The Forestport Breaks: A Nineteenth-Century Conspiracy Along the Black River Canal

Michael Doyle, Author
Michael Doyle, Author Syracuse University Press $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8156-0772-4
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Carefully researched and nimbly written, Doyle's account of a 19th-century conspiracy to sabotage part of the Erie Canal system is a delight to read. Completed in 1825, the Erie Canal was an engineering marvel that vastly improved commercial transportation. In 1856, canal boats carried over four million tons of goods--more that twice the load of the railroads. But by 1869, the tide had turned in favor of New York's railroads; the canal had fallen into disrepair and was subject to costly breaks that flooded the countryside. In 1895, New York voters approved $9 million in improvements--but a subsequent investigation revealed that all but $25,000 of the money had been spent, but only one third of the work was complete. The subsequent scandal made heads roll, including the governor's. After Theodore Roosevelt was elected in 1898, he appointed Colonel John N. Partridge as superintendent of public works. Aware that Forestport in Oneida County (which was along the Black River feeder canal) had acquired an unsavory reputation, Partridge hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate. The locals fought the Pinkertons as enemies of the working man, but the latter eventually uncovered a plot that involved nearly every family in Forestport (and, in the words of one prosecutor, had""no parallel in viciousness"") in which the canal was""the plaything of the politically connected"" while the working men assigned to protect it damaged it for a tiny slice of the pie. In the end, 13 men went to jail for sabotaging the canal in an effort to rob the state treasury. History and mystery fans should enjoy this well told tale.
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