Volume 3, Issue 31
The long, illustrious history of the Erie Canal is filled with tragedy and catastrophe despite its successes as an economic driving force for New York State. It seems fitting to recall one of the most frequently told stories relating to the Canal in Albion to close out this month.
On September 28, 1859, the residents of Orleans County were celebrating the opening day of the fair in Albion with a series of festivities. Conforming to popular fads of the time, a young gentleman was scheduled to walk a tight-rope stretched across the Erie Canal several rods west of the Main Street bridge. In the afternoon of Wednesday the 28th, the rope was strung from the second floor of the Mansion House south towards the second floor of Pierpont Dyer’s building.
The Blondin-esque feat attracted a massive crowd from across Orleans County as men, women, and children packed onto the three-arched iron bridge spanning across the water.… More
Volume 3, Issue 30
The success of the Erie Canal was not without trials and tribulations over its 200-year history. These photographs, taken in August of 1927, show the damage sustained during an extensive break in the canal wall near Eagle Harbor.
On August 3, 1927, local farmers observed a slight leak in the south wall of the canal near the Otter Creek gully. L. E. Bennett reported seeing a three-foot square hole open up, spilling thousands of gallons of water out of the waterway in a matter of minutes; the initial opening formed approximately 100 feet west of the Otter Creek culvert. Within a relatively short period of time, the flooring of the canal gave way and the south wall broke free, creating a hole that spanned 50 feet in length and 7 feet in height.
Newspapers reported that over 1,000,000,000 gallons of water had spilled into the neighboring fields surrounding Eagle Harbor, creating a large lake that reached 20-60 feet in depth in certain areas.… More
Volume 3, Issue 29
Western New York and Orleans County owe its success and growth of the 19th century to the Erie Canal. Breaking through the wilderness of our region, the Canal opened the Niagara Frontier to the world, distributing raw materials and importing necessities. This image shows the steamboat Celina docked at the canal terminal at Medina. The White Hotel is likely the most recognizable landmark in this photograph.
Part of the Buffalo & Rochester Transit Company’s Steamboat Express line, the Celina was regarded as one of the earlier freight steamers in this area. The vessel was operated by James Chamberlain and Judson Webster, father-in-law of Charlie Howard. The company operated eight boats in total, including the John Owens, C.H. Francis, William B. Kirk, C.H. Johnson, Frankie Reynolds, Tacoma, Deland, Consort, and Celina. Ruth Webster Howard recalled riding on this boat, stopping at Medina for dinner at the stately White Hotel.… More
Volume 3, Issue 28
Taken on August 19, 1925 by the New York Department of State Engineers, Western Division, this image shows Guard Gate 15 located at Bates Road in Medina. This gate was referred to locally as “Hastings Guard Gate” and provided workers with the ability to isolate sections of the Erie Canal during wall breaks, accidents, and high water levels. Orleans County has three guard gates; Gate 15 at Medina, Gate 14 at Albion, and Gate 13 at Holley.
This photograph raises an interesting question; what happens when the guard gate is involved in an accident? In August of 1925, a fleet of six barges from the “Green Fleet” under the charge of Captain Hickey were travelling westward. The vessels were pulled behind a tugboat, two abreast, when the southern barge rammed the center pier of the guard gate. The force of the impact jarred the gate loose from its hinges, dropping it onto the deck of the northern barge.… More
Volume 3, Issue 27
The Erie Canal has a long and illustrious history spanning over two hundred years starting on July 4, 2017. As we hit the bicentennial of the construction of the Canal, I thought it would be fitting to write a series of articles about some of the more interesting Canal images within the Department of History’s collections. I suspect that the passing of the July 4th anniversary will go without fanfare locally, but the eight years between the start of construction and official opening will provide many opportunities to celebrate the iconic waterway.
Dating back to 1699, the concept of constructing a waterway that would open the wilderness of New York to the rest of the world was first suggested by a French engineer named Sebastien Vauban. The radical idea remained in the minds of entrepreneurs and politicians throughout the 18th century, surfacing again after the establishment of the United States.… More
Volume 1, Issue 36
On July 4, 1817, New York State embarked on a crusade to complete the greatest feat in the history of modern engineering; a 363 mile ditch from Albany to Buffalo aimed at connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. Eight years later this expansive project was completed and welcomed a vast number of packet boats and mule teams to its tow path. Improvements focused on repairing leaks and widening the canal began almost immediately in order to accommodate the flood of shipping traffic.
It was in 1903 that New York State authorized the redevelopment and massive expansion project that would turn the Erie Canal into the “Barge Canal.” Starting in 1905, this massive undertaking required thirteen years to complete and cost New York taxpayers nearly $100,000,000. The 82 locks located along the miles of canal prism covering 565 feet worth of elevation shifts represented an outstanding accomplishment for State engineers, but the expansive projects undertaken as part of Contract Number 65 in the western section of Orleans County was one that could easily rival any prior achievements.… More