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Interpreting the Evidence

Grand Celebration of the Erie Canal in Geneva, New York

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Expansion and Reform (1801 - 1861)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School

  • Topics:

    Erie Canal

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Finger Lakes
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Detail of Erie Canal Celebration Broadside, Geneva, NY, 1825 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Topic: Advancements in the 1800s, NYS history, NYS Geography

Skills: Critical Thinking, Informational Literacy, ICT Literacy

This document shows that the Erie Canal was considered a MAJOR economic, geographic, and technological advancement of the time. This document tells the public to celebrate the Erie Canal, by illuminating your house, attending a public dinner, ringing town bells, all while a gun salute will fire in the center of town.

 ​​​​Historical Context: In the early 19th century, farmers needed to get goods from Western farms eastward so that they could be traded and for economic gain. In order to address this need, Americans began building canals. New York State had an idea to build a large canal connecting Lake Erie to the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. This would be over 350 miles long and allow farmers in Western New York to ship goods to New York City. This presented many economic advantages, including a lower cost to ship goods, connection by water to the New York City port, new businesses developing in towns along the canal line, and improvement in technology. Critics, such as Thomas Jefferson, said that a canal that long could not be built. Dewitt Clinton, the governor of New York at the time, got funding for the canal, and work began in 1817. The canal was completed in 1825. It was a time to celebrate this tremendous achievement. This document (broadside) is an example of the pride that people had about the canal and the celebrations that were to occur.

Essential Question: How does this broadside show the economic, social, and technological significance of the Erie Canal on New York State and the country as a whole?

Document Analysis:

1.       Read the Erie Canal broadside as a class

2.       Model how to analyze the broadside using the graphic organizer. Complete think aloud as you model and write down an example for the objects and people sections of the organizer.

3.       Students should complete the graphic organizer individually or in small group

4.       Using the graphic organizer students will write an opinion piece for the Geneva Press explaining and supporting the Erie Canal Broadside. 

Optional Extension Activities: The following activity could be completed in order to extend students’ thinking and encourage them to make connections between the Erie Canal broadside and their current world:

Pick a current significant event (ex. new presidential inauguration or another current event) that will have a tremendous impact on our country and is a cause for celebration. Create your own broadside. Make sure to include illustrations and text in your design. Write a brief paragraph (3-4 sentences) explaining why you chose this event and the event’s impact.

·        Write an article for the Geneva Press reporting on how the celebration went. Imagine that you were part of this town during the celebration. How would the town have looked? How would the citizens have been acting? What was it like to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event?

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