This historical sign (located in the rest area off Route 46 near Durhamville, NY) spells out the history regarding the "Long Level" of the Erie Canal.
HISTORIC NEW YORK
THE ERIE CANAL - THE LONG LEVEL
Construction of the Erie Canal began at Rome on July 4, 1817, to take advantage of the "long level". That portion of the canal between Utica and Salina (now Syracuse) was planned first because there were relatively few obstructions and because the level surface required no locks. In October, 1819, the 98-mile section between Utica and the Seneca River was completed, and the first boat traveled from Rome to Utica.
The state-financed Erie Canal was constructed by local contractors who used their ingenuity to build a canal across New York, then largely a wilderness. The 363-mile canal was 40 feet wide and four feet deep: 83 locks took it over different land levels. The canal was hailed as the foremost engineering achievement of the time.
When finished in 1825, the Erie Canal became the main route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. Western New York flourished with cheap, new transportation. The canal insured the place of New York City as the nation's greatest port and city, and it hastened development of the Mid-West.
The modernized State Barge Canal System, consisting of the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca canals was completed in 1918.