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Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the…

Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal

by Jack Kelly

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Living in Syracuse I am constantly reminded of the Erie Canal. In fact, I purchased this book at the Erie Canal Museum on (wait for it) Erie Boulevard. So my desire to learn something new was high. I had already read about the founding of the Mormons and the 'burned-over district' and was aware of the Freemason murder from other sources. So far, nothing new.
I was confused by the jumping back and forth between the stories of murder, God and the design and financial support of the canal. I would say if you were completely unaware of these topics you would find this a good over-all source for that information. ( )
  book58lover | Aug 11, 2017 |
An interesting social history of the times surrounding the development of the Erie Canal. As indicated by its title, this book is an amalgamation of three separate topics, each of which probably could have merited its own work.

While I would have preferred more emphasis on the direct influence of the canal, the author instead focused more discussion on the characters that influenced the religious Second Great Awakening which pervaded the area. For example, a significant yet fascinating portion of the work is devoted to Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Another interesting but rather odd inclusion was the supposed murder of William Morgan by the local Freemasons.

On the negative side, the author's style of constantly switching narrative from one character or event to another was a bit distracting and took away from the flow of the book. ( )
  la2bkk | Nov 4, 2016 |
Heaven's Ditch
(Jack Kelly)

The book cover aptly describes this read.
"A riveting look at the construction of the Erie Canal and the visionaries along the banks who changed the course of American history."
The subtopic of God, gold and murder are all explored in this read.

We begin in 1805 with Jesse Hawley's ruminations about an
artificial river (a canal) running across the entire state.
The idea seemed ludicrous because 360 miles of "tangled forest
and dank swampland, of hills and valleys separated Lake Erie
from the Hudson River." (Heaven's Ditch)
We're about to watch the slow, tedious evolution of the Erie Canal.

At the turn of the century, "God and Mammon" are descriptive of the focus of those of that locale at that time.
The thought of salvation and spirituality re-emerged.
The prospect of prosperity came forth and was considered
not necessarily the birthright of the advantaged.
"No matter how poor, he could get his due if only he would
dare to grab." (Heaven's Ditch)

That being said, a plethora of lively characters imprint this area.
Joseph Smith and the birth of Mormonism, evangelist Charles Finney, celebrity daredevil, Sam Patch and many others.

Yes, Jack Kelly certainly informed me of many interesting facts
from this historical period.
I had a bit of difficulty reading until I became comfortable with the alternating in thoughts from one chapter sub topic to another.

But, all in all, I'm happy with the book.
Source notes, sources (many in number), illustrations and maps
are interesting and helpful.

The book was well researched and perhaps only I would note the
chapter, sub-chapter layout as slightly awkward.

A good informational read 3.5 ★ ( )
  pennsylady | Aug 18, 2016 |
This is an utterly fascinating account of western New York state in the early 19th century, which was then a hotbed of religious fervor and worldly ambition spurred on by the construction of the Erie Canal. Jack Kelly's writing style is engaging and colorful, and highly suitable to the subject.

My only complaint is that while each individual history thread is told chronologically, the multiple threads of the story are not woven together in a completely chronological way. The early years of Mormon founder Joseph Smith and the kidnapping of anti-Mason William Morgan, for instance, are both broken up into parts and scattered throughout the book, but each set of events is told from beginning to end. It's when the narrative shifts between its intriguing threads of history stories that it often moves back and forth in time. I'm not sure why the author made this choice, but ultimately it did not diminish my reading pleasure very much. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Jun 22, 2016 |
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The Erie Canal rubbed Aladdin’s lamp. America awoke, catching for the first time the wondrous vision of its own dimensions and power. —Francis Kimball
Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. —Alexis de Tocqueville
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Jesse Hawley paced the office of a Seneca Falls miller.
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