A descendant of DeWitt Clinton visited Canalside Friday and looked pleased by the historic site’s transformation.
“I think they have done a fantastic job with the resurgence here. You’re all doing a fantastic job in bringing the city back,” said William Carter, a Buffalo native who now lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Carter is the great-great-great grandson of Clinton, the man often referred to as the “Father of the Erie Canal.”
Carter brought with him another family member: DeWitt Silber, 4, a fifth-generation grandson.
Carter was present as Hugh Pratt, executive director of the Erie Canal Drama Theatre, announced that “Clinton’s Ditch: The Story of the Building of the Erie Canal,” will be performed at Canalside Aug. 1-3 and Aug. 28-30.
“DeWitt Clinton created the Erie Canal, which ended here, and I think we need to celebrate that,” said Richard Lambert, the executive director and founder of the New Phoenix Theatre.
Lambert dressed as Clinton in period clothes on Friday, as he will for the upcoming shows. He called the role of DeWitt Clinton “larger than life.”
As New York’s sixth governor, Clinton was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. He officially opened the canal in 1825.
Ken Silber also visited Canalside on Friday. Silber, DeWitt’s father and an author, is working on a book about Clinton and the building of the canal.
“Critics called the canal names like the ‘Big Ditch,’ ‘Clinton’s Folly’ and ‘Governor’s Gully,’ a lot of negative names. But once the canal was built and became popular, a lot of positive names were used,” Silber said.
He said it took eight years between the canal’s groundbreaking and its completion from the eastern shore of Lake Erie to the upper Hudson River.
The legislature appropriated $7 million for the canal’s construction, a mighty sum in those days, but the funds were repaid when the passageway opened and the cost of freight between Buffalo and Albany promptly dropped from $100 to $10 per ton.
Anne Paris, who co-wrote the play with Pratt, said she’s been struck by the canal’s comeback.
“This is kind of an amazing thing, that people would get suddenly interested in reviving the canal. We fought for this,” she said of the effort in the early 2000s to have history celebrated at the site. “This is history New Yorkers will be elevated by.”
Pratt said he was excited to meet the Clinton descendants. He said he hopes his play will do more to continue the canal’s story. He is researching the 9,000 laborers who worked on the canal, and asks anyone who is a descendant to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.