This Fourth of July marks the 200th anniversary of the ceremonial first digging for the construction of the Erie Canal, a 363-mile waterway that would change history.

The groundbreaking was held July 4, 1817, in a field in Rome, in central New York. Construction of the canal was begun a few days later at a location nearby.

Workers equipped with little more than shovels and draft animals built the canal across the New York wilderness. When the waterway was fully opened in the fall of 1825, it was considered the greatest engineering feat of the era.

The waterway linked the Hudson River to Lake Erie, opening the Midwest for settlement and allowing goods and people to be transported between Buffalo and Albany for a fraction of what an overland journey cost.