It was 1809 when George Forman and William Kirkpatrick met with President Thomas Jefferson to discuss the proposed Erie Canal. Apparently Jefferson didn’t think it was feasible because he pronounced the plan to be “little short of madness.” Governor Dewitt Clinton broke ground for the construction on July 4th, 1817. Shortly thereafter it became known as “Clinton’s Big Ditch.” The plan proceeded and the Erie Canal was completed in 1925. It ran 363 miles from Buffalo, New York at Lake Erie and went to Albany, New York on the Hudson River. It was 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide with a 10 foot wide tow path along the bank for the horses and mules which pulled the boats. The canal includes 18 acqueducts and 83 locks. Originally it was 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide with a 10 foot wide tow path along the bank for the horses and mules which pulled the boats.
No longer was it considered “a little short of madness” nor was anybody referring to it as “Clinton’s Big Ditch.” It became known to many as an engineering marvel and the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
During the ensuing years the canal was enlarged until 1918 when it was enlarged to 12 to 14 feet deep, 120 to 200 feet wide. Towns sprang up along the canal and since a very high percentage of the canal workers were Irish Immigrants who stayed after the canal was finished there is strong Celtic influence. The towns are delightful and most have beautiful parks along the canal.
West Canal Marina & Park is located in North Tonawanda, NY. Big barges no longer run up and down the canal and it serves recreational needs carrying Cruise Ships, boats, canoes, and kayaks on the canal.
Five of the locks are located in Lockport, NY. Currently the 24 1/2 foot high modern locks number 34 and 35 are adjacent to the original five. Two of the original locks have been restored to working order and there are plans to restore the other three.
The Lockport Erie Canal Museum is located in an old lock control structure between the modern Locks 34 & 35 and the remaining original “Flight of Five” Locks spillway and contains historic photographs, maps, engineering drawings and antique machinery.
Lockport is a progressive city which has preserved its history while moving into the future. The Old City Hall was built by Dwight Keep in 1864 and housed the Benjamin C Moore Company Mill. In 1884 it was converted to a Holly Water Works pumping plant. Holly Water Works was a pioneer in the development of central pumping systems and the Lockport plant was one of the first in America.
In 1893 the building became Lockport City Hall until 1974. During the period between 1905 and 1918 improvements on the barge canal integrated the north foundation wall of the Old City Hall to form a retaining wall.
The Old City Hall is now home to the “Flight of Five Winery.”
While you are in Lockport you might want to explore the Lockport Cave, take an underground boat ride, or take a tour of Locks 34 and 35 and see the “Flight of Five” original locks.
Lockport is a place you will want to visit. The Erie Canal is in New York, but it played a huge role in America’s history. The canal was responsible for expanding industrialization and establishing the Great Lakes states as a center of American industrialization. It took thousands of men to create the canal and over 2,000 lost their lives in the process. A thousand of them lost their lives to swamp fever.
It’s amazing to see how our country was built, and the Erie Canal is just one piece of its growth.