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Interpreting the Evidence

Erie Canal Sheet Music, "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," 1913

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Erie Canal

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Erie Canal Sheet Music, "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," 1913 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Sheet music for the song "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," by Thomas S. Allen, 1913. Originally composed in 1905.
Historical Context
Erie Canal songs were sung by mule drivers in order to stave off boredom and to avoid falling asleep on the job.  The cry "low bridge" was raised when the barge reached a town that had a walkway over the canal.  If workers and passengers did not remember to duck, they would bump their heads or fall off the barge!

The song "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen, recalls the days when mules walked along the canal banks pulling barges.  Many "canawlers'" who worked on the canal resented the engine-driven barges that eventually replaced mules; however, barges with engines could travel much faster than barges pulled by mules, and there was no going back.

Some versions of the song, which begins, "I’ve got a mule, her name is Sal,
fifteen years on the Erie Canal," substitute "fifteen miles" for "fifteen years."
Essential Question
How does technology influence culture?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of the song and evaluate the impact of the canal on the culture?
Historical Challenges
When did the first engine-driven barge travel on the Erie Canal? When did the last mule barge travel on the Erie Canal? How long did it take for the engine-driven barges to totally replace barges pulled by mules?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write an editorial expressing a point of view concerning the replacement of mules with engines.