Books: Big Ditch

STARS IN THE WATER

by GEORGE E. CONDON

338 pages. Doubleday. $9.95.

Until the first quarter of the 19th century, the American wilderness began a few miles west of the Hudson River. Despite exhortations to the young to go west and grow up with the country, there was no practical way to penetrate the primeval forests, broad swamps and mountains that had for so long kept the Eastern seaboard an isolated enclave.

What broke the barrier and opened the hinterland was a shotgun marriage between the Hudson River and Lake Erie. The Erie Canal was only 4 ft. deep and 40 ft. wide;...

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