The North River and Clinton's Ditch
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The invention of the steamboat made the Hudson more accessible to more people. Actually invented by John Stevens (The Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. is named for him and his family), the steamboat was put into commercial service by the man whose name is associated for most of us with its invention: Robert Fulton. Fulton's boat had her maiden voyage in 1807; it was originally named the North River and later renamed the Clermont, after his father-in-law's Hudson Valley estate. She sailed from New York to Albany and back in 62 hours, a journey that would have taken at least a week under sail. Steamboats soon became the accepted way to travel and opened up the Hudson to large numbers of visitors. By 1850, 100 steamboats plied the River, carrying a million passengers (The Hudson—An Illustrated Guide to the Living River, Stanne et al, 1996, p.123).
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 contributed enormously to the flow of people using the River for travel and commerce and changed the economies of the towns along its banks. Stretching from Albany to Buffalo, the Canal joined the Hudson and the Great Lakes, creating a sea passage from the east coast to the Midwest. Originally derided as "Clinton's Ditch," after its sponsor Governor DeWitt Clinton, the canal was a huge success. "It turned New York Harbor into America's number one port, and it shaped the social and economic development of the nation. Shipping costs dropped dramatically, immigrants to America, in search of new lands and new opportunities in the west, crowded canal boats." The Hudson River Valley, which had been America's breadbasket, ceased to produce wheat, which could be grown more cheaply in the west, and turned to the diary and fruit farming which still predominates today.
1828 saw the completion of another important waterway: the Delaware-Hudson Canal. Connecting Honesdale, Pennsylvania to Rondout on the Hudson just south of Kingston, the canal allowed anthracite coal (hard coal) to be transported easily to New York City, where it was used for heating. Conceived by the Wurts brothers who owned coal mines in Pennsylvania, it was the first privately owned canal in the country. John B. Jervis, a former engineer on the Erie Canal and namesake of Port Jervis, N.Y., was one of the chief engineers of the D&H. John A. Roebling, who later designed the Brooklyn Bridge, designed bridges and aqueducts for the endeavor. The canal's completion transformed Rondout into the primary Hudson River port between New York and Albany; in 1855 its population of 6,000 surpassed that of nearby Kingston. However, by the late 1800's the railroad had taken over as the transportation of choice for coal. The town slipped into obscurity, and merged into Kingston.