The natural waterways, long before the first canals or railroads, were of strategic importance to any European state trying to control North America. While the surrounding area was still wilderness, critical battles were fought as far inland as modern Pittsburgh and Detroit, as early as the mid-1700s. The Mohawk Valley was no exception, and many of the early forts and fortified homesteads remain as testament, either as restored landmarks or in the names of communities that sprang up around them.
As the newly formed nation, the United States, began to develop in the early 1800s, the settlements became small industrial centers. The Erie Canal followed the Mohawk River, and continued west, to open a route to Buffalo and across the Great Lakes to Chicago. The towns along the Canal grew, as trade and small manufacturing centers. The mid-1800s saw the numerous short line railroads gobbled up by the New York Central and Hudson River Railway, to form the Water Level route from New York to Chicago, eventually reducing a lengthy boat trip to a mere 18 hours travel time at its peak. This boosted local economies even more.
In a somewhat ironic turn, the area is returning to its pioneer agrarian roots. The Erie Canal is now used mainly for pleasure boating, and the rail line, now owned by CSX, carries mostly high-speed container through-freight instead of locals. Amtrak uses the line, but with stops at the eastern and western ends of the valley, and one in the middle at Amsterdam. Amish families are moving into the area, buying up vacant “English” family farms, and prospering with their low-capital, large-family labor model. This has brought a slower pace of life. Horse drawn buggies, baked goods sales, family-run sawmills, women in simple dresses, and small, neighborhood schools are increasingly common. Public wi-fi hotspots are nearly impossible to find, as are modern chain stores and restaurants.