FORT HUNTER -- Almost 200 years to the day after construction started on the Erie Canal, locals gathered where the canal met the Schoharie Creek to take in music and reminders of the site’s history.
Hundreds of people made their way to the historic Schoharie Crossing site, which is located along an original portion of the Erie Canal, for the annual Canal Days event in Fort Hunter. The free festival features food, entertainment and a dose of history about the surrounding area. This year was particularly notable given the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal’s construction.
“It’s a community festival to celebrate the history of the Erie Canal, and to show off what the community is doing,” said Janet Fontanella, manager of Schoharie Crossing.
The festival is family-friendly, with numerous small children partaking in the fun on Sunday. Many enjoyed a game booth that featured stilts for kids to try walking on, a water gun game and hula hooping.
Elsewhere on the grounds, there was a large showcase of old engines, food, live music, ice cream, educational stands and an antique car show, new this year.
The event typically takes place on the second weekend in July, and dates back more than 30 years. About a decade ago, it expanded from a one-day occurrence to a two-day festival, Fontanella said.
She touted Schoharie Crossing’s natural beauty as a main attraction for Canal Days. It sits along the edge of the Schoharie Creek, with views of the water on one side, and an expansive lawn on the other side that is home to a Mohawk house dating to the 1800s.
“I hope people get a great experience of how beautiful it is, and maybe a piece of history slips into their consciousness even if they don’t realize it right away,” Fontanella said.
In addition to signage about the historical site itself, one of the most popular portions of Canal Days was the exhibition of decades-old engines, presented by the Tri-County Old Time Power Association.
“It’s all about the smell and the sound of the engines,” said Paul Adamkoski, a Fulton County resident.
Adamkoski and Patti May said they’ve been attending Canal Days for seven or eight years, and the old engines are the main attraction for them. Adamkoski’s father owned an auto shop, he said, so he grew up around old engines.
A couple from Cobleskill also said they also mostly attended for the old-engine presentation. Dozens of people brought old car, truck and tractor engines, which they fired up Sunday morning and kept running for much of the day, giving visitors an up-close look at how they function, and filling the air with pops, snaps and cracks that imitated a car backfiring.
On the other side of the property, the Utica Zoo brought a mobile display that included animal skulls and other educational materials, as well as a live snake and Bob, a 50-year-old tortoise. The tortoise is typically the biggest attraction, the zookeeper said, evidenced by kids and adults walking up to observe it munching on grass in the open.
Elsewhere, the Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science attended Canal Days for its second consecutive year. On Sunday, a volunteer passed out special glasses to passersby that allowed them to look directly at the sun.
It was part of an effort to inform people of the impending solar eclipse, which is expected to take place on Aug. 21 of this year.