Excursions

Packet boats on the Erie Canal were uniquely designed for passenger canal travel. These boats could be anywhere from sixty- to eighty-feet long and fourteen feet wide. The main cabin room was a lounge, kitchen, and dining room by day, and a divided sleeping room (men and women slept separately) at night. The average cost for passenger travel was four cents per mile, including meals and sleeping accommodations. They were pulled by horses walking along the towpath and compact, almost like nineteenth century RVs, carrying passengers both east and west.

People traveled the Erie Canal by packet boat for tourism as well as for business. These boats were relatively plush for their time, featuring good food and sometimes live entertainment. During the day, passengers could sit outside on the deck or on the roof of the boats, though rooftop riders sometimes needed to look out for low bridges. Noteworthy passengers included Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens. Once the short railroad lines were consolidated, passengers favored the faster trains for cross-state travel, but packet boats continued to take passengers on local excursions.

This diagram shows an Erie Canal Lake Boat or Laker. In addition to a cabin for passengers and/or crew, many working boats had a stable on board for the horses or mules that pulled the boats. Courtesy of Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum via Central New York Library Resources Council and Empire State Digital Network.

This illustration of the Canastota Bee Building shows an excursion boat with passengers in the foreground. Excursion boats could carry people along the length of the Canal or might be used for day trips to the next town. Courtesy of Canastota Public Library via Central New York Library Resources Council and Empire State Digital Network.

This photograph shows the Kittie West, around 1910. The Kittie West was a popular excursion boat, taking travelers from Schenectady to Rexford, New York,  just four miles away. Courtesy of Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library via Capital District Library Council and Empire State Digital Network.

In this excerpt from Mosses from an Old Manse, American author Nathaniel Hawthorne writes a clever and insightful description of his canal trip: "There is variety enough, both on the surface of the Canal and along its banks, to amuse the traveller, if an overpowering tedium did not deaden his perceptions." Courtesy of University of Michigan via HathiTrust.