Unit Study Lesson: Erie Canal

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Each day have someone quiz you on the following spelling words. If you misspell any word then write them down 10 times each. Then quiz yourself on the definitions of each word. If you don’t know the definition, look it up and write it down.

  1. million
  2. merchandise
  3. barge
  4. company
  5. commemorate
  6. emigrant
  7. occasion
  8. waterway
  9. canal
  10. engineer

Writing Prompts

Choose one of the following writing prompts and write a one-page story.

1. Steam-powered boats have just come out as a new and cheaper way to bring cargo down the river. You are on a race with your good ol’ donkey Sal to beat a steam boat. If you win, you and Sal get to retire with the gold from all the betting. But if you lose, you’ll be poorer than you left off and steam-boats will rule the canal!

2. You are a teacher assigned to help design the make-up of the Erie Canal. Describe the surprise you felt when you were chosen as one of the engineers.

3. Pirates were uncommon along the Erie Canal, and they weren’t a bargeman’s biggest concern. But one day as you’re traveling down the river, a band of river pirates begin pirating your barge! Will you fight for your property or escape while you can?

Erie Canal

Most country folk have heard the old folk song “Erie Canal”, but not many people know the meaning of the song and the real history of the historical canal located in New York. As you probably already know, the Erie Canal goes on for 363 miles from Waterford to Tonawanda. It was built originally for the use of transporting goods from Albany to Buffalo, as mentioned in the song, with more profit to come from it! Today, the Erie Canal serves a more recreational purpose, however, it can still hold barges and take tourists on a pleasant journey on America’s most influential canal.

Governor Dewitt Clinton heavily promoted the idea of a canal to Congress. But many people scoffed at his dreams of New York becoming a center for business and merchandise. He did not give up and continued to press the government for funds until finally, in 1817, he was given 7 million dollars to build the Erie Canal. It didn’t take long for the work to begin, but the canal wouldn’t be finished until the year of 1825. When it did, a celebration was held in its honor. They even had a ceremonial “marriage of the waters”. Dewitt Clinton poured a keg of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean.

Amazingly, the Erie Canal was constructed by just a few willing men who had never been to engineering school. They hired out several companies who oversaw their workers and resources. These companies employed many workers, many of whom were Irish immigrants, and supplied them with hand picks and shovels. With these primitive tools the workers began the long hard work of digging a canal into the rocky earth.

Today, we can enjoy the Erie Canal for its beauty and engineering. But back then, the canal was used to transport merchandise from Albany to Buffalo. This was done with the help of horses and mules. They’d hitch up the barge or raft to the animals and ride them ahead on a road that’d set right beside the canal. This continued for nearly 100 years until the

convenience of steam powered barges took over. Thus, the old classic

folk song, “Erie Canal” was written to commemorate the long journey taken by a mule and its owner.

Below is the Erie Canal song, along with guitar chords so you can sing this country tune at home!

Erie Canal

Write your answers on a piece of paper. When you’ve completed the quiz check the answers at the bottom of the page under the Answers tab.

The Erie Canal goes on for how many miles?

(a) 365
(b) 364
(c) 363

It goes from Waterford to Tonawonda, but in the song it mentions what two places instead?


Who believed New York would become a center for trade with the help of a canal?

(a) Dewitt Clinton
(b) Hillary Clinton
(c) Clinton Roosevelt

In 1817, New York was given how much money to build the canal?

(a) 10 thousand dollars
(b) 7 million dollars
(c) 1 billion dollars
(d) They never approved of the canal so they and never gave money.

From which lake did the Governor pour a keg of water into the Atlantic Ocean?

(a) Lake Superior
(b) Lake Ontario
(c) Lake Erie

True or False:

The minds behind the making of the Erie Canal were some New York’s best engineers and scholars.

How were barges taken along the Erie Canal before the more affordable invention of steam-powered engines?



Lesson Activities

Have fun and strengthen your vocabulary and spelling skills by playing our challenging online word games! Enjoy our relaxing puzzles or challenge yourself to put the pieces together in record time!

Lesson Challenge

Learn the Song!

Verse 1:

Am C Dm E7 Am E7 Am

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal, Fifteen years on the Erie Canal

Am c Dm E7 Am E7 Am
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal, Fifteen years on the Erie Canal

C G Am E7
We’ve hauled some barges in our day, Filled with lumber, coal, and hay

Am C Dm E7 Am G
And every inch of the way we know, From Albany to Buffalo


Low bridge, everybody down, Low bridge for we’re coming to a town

And you’ll always know your neighbor, And you’ll always know your pal

C E7 G C
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal

Verse 2:

Am C Dm E7 Am E7 Am

We’d better look ’round for a job old gal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

Am c Dm E7 Am E7 Am
‘Cause you bet your life I’d never part with Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

C G Am E7
Git up there mule, here comes a lock, We’ll make Rome ’bout six o’clock

Am C Dm E7 Am G
One more trip and back we’ll go, Right back home to Buffalo


Am C Dm E7 Am E7 Am

Oh, where would I be if I lost my pal? Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

Am c Dm E7 Am E7 Am
Oh, I’d like to see a mule as good as Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

C G Am E7
A friend of mine once got her sore, Now he’s got a busted jaw,

Am C Dm E7 Am G
‘Cause she let fly with her iron toe, And kicked him in to Buffalo.


Am C Dm E7 Am E7 Am

Don’t have to call when I want my Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

Am c Dm E7 Am E7 Am

She trots from her stall like a good old gal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

C G Am E7

I eat my meals with Sal each day, I eat beef and she eats hay

Am C Dm E7 Am G
And she ain’t so slow if you want to know, She put the “Buff” in Buffalo

Quiz Answers

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