Walter D. Edmonds has been a National Book Award winner and recipient of the Newbery Medal. He is the author of Bert Breen’s Barn, The Boyds of Black River, In the Hands of the Senecas, Mostly Canallers, Rome Haul, Time to Go House, and most recently the autobiographical Tales My Father Never Told, all available from Syracuse University Press.
I read this for a book discussion at the public library, and am so very glad I did. Coming on the heels of having read Bond of Union, which was a non-fiction book about the creation of the Erie Canal, this historical novel filled in the gaps as to how the canal affected ordinary people. It literally changed everything in just a few short years. Syracuse and Rochester, as well as other smaller communities, were created because of the canal. People who were farmers or were unemployed got jobs tending locks or toll gates or working on the freight or packet boats. Goods became cheaper, people could afford more, and had more money to buy with. Travel was easier, faster. It was amazing.
The story centers on Jerry Fowler, who marries Mary in the first section of the book, and then gets a job building locks on the canal. Jerry is a likeable character--until he starts cheating on his wife. Their marriage is the central part of the story, around which revolves a host of other characters that Edmonds paints vividly. His use of the vernacular speech takes a bit of getting used to, and the book could sure use a glossary for those terms (bezabor!) we no longer use. I wonder how he knew that people talked that way? My mouth watered at his descriptions of food, some of which no one that I know of here in New York ever makes any more (huckleberry pie?). His descriptions of nature make you feel as if you're right there, feeling the wind on your face, hearing the approach of rain in the distance, listening to the deafening screech of the cicadas and the raucous cries of flocks of red-winged blackbirds (which you don't see in such numbers any more). I tried to picture in my mind his descriptions of the actual building of the locks, like driving the piles, but without illustrations I just couldn't do it. I should have had a book on canal-building at hand to look those things up. It would also have been nice if Edmonds had included an afterword indicating which characters were based on real people, and which were totally made up. I recognized most of the places as being real, and many but not all of the people. A list of his sources, a bibliography at the end, would have been interesting too.
This is one book that high school students in New York State should all read, because it says so much about the history of our state. Edmonds packed a lot of history and characters into his novel. I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone in New York State, but also to anyone who enjoys a well-written historical novel filled with interesting characters. Can't wait to read more of his books!
Walter D. Edmonds wrote a number of novels set in and around New York along the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River. Drums Along the Mohawk and Chad Hannah were among his other books. Erie Water tells about the building of the Erie Canal through the experience of a young man who worked on the canal building the locks. The copy I read was a 1964 paperback printing, the book was first published in 1933.
Erie Water is not Edmonds' best work. I thought Drums Along the Mohawk was much better. It dragged in places and seemed too long. However it did capture the feel of the canal and showed how it was made. The place names were all real places and since I now live near the Erie Canal I did enjoy that part of the book.
I found this book by accident at my library. Published in 1944,this very old book made me curious. If you live in New York State and like historical fiction, this is a good choice! 2 romance stories in one. The romance of the building of the Erie Canal and romance of Jerry Fowler and the redemption, Mary, whose papers he bought. Jerry builds the locks on the Erie Canal. This is full of American spirit. Great characters and many are just that "characters", farmers, Revolutionary veterans, Revivalists, engineers, masons, innkeepers, rough and tumble fighters. This story takes you from lock building to historical day of water flowing thru the canal. I live near one of the locks and always enjoy sitting by the water. I've taken canal boat tours thru the locks, but to learn the history in depth with a great story, gives me a new appreciation for the marvel that it is. Even in 1817 , NYS collected taxes, nothing has changed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is the third Walter D Edmonds novel I have read after Rome Haul and Drums Along the Mohawk. I can say that he is becoming one of my favorite authors. The plots of all his books that I’ve read so far seem to hinge on a series of very lucky happenstances, everything always seems to work out for the main characters. I find this frustrating at times. In this novel however he introduces a flaw to the main character. The novel is medium paced and some of the language is antiquated. But the novel did a great job of describing the building of the Erie Canal and how it touched and changed peoples lives. And with all his work that I’ve read so far, there are several passages in this where he manages to beautifully describe nuanced things and feelings otherwise intangible.