Sunday, June 26, 2011


Canal Scene near Loosdrecht

Canals figure prominently in the childhoods of both my grandmothers. Grandma Minnie grew up along New York State's Erie Canal. And Grandma VandenBergh, of course, spent her childhood and teen years in Loosdrecht in the Netherlands, a country well-known for its network of interconnected waterways.

Why canals? Every New York State schoolchild knows about "Clinton's Ditch"  --  or they should. The Erie Canal was the brainchild of Governor DeWitt Clinton. DeWitt is an old Dutch name in Albany, the first DeWitt, Dirk Claessen, having settled in the colony of New Netherland in 1656.

DeWitt Clinton became Governor of New York State in 1817, and had a vision of the State living up to its nickname of the Empire State. A canal connecting New York City's international port with the hinterland would allow raw materials from the frontier and finished goods from Europe and New York State's infant industries to move in both directions.

Lock Along Erie Canal

 The Governor's vision was ridiculed as "Clinton's Ditch"  --  until the canal became a reality, a 350-mile waterway linking New York's capital city Albany with Buffalo at the western end of the State, and effectively connecting the frontier area of the Great Lakes with New York City via the Hudson River, and thus with European ports.

Minnie - Late 1890's
Grandma Minnie watched the sun set over the turgid water of the canal in Central New York in the waning years of the 19th century. Perhaps she heard in her sleep the horns of the boats informing her father of the imminent arrival of yet another boatload of customers at the Lock Grocery. To learn more about her childhood along the canal, go back to The Lock Grocery in Fort Plain.

Hendrina and Elizabeth circa 1900

Thirty-six hundred miles (5700 kilometers) away, another young girl watched the sun rise over another canal in the province of North Holland in the Netherlands. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Daams and her sister Hendrina worked as domestic servants in the home of the local pastor. It was not an easy job, and perhaps it was during her teen years as a maid that Elizabeth began to daydream about moving to America.

The canals near Loosdrecht connected the village to the neighboring town of s'Graveland, the hometown of Elizabeth's fiance Barend VandenBergh.

Canal Scene s'Graveland

Dutch canals were of course a means of transporting goods from inland areas to the seaports, but they were originally dug as a means of water management  --  to drain the land so that homes and farms could be established where there was once only marshland. Today they are also used for boating recreation.

This week I will have an opportunity to visit the homeland of Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh, and see for myself where they grew up, and perhaps even tour the canals of Amsterdam. Stay tuned for updates from the other side of the pond. . .

Tot de volgende keer!

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