Hidden in Suburbia 2011 (Part Five): Locks

In Part Four of this year’s Hidden in Suburbia report (linked below), I visited some crumbling industrial facilities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For this week’s Part Five installment, I go further back in time to visit some of the many, many crumbling locks and dams of the old Erie and Champlain Canal systems, which run throughout my little patch of suburbia.

When I was working at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), I used to take students across the river to look at some of these locks. The canals serviced by the locks were considered to be among the greatest industrial achievements of their day, playing a key role in the opening of the American West to exploration, settlement, and commerce. Now they are dry, overgrown, and crumbling, with homes, businesses and woods pressing up against them on all sides, leaving them as slowly healing scars that cut incongruously across the suburban landscape.

Sure, it’s great to dream of changing the world, but it’s also important to have a sense of where the next great “killer app” stands in the grand, long-term scheme of things. In the end, nature always wins . . .

As always, click on the photo below to read the annotated report, or click here for the wordless slide show.

Our region’s greatest natural wonder. Keep out.

To see other Hidden in Suburbia photo essays, click here.

Hidden in Suburbia 2011 (Part Four): Industry

Note: This post and photo slideshow come with a soundtrack today. Click here, with your speakers turned up, to have the mood properly set by the wonderful King Crimson, and their evocative “Industry.”

One of the most impressive things, for me, about riding and hiking into woods around my home is the ability to stand in, on, or near some truly historic industrial artifacts.

The most obvious of these (well, relatively speaking, anyway) are probably the abandoned locks of the Erie and Champlain canals that stand, completely landlocked, throughout Cohoes and Watervliet. When I worked at RPI, I used to take students to look at these crumbling relics, while pointing out to them that these locks and the tiny canals connecting them were once considered to be the most significant industrial accomplishments on the North American continent.

Bodies to ashes to dirt to dust. Cities to ruins to iron to rust. I think it’s good for a prospective engineer to have a sense of humility, and if that won’t do it, nothing will.

Less famously, the lowlands on the west bank of the Hudson River between Albany and Troy (once West Troy, now mostly Watervliet and Menands, with a little sliver of Colonie between them) were home to formidable steel mills and armories. The Watervliet Arsenal and Albany Steel survive as local manufacturing centers to this day, while many other large neighboring businesses (including the Ludlum Steel Company, once headed by Edwin Corning, father of legendary Albany mayor, Erastus Corning 2nd) eventually closed their doors and began the long, slow process of returning their constituent elements to the ground beneath them.

Today’s Hidden in Suburbia post centers on this crumbling post-industrial wasteland. These spaces are so alien to our suburban sensibilities, and yet they are so very close to us, if we’re willing to look into the darker spaces behind our developments and shopping centers. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring to visit them. As always, click on the photo below for the photo essay with accompanying narrative support, or click here for the wordless slide-show version. I’d recommend starting the slide show at about the 2:00 minute mark of the King Crimson song for maximum evocative effect.

Nature abhors a vacuum, but I love a vacancy . . .

To see other Hidden in Suburbia photo essays, click here.