old photo of Erie Canal in Lockport, New York
The locks in Lockport, New York, looking west, circa 1890.

Since 1966, ASCE has designated more than 280 projects as National or International Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks as part of its Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Program. While some of these landmarks, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, Eiffel Tower, and Hoover Dam, are well known, others are less prominent.

The Erie Canal was designated an ASCE landmark in 1967. Here are five things you didn’t know about the Erie Canal:

1-The Erie Canal was the first non-bridge chosen as an ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and just the third landmark designated as part of the new program.

2-American engineers designed the Erie Canal when the young nation had no non-military engineering schools, and the canal project has been called “the nation’s first practical school of civil engineering,” according to eriecanalrailway.org.   

3-The popular song, “Low Bridge, Everybody Down,” also known as "Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal," memorializes the years from 1825 to 1880 when the mule barges made boomtowns out of UticaRomeSyracuseRochester, and Buffalo, and transformed New York into the Empire State.

4-More than half of the original Erie Canal was destroyed or abandoned during the construction of the New York State Barge Canal in the early 20th century.

5-A Pocket Guide for the Tourist and Traveller, Along the Line of the Canals, and the Interior Commerce of the State of New York is an 88-page book published in 1824 before the canal was completed. It includes sites along the canal by mile. Today it can be read online as an e-book

This article one in a series of recurring features that the ASCE History and Heritage Committee offers on topics related to the history and heritage of civil engineering.

As the committee continues to build an inventory of all ASCE Historic Civil Engineering Landmark projects, members of the committee and other volunteers have been visiting sites to photograph landmarks and ASCE plaques as well as assess their conditions. If interested in volunteering to help the committee record these landmarks, please contact committee chair David Gilbert at [email protected].

Committee members also have been researching and writing biographies of ASCE Notable Civil Engineers. If interested in volunteering to help the committee document and preserve the histories of notable civil engineers, please email committee chair Dick Wiltshire at [email protected].