George Washington's Pivot
Seeking a Trade Route West
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The Erie wasn't the only attempt to build a canal westward. Even George Washington, who was a surveyor in his youth, became actively involved in a project trying to canalize the Potomac River after the Revolution and before he took office as our first president.
There were no engineering colleges in America then, but it isn't surprising that an educated man like Washington - especially with his surveying background - thought himself qualified to design canals along with his many other endeavors. There was a canal that operated on the Potomac for a few years after Washington's efforts, but it didn't succeed in making it all the way over the mountains.
In fact, it seemed that every early attempt to cross the Appalachian mountain chain was bound to fail for one simple reason: The locks needed to lift boats required a large and reliable supply of water from the top of the Appalachian ridge. When the great Washington himself failed, that seemed proof that it couldn't be done!
America needed trade routes that could handle heavy cargoes over the steep Appalachian mountain chain. Our country had TITLE to the western lands - including the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase - but could large numbers of Americans actually POSSESS that land? Would we become ONE nation: Or TWO?