harrsburgh, laden with cheese and gypsum.
Crazy Jane, L. Rice, gypsum, Harrisburgh.
Dutch Trader, Shapley, gypsum, do.
Navigator, Parsons, gypsum, Columbia.
Brother Jonathan, Taylor, do. do.
Gold Hunter, Sherwood, do. do.
Indian Chief, Billings, do. do.
Resolution, May, do. Marietta.
Perseverance, Wakefield,do do
Phoenix, do do
Enterprize, do. do.
Lazy Tom, do. Northumberland.
Sour Crout, do. Kutztown.
Yankee Rogue, do. Sunbury

Besides gypsum, great quantities of whiskey, grain, potatoes and other produce of this then wild country were sent down the river to Harrisburg and Baltimore. The odds of getting injured in some way on such a dangerous voyage were great. The Cortland Republican of April 25, 1818 reported:

Distressing Accident. - A few days since, Mr. Luman Rice, of this town, left Port Watson for Pennsylvania, with an ark laden with plaster. On the 14th inst. he endeavored to land at Northumberland. He coiled the rope, one end of which was attached to the ark, round his left arm and put it round a tree that leaned over the river - the other end was seized by his companions in the ark, where unfortunately his arm was caught in the rope, which cu it off instantly about half way between the elbow and the wrist.
He fell into the river, and the current carried him a considerable distance from the shore. With one hand, and the bleeding stump that remained of the other arm, faint with the loss of blood, and almost exhausted, he succeeded in reaching the shore, after swimming eight or ten rods. It was found necessary to amputate his arm above the elbow - thus he was obliged to endure the pain of having it severed in two places.

Geneva Gazette, Dec. 3, 1817

Goodwin's Ferry


The subscriber informs the public that he has added several Boats to his Ferry, which will enable him to keep one at all times on each side of the Lake, with attentive and careful boatmen, ready for the accommodation of persons wishing to cross the Lake from either shore. This Ferry is established between Reading, in Steuben county, and the south line of the town of Ovid, in Seneca county.
JOHN GOODWIN. Reading, Nov. 17, 1817
© 2005, Richard Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR