History Behind #WaterMusicNY: Amsterdam and Little Falls


The Erie Canal ushered in a new age of rapid expansion for Amsterdam and Little Falls. Amsterdam and Little Falls are known as canal "boom" towns, as their sudden industrial boom was the direct result of traffic through the Erie and Champlain Canals.

The First Industrial Revolution in the United States occurred between between the War of 1812 (1812-1815) and the 1840s-1850s. During this time, the manufacturing process that became known as the American System of Manufacturing was adopted into most industries. This system included the revolutionary innovation of interchangeable parts, which was central to the rapid synthesizing of products. 

Before the Erie Canal, Amsterdam was mostly an industrial city. The city of Amsterdam greatly benefitted from the new raw materials traveling up the Mohawk. Businesses began opening a plethora of new types of mills. In 1802 there were a reported five textile mills down the Chuctanunda, a off-branch creek of the Mohawk that flows through Amsterdam. After the 1830s, there were five grain mills, four saw mills, two oil mills, and an extensive iron manufacture. Additionally, in 1836, Peter Harmony opened the Harmony Manufacturing Company in Cohoes.

The Harmony Mills in Cohoes was a cotton textile mill and greatly depended on cotton imports from the South. Even after the Civil War, Harmony Mills was the largest and most successful textile mill in the world. Raw cotton was shipped from the Cotton Belt to New York City, traveled up the Hudson and through the Mohawk, and eventually the Erie Canal to be refined and manufactured. Amsterdam was a beneficiary of this trade, as it was a stop for merchants along the canal. 

From theeriecanal.org

From theeriecanal.org

Little Falls

Little Falls is known as the Historic Cheese Capital of the United States. The cheese made in the Little Falls area far exceeded any other city in New York. In fact, the largest amount of cheese in any other city was still three times smaller than the amount made in Little Falls. According to The Little Falls Historical Society, the Burrell family started making cheese by machine in 1891, and in that year, they shipped a reported 10,000 pounds of cheese to England. All 10,000 pounds of this cheese was shipped to Atlantic harbors via the Erie Canal.

Little Falls also became known as a thriving shipbuilding community. The Chittenango Landing played a major role in shipbuilding and repairs, employing many people of the community. Little Falls is now home to the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum.

This new industry created a prosperous cosmopolitan community that attracted the droves of new immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe who entered through New York City and later settled in canal "boom" towns.

Come see the Albany Symphony perform new and old works on their Water Music NY Tour in celebration of the bicentennial of the Erie Canal. The Symphony will be performing at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam on July 4, with resident composer Angélica Negrón, MVC Kids and MVC Youth Chorale, and the River Valley Ringers Bell Choir. On July 5, the Symphony will perform at Rotary Park on July 5, featuring resident composer Ben Wallace and The Mohawk Valley Choral Society.