SITE OF THE FALLING CANOE
The area between the Adirondacks and the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, the City of Cohoes is divided roughly into thirds: the Western plain plateau, the river plain, and Van Schaick Island, the fat finger of land near where the Mohawk River empties itself into the Hudson River from 170 feet above. The Cohoes Falls are generally accepted as the source of the citys unusual sounding name. According to one story, Cohoes was a Dutch attempt at ga-ha-oose, the Mohawk word for falling canoe.
Even though Niagara Falls is only slightly larger than Cohoes Falls, the latters potential to draw tourists interested in natures more dramatic side seems to have escaped the notice of the public. The estimated number of tourists to visit Niagara Falls annually is about twenty-eight million people. In Cohoes, its nil.
However, the falls in Cohoesamong the largest east of the Rocky Mountainshas been the site of some dramatic feats of engineering. The first of these occurred during the American Revolutionary War when a Polish patriot designed and oversaw the construction of breastworks on Peebles Island, just north of Van Schaick Island, a worthy defense against the British crossing the only ford on the two rivers for many miles, as these bulwarks played an important part in the strategy for the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the war. Two hundred and thirty years later, these earthen structures remain largely intact.
Superb engineering also featured in the construction of the single lock system of the Erie Canal along the long, narrow HudsonMohawk River plain in 1817. This nearly 400-mile-long system of locks trapped water at one level and then released it again at a lower or higher level so that barges atop the water could make their way around geographical challenges. Ultimately, barges traveling along the canal ascended and descended 675 feet of water.
Of eighty-three locks, nineteen were constructed specifically to circumnavigate the Cohoes Falls, making it possible to connect Buffalo and the Great Lakes with New York Harbor. In 1836, when the canal was enlarged with double locks, the route remained mostly the same, with eleven locks in Cohoes. To this day, several of the Cohoes locks are in good condition, monuments to this historical engineering wonder. With the completion of the Champlain Canal that ran from Cohoes north to the St. Lawrence River, by 1823 the city had become a major transportation hub for supplies and people.
Its situation along the rivers also meant that beginning in 1831, when the Erie shipping canals were at the