A narrator will also tell Corning’s story: how the company relocated to take advantage of cheaper, more accessible raw materials and convenient access to waterways and railroads; and how the town came to be known as Crystal City for the company’s cut and engraved glass.
Glassmaking in Corning — with contributions from glassmakers, researchers and scientists — “has led to innovations that have changed the world,” Mr. Meek said. They include Thomas Edison’s first successful light bulb, the Pyrex measuring cup, the screen for Apple’s first iPhone and optical fiber for telecommunications.
The Corning museum’s home base highlights more than 35 centuries of glass artistry, science and technological breakthroughs, and interactive experiences, including make-your-own-glass workshops.
In port cities along GlassBarge’s route, nearby museums and institutions will contribute programming that depicts life along the Erie Canal in the 19th century. “Every town has a canal story” that sheds light on local history, Mr. Meek said.
The Erie Canal broke ground in 1817 and was fully operational by 1825. “It was the first direct connection between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes and opened up westward expansion,” said Brian U. Stratton, director of the New York State Canal Corporation, which runs a system stretching more than 500 miles. “The cost for shipping goods went from about $90 to $5 virtually overnight.”
The canal’s importance as a commercial waterway cannot be overstated, said Capt. Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the South Street Seaport Museum.
“The entire region would not be what it is today without the Erie Canal,” he said. “It allowed the Port of New York to connect to the heartland and to become the busiest port in the world, which resulted in modern New York as we know it.
“The city that never sleeps, the cultural mecca, the financial capital, all flowed directly from this connection.,” he added.
GlassBarge will be towed by the W. O. Decker, the last New York-built wooden steam tugboat — part of the seaport museum’s fleet. Planned events on the Decker, which has been refit with diesel engines, include stories about tugboats as working vessels. It will also offer free rides.
The Lois McClure, a replica of an 1862 sailing canal boat, part of the permanent collection of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, will also be part of the flotilla. When it enters open water, Mr. Stratton said, “it turns into a sailing vessel, with huge, majestic sails.”
The voyage will highlight the reasons the waterway has remained vibrant, including tourism, hydropower for industry and water for irrigation and industrial processing.
“Children in China know the song ‘15 Miles on the Erie Canal,’ ” he said, “but not that it has never really stopped being an economic powerhouse.”