Enterprising Waters

The History and Art of New York's Erie Canal

By Brad L. Utter
With Ashley Hopkins-Benton & Karen E. Quinn
Foreword by Thomas X. Grasso

Subjects: New York/regional, History
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438478265, 432 pages, March 2020

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Chronicles the story of the Erie Canal from its inception to today.


One of the largest public works projects in American history, the Erie Canal inspired a nationwide transportation revolution and directed the course of New York and American history. When completed in 1825, the engineering marvel unlocked the Western interior for trade and settlement, boomtowns sprang up along the canal's path, and New York City grew to be the nation's most powerful center of international trade. Millions of people poured into New York (and some through it) to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities provided by the canal, influencing settlement and the social, political, and commercial landscapes of America.

Produced in honor of the bicentennial of the beginning of construction of the canal, Enterprising Waters—a companion catalog to the New York State Museum's exhibition of the same name—includes reproductions of objects and images from the collections of more than thirty-five different institutions and individual lenders. It also contains reproductions of fifty-nine works of art used in the companion exhibition "Art of the Erie Canal. " Themes of politics, engineering, commerce, life on the canal, and more are paired with full color images of artifacts, documents, and images to bring this unique American story to life, from its inception to today.

At the New York State Museum, Brad L. Utter, Ashley Hopkins-Benton, and Karen E. Quinn are all Senior Historians and Curators. Hopkins-Benton is the coauthor (with Jennifer A. Lemak) of Votes for Women: Celebrating New York's Suffrage Centennial, also published by SUNY Press, and Quinn is a contributor to Mount Washington: The Crown of New England, by P. Andrew Spahr.


"…Enterprising Waters packs an impressive amount of history into its 400-plus pages. " — Hudson River Valley Review

"…the definitive guide about the history of the Erie Canal. " — Jack Rightmyer, Albany Times Union

"Profusely illustrated with captioned period photography throughout, Enterprising Waters is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a two page Bibliography, two pages of Notes, and a fourteen page Index, making it an exceptional work that is unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library American Transportation History collections in general, and Erie Canal history supplemental studies lists in particular. " — Midwest Book Review

"Enterprising Waters is, like the Erie Canal itself, an ambitious achievement. Its spectacular visual images vividly portray the waterway's material world as well as its artistic legacy, while the accompanying text concisely covers two centuries of Erie Canal history. No matter how much, or how little, readers know already about New York's artificial waterways, they can learn from (and enjoy!) this beautiful catalog. " — Carol Sheriff, author of The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817–1862

"A fine presentation in words and images of the great project that inspired New York and the nation. " — Gerard Koeppel, author of Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire