There are 3 globally famous canals in the world: the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal,and the Erie Canal. If you've forgotten about the third canal, you are forgiven. Sinceit doesn't link oceans or continents, it's not as popular as the other canals. However, it'slonger and older than the other 2 canals—hand-hacked out of upstate New York soillong before dynamite and steam dredges existed.
HISTORY AND HERITAGE
Started in 1817, the Erie Canalwas completed without trained engineers.Hordes of laborers earning 80cents a day spent 8 years shovelingaway until, as one observer wrote in1825, "They built the longest canalin the least time, with the least experience,for the least money, and to thegreatest public benefit." Today, the"Big Ditch" is still a major New Yorktravel attraction and has outlived itsoriginal purpose as a shipping routefrom the Great Lakes and theMidwest to the piers of Manhattanand other global markets.
One great place to absorb thecanal's long history is on the deck ofthe canal boat, Sam Patch (585-262-5661; www.sampatch.org), which isnamed after a local daredevil whodied in 1829 trying a second diveoff Rochester's 96-foot-high GeneseeFalls. The replica canal boatsails between Rochester, NY, andPittsford, NY, and offers brunch,lunch, and dinner cruises. Reservations are required for allmeal cruises on Sam Patch.
Thanks to the Erie Canal,Rochester became 1 of America'searliest boom cities. Investmentspoured in and city tycoons put theirprivate funds into a rich assortmentof public amenities, including museums,parks, and symphonies.Once a Seneca Indian encampment,Rochester gets its name froma retired colonel. In nearby Victor, asuburb, there's a life-size replica of abrown, bark-shingled Seneca longhouse,which is a reminder to thecity's quarter million citizens oftheir distant Indian heritage.
The Rochester Museum andScience Center (585-271-4320;www.rmsc.org) also features SenecaIndian beads, weapons, tribal wear,and tools. These artifacts date backto the 1550s, when French trapperscanoed along the Great Lakes'shores, bartering with the localSeneca Indians for pelts.
Bring your camera to Rochester,but make sure it's not 1 of those foreign,green cameras: Rochester isEastman Kodak country, the worldheadquarters of the giant EastmanKodak complex. It's also a city thatearned much of its wealth by workingwith the human eye. GermansJohn Bausch and Henry Lombstarted things off by grinding eyeglasslenses in Rochester just beforethe Civil War began.
Decades later, a bank clerknamed George Eastman perfectedthe Brownie camera, which cost $1and used film on a reel. Eventually,Eastman became a multimillionaireand launched the global snapshotboom. He left the city of Rochesterhis Colonial Revival House (585-271-3361; www.eastman.org), whichbegan construction in 1902. It's amagnificent New York State mansionwith 37 grand rooms, 13 baths, 9fireplaces, white marble floors, andspecially crafted furniture.
Tours of the home include thethird floor billiard room, whereEastman used to show off his bankshots, the 2-story conservatory,where he breakfasted in the companyof his rare blossoms each morning,and the trophy room, where heshot himself to death in 1932 after along fight with spinal disease. "Mylife is done," he wrote, "Whywait?" An adjacent Modern Museumof Photography and Film ispacked with camera history andprize-winning masterpiece shots.
Every Friday, Rochester residents(ie, Rochesterites) enthusiasticallytake part in the local gourmet tradition,the Rochester Fish Fry. ThePope may have loosened up on theCatholic's fish on Friday rule, butRochesterites hang onto the old tradition.They treat themselves to haddockdeep-fried in secret ingredients,flanked by piles of steaming fries andcrunchy coleslaw at such restaurantsas McGillicuty's, which is on the cornerof Exchange and East Mainstreets. It's the city's tasty answer torival Buffalo's spicy wings.
The city is loaded with businesshotels. Many road warriors recommendthe Strathallan Hotel (585-461-5010; www.strathallan.com),which is home to Rochester's only 4-diamond-rated dining spot. For freeRochester literature and travel advice,call toll-free 800-677-7282 orcheck out www.visitrochester.com.