Guide to Canal Records
The development of New York State's canal system laid the groundwork for rapid economic growth of communities along the canal route and throughout the State during the nineteenth century. It also involved pioneering efforts in canal engineering. Canal records in the New York State Archives are valuable resources for understanding the growth and changes in canal communities as well as the development of the State's canal system and canal engineering in general. Maps, correspondence, and petitions document the impact of the canals on individual property owners and the communities in which they lived. Drawings, charts, and engineers' diaries document the technical aspects of canal engineering, construction, and repair. Minutes, reports, and financial records document the administration of the canal system and the coordination of canal construction and maintenance.
This guide describes 360 series of records documenting New York's canals from the earliest Erie Canal surveys to the completion and operation of the Barge Canal. These records, spanning 1794-1958 (bulk 1817-1926) and totalling over 2,560 cubic feet, are part of the holdings of the New York State Archives and Records Administration. The Archives, part of the Office of Cultural Education in the State Education Department, is mandated to identify, acquire, preserve, and make available for research use State government records of enduring value. Since the opening of the Archives' storage and research facility in the Cultural Education Center in 1978, approximately 50,000 cubic feet of records have been transferred to the Archives and additional records are accessioned continually.
The guide is organized into sections reflecting current names of State agencies responsible for creating canal-related records. Most of these records were created by, and transferred to the Archives from, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Audit and Control, or their predecessor agencies. Records in each section are listed under the name of their original creating agency. A few creating agencies (e.g. Canal Board, Canal Commissioners) appear under both Department of Audit and Control and Department of Transportation because both the Comptroller (Audit and Control) and the State Engineer and Surveyor (Transportation) served on these bodies and both produced records for these important canal agencies. The lists of records are often subdivided by names of creating agency subdivisions or by subject categories. Within these listings, general administrative records generally precede more specifically-focused records.
Although this guide is organized by creating agency, researchers should be aware that interrelationships among many series cross agency lines. Functionally related series therefore might be found under several different creating agencies.
This guide includes a brief history of the development of the State's canal system during the period covered by the bulk of the records; brief histories of the major offices and agencies responsible for canal administration and development; descriptions of each record series; and a glossary of terms commonly found in series descriptions of canal records. The level of description provided varies from series to series. A complete series description or abstract is provided for series that have received either complete or partial arrangement and description. Title-level information is provided for series that have not yet been arranged and described; several very important undescribed series listed in this guide will be described as soon as staff resources are available. This guide should therefore be considered a preliminary product until descriptive work can be completed. Where available, information on arrangement of the records, on finding aids or indexes, and on microfilm availability is provided. For some series, more extensive descriptions and container lists are available at the Archives.
Records in the State Archives may be used at the Archives' research room. Certain record series have been microfilmed by the State Archives, and the film may be borrowed on inter-library loan or purchased. For further information please contact Research Assistance.
This finding aid was prepared by Senior Archivist Elisabeth A. Golding. Most of the series descriptions were prepared by Associate Archivists James D. Folts and Daniel D. Lorello and Archivist Christine Karpiak. Christine Karpiak also compiled the Glossary of Canal Record Terminology.