Alexander/Crawford History news

Town News

By John Dudley & Cassie Oakes



We wrote twice before about the affects of the Erie Canal on Alexander.  The canal was opened in 1825 and almost immediately destroyed the market for Maine grown grain. The lower priced grain from New York and Ohio shipped via the canal, lead to the abandonment of Alexander’s Breakneck Mountain settlement.  

The second article told of how the canal provided an easy route for eastern farmers to move west to more fertile land.  Alexander’s population peaked in 1850 and declined until the low in 1870.  The Erie Canal had its role in Alexander’s depopulation.

The construction of the Erie Canal had some unintended and long lasting consequences.  The canal opened a waterway from the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson and Mohawk rivers to Lake Erie and eventually to the upper Great Lakes.  Those lakes hold about 20% of the world’s available fresh water and before 1825 the lakes were landlocked, except for Lake Ontario, by the 164-foot wall we call Niagara Falls.

By 1835 a sea lamprey was documented in Lake Ontario, below the falls.  It is believed these parasitic fish arrived via a feeder canal from the Erie Canal.  After the Welland Canal was upgraded in the 1880s, the lampreys moved into the upper lakes decimating the larger fish such as whitefish and lake trout. By 1970 an approved program of controlling the sea lampreys by pesticides had been instituted.

But before this time the lamprey had killed off the bigger fish and the food for the lake trout and white fish went uneaten, which means their population grew.  It was river herring (alewives) that come up the canals that ate this food.  Alewives were too small for lampreys to hook on to, so their population grew until ca 1990 when they exhausted their food supply and died by the millions.

Next came the idea of the St. Lawrence Waterway.  John Dudley remembers the excitement in 1959 when this waterway opened to Middle America.  Little did we realize that those ocean-going ships would leave behind foreign bacteria and zebra mussels.  These mussels block sewage pipes and today we pay millions of dollars to undo the damage they cause.

The information for this article is from the book The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan.  How does this sad unpredicted environmental disaster relate to our area?