Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Winding Canal

 Back in 2002 when I wrote my book about the Erie Canal in Cayuga County, I wanted to make the point about the differences between the first canal, the so called Clinton's Ditch and the second version, the Enlarged canal. The first canal was a contour canal, following the lay of the land, whereas the Enlarged Canal was a cut and fill canal, much straighter. I used a certain part of the first canal (Clinton's Ditch) east of Weedsport to make my point about the winding route and the huge bends that were built into it as the surveyors tried to hold one elevation as long as possible. So I was delighted to see these photos taken roughly around 1960 that show the same area. These come from the Canal Society of New York State collection.

If you were to look for this site today, look at where Millis Trucking sits on Route 31 east of Weedsport. You can see the old West Shore Railway bridge crossing over Rt 31. At one time, this bridge carried the railroad over the Enlarged Erie. The concrete abutments are there today. The curved ditch in the foreground is the first Erie Canal.


To help you see it, here are the two canals.

Here is another view showing Clinton Road in the foreground. You can see how the road follows the curve of the canal. Much of this remains today, but is greatly grown over.

Here is the view from the other side of the railroad. Again you can see the canal just north of the railroad. And here we see all three canal routes, Clinton's Ditch, the Enlarged, and the Barge (using the Seneca River).

I always describe this area when I speak about the flow of water in the canal. Imagine your plumber installing pipes that bent around all the rooms. The water might flow, but not very quickly. So it was here. Stick in a few boats, and the flow could almost stop. Any usage downstream (in a lock) and the boats could run aground.

Central New York, especially Wayne, Cayuga, and Onondaga Counties have many places where you can see remains of the first and second canals lying alongside one another. Good stuff and great photos.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Photo Tour of the Canal in Port Byron

Port Byron and the canal are fairly well documented when it comes to photos and maps. So I thought it would be fun to piece together a walking tour of the canal through Port Byron.

Since most of the photos we have are from the early 1900's, we can use the New Century 1904 map of the village as a guide. I have a crop of the canal here. (You can find all these maps on Bill Hecht's map site. Look for the link on the Cayuga County Genweb site.) The 1904 map is likely the least accurate of all the maps we have of the village, but it will do. The right is east, and the left is west. We will start on the east side of the village.

Here is a Google Earth view. You can see the watered remains of the enlarged canal ending at Schasel Park. The orange line shows the route of the canal. The numbers and arrows show the locations of the photos and what way you will be looking. (well at least for most of them.)

1 &2) Our first two views were taken from the Main Street bridge. The boats are passing under the Utica Street bridge. Actually, it looks like they are taking a break and using the vertical stone walls to pull the boats over and change their teams. The Sterling Salt Company boats are sitting low in the water, which means they are loaded, and that means they are headed east. You can see that the read boat has its rudder lashed up, and that means the boats are a double header. The captain stands and steers from the back of the first boat, using the rear boat as a rudder.

The large barn on the right is Caldwells Warehouse. You can see that you can get your Lehigh Valley Coal here. The hill in the background is a great place to take "birdseye views" postcards of the village, which are quite popular with the locals. Well, we can't stand here all day, let's go.

The stone walls inside the village help to save room, since they are straight up and down, not sloping like they are out in the country. It makes a great place to dock boats, and if we look across the canal, we can see the Bertha, a small steamer that runs between Port Byron and Weedsport. It looks like they are getting ready to go. (The paper reported the Bertha stopped running in 1909)

Walking west, if we look back, we can see the Main Street bridge we were just standing on. The towpath is on the north side of the canal, and most of the businesses that use the canal are on the south bank. From here, we are going to cross the field and get on Green Street so we can see the aqueduct over the Owasco Outlet.

3) The wooden walls of the aqueduct were recently replaced with iron plates, and we get a good look at the structure from the Green Street highway bridge. This aqueduct replaced the original aqueduct which we can stop by and see a bit later.

We can walk on down to River Street and then up to the towpath again.

 5) Once we get to the canal, we will head west and climb up on the Canal Street Bridge. Looking back, we see the River Street bridge and in the distance, we can see the steeple of the Presbyterian Church. If we look really hard at the canal just past the bridge, we can see where the canal is narrowed by the aqueduct. The boat docked off to the right is a stark reminder that the glory days of the canal are behind her. 

6) There is quite a crowd standing around in front of the tavern. The "drys" have been trying to vote the Town dry, but so far, they haven't won. But they are getting close. (The Town would go mostly dry in 1907 and totally dry in 1909) You got to wonder what would happen to all the bars and taverns if they indeed do win the vote. But for now, it is a good place to watch the traffic and all the activity at the Tanner and Shetler Drydock.

Standing at the Erie House and looking east, we can see the Canal Street bridge and a line of boats waiting at the drydock. You can see the cupola of the Port Byron Free Academy in the back ground.

 Looking directly across, we see the drydock and in the background, the new power house for the Rochester, Syracuse, and Eastern Interurban. Tanner's is a well known and respected drydock. (The orange circle marks its location) You can't see much from this side of the canal, so when we cross over, we will get a better look.

And now we reach Lock 52. Like all the Erie Canal locks, this is has a side by side arrangement that was built to allow boats to pass heading west and east at the same time. These days, the lock is not as busy. The canal flows west toward the Seneca River, so we approach from the high side of the lock. Kern's Store can be seen on the far side of the lock, taking advantage of the time that the boat and its crew are held captive as the boat is raised or lowered. The pole in the front allows the towline to pull on the boat without snagging on the office and other lock structures.

8) If we walk down the towpath to the lower end, we can see lengthened chamber. When the boaters started running two boats with one team (remember the boats we saw on the east side?), the State doubled the length of the lock so the boaters could pass through without unhooking and hooking the complicated steering mechanism. But they only did one side. So the captains let the lock operator know if they pulling a single or a double. At night, they light one or two lanterns to help out the lock tenders. Let's head up on top of the lock.

7) Standing on the lock gates, we look east toward the head of the lengthened chamber. The old gate pockets for when the lock was only a single length can seen at the half way point. The cables laying on the left wall are connected to a capstan and that helps to pull the heavy boats into and out of the locks. The mules have quite a job trying to pull a boat through the lock from the tow path, so a clever engineer devised a mechanical capstan to help them out. Since the water of the canal is always flowing, a small water wheel at the head of the lock turns the capstan and that gives the mules a rest. 

9) Standing on the lock, we get a nice view west toward Montezuma. From here, the canal passes through the flat mucklands, a great place to grow potatoes, celery, and onions. 

With our curiosity aroused about the capstan system, we walk to the head of the lock, but this time on the south side of the canal. We cannot see the water overflow that powers the capstan, but we can see the wooden platform at water level between the chambers. The platform serves to act as a bumper and guide for the boats, and as a strainer keeping logs and other large objects out of the culvert that runs under the length of the lock. As the water falls into the culvert, it is directed into a small water wheel. That turns gears and that turns the capstan and that pulls the boat. (the photo is mislabeled, we are looking west)

 And as long as we are here, we are able to get a better look at the drydocks. We can see that the drydock is indeed a busy place. These days, we see a lot of steam powered boats. Many of the old mule boats have been converted and we can see a smoke stack on a couple of the larger boats in the canal. These steam vessels can pull two or three non-powered boats. The old mule quarters on the old boats are now used as living space or removed to increase cargo capacity. The smaller boats travel back and forth between cities and don't go all the way to Albany or Buffalo.

 4) Since we need to walk back to our buggy, we can follow West Dock and Rochester Street over to the old aqueduct. The old stone structure marks the route of the first canal, which was moved during the enlargement in 1858. (the view I present was taken from the old Rochester Street bridge. That was moved in the 1930's when Rochester was straightened out. Moore Place marks the old route and you can see it on the 1904 map.) You have heard all the stories about the glory days of Port Byron when the canal ran through the center of the village, not around the north end. You have heard about Beach's Mill, the largest mill in the state, that was done in by moving of the canal. It burned shortly after the canal closed! Go figure. You have also heard about Milliners Drydock and its now very famous worker, Brigham Young. Everyone in the village claims to have a house or fireplace built by the Mormon leader. But those days are long gone, and now all that remains is this old aqueduct that the Church built a shed on top of. (the stone of the aqueduct was removed sometime in the early 1900's to help build a canal feeder that used the old Beach Mill raceway. The stone forms a pit and that lead to a large iron pipe that ran underground to the canal.)

So there we go. Our tour has come to an end. Hope you enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Cranebrook Aqueducts and the Location of Clinton' s Ditch Lock 61.

This post goes out with thanks to thanks to Paul and Bunny Baker and Stan and Cheryl Longyear, who arranged for us to go onto the private land to see these remains. 

If you have been reading these posts, your will know that the route of Clinton's Ditch in central New York was winding and fraught with issues. This was mostly due to the fact that the canal was built as a contour canal and tried to follow the lay of the land. To this, add the facts that the ground was soft, and the building material, mostly being gravel mined from the local drumlins, was porous and difficult to compact. This is all to say that the canal banks between Port Byron and the Seneca River were unstable and leaked. So one of the goals of the Enlargement was to straighten out the canal, and firm up the banks.

And let's not forget that the flow of water eastward from Lake Erie ended at the Seneca River slack water crossing. Other posts cover this in great detail, but quickly, the after 150 miles of downhill running from Lake Erie, the canal had to climb up over a short summit at Jordan and then downhill to Syracuse. Water for this section of canal came from Skaneateles Lake and Nine Mile Creek. The water supply was limited, and the flow in the canal was impeded by the twists and turns and the porous ground. We get to see the old canal in this 1853 map of Cayuga County. The line of the canal is shown as a dashed line and you can see the new canal to the north.

To eliminate these issues, the canal was straightened, Locks 60 was replaced with Enlarged 52 in Port Byron, and Locks 61 and 62 were replaced by the Seneca River Aqueduct.

Looking for it today becomes difficult as the land has been greatly altered by the construction of the NYS Thruway. Look for my posts detailing where the first canal is south of the Thruway and the Enlarged canal is north of the highway or under it. AND much of the land is in private hands. I don't enjoy getting shot at, so permission is always asked.

The Cranebrook aqueduct is on a large loop that hugged the contour of the land. If you are on Rt 31 east of Montezuma, look for the billboards that are set into the hillside that face the Thruway. 

Here you can see the bill boards in the trees. They are on the Ditch canal route. If you turn around, you see this depression and line of trees. The aqueduct is about 300 yards from here. This section of canal was last used in September 1854. Although the new Seneca River Aqueduct would not be ready for use until 1856, the canal was in such a bad condition that the State was forced to use the new Enlarged canal route between Port Byron and Montezuma. So a boater on the canal had to cross the Seneca River on the slackwater crossing, pass through a temporarily enlarged guard lock at Lock 62, pass through a section of old canal to reach the new line, use the new line between Montezuma and Port Byron, and then reenter the old canal between Port Byron and Weedsport. This state of affairs was somewhat eased with the opening of the Seneca River Aqueduct in 1856, but the canal issues in Port Byron were not settled until 1858.

So let's get on with Cranebrook Aqueduct. There isn't much to see, but there is enough. Here we see Stan standing on a stone we presume is left over from the aqueduct and is looking at the stonework on the southwest bank. 

It is likely that the stones were reused or removed to help ease flooding issues. Standing in the creek, we can see wooden piling from the foundation.

The Enlarged Cranebrook Aqueduct was located quite a ways downstream, but the building of the Thruway and the shifting of Rt 31 to cross it removed all traces of it.

After visiting the aqueduct, we went looking for the Sacket's Lock, which would have been lock 61. Being a smart guy, I though I knew where it was, and in fact, I even pointed out where it was to the assembled masses (all 4 of them). But after my return home, and doing a quick desktop survey, I realized I was very far off in my guess.

I did the study as a Publisher file, and I am too lazy to recreate it all here. So I converted the file to a pdf and then to a jpeg so I could post it here. Click on the photos and they will enlarge for you.

So to close this out, let me again say that the old structures are on private land, and we had permission to access. Please don't trespass.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Milliner's Drydock(s)

This is a reprint of an article I wrote a couple years back concerning the Milliner Drydock(s). There isn't much left of the later dock, although it can be seen on the corner of Conquest Rd (Rt 38) and Dock Street. Basically it was north of where Ed and Jeans Market is today.
The Milliner Drydock’s of Port Byron

If I were to ask you, “What drydock(s) were in Port Byron?” you might answer “Tanners”. Tanner’s large drydock, located across from the Erie House, was the often photographed and written about operation. But Tanner’s operation came about late in the life of the enlarged Erie Canal. It began operation under the King name soon after the canal route was changed in 1858, and was closed by the abandonment of the canal in 1917.

But we need to go back much further in time to get a full answer to the question, for in 1823 David Johnson purchased land from Aholiah Buck and built a drydock along the route of the new canal. It does appear that Buck knew that Johnson wished to construct a drydock, for the deed makes stipulations that only a business was to be built, and no privy or house was to be built. We also learn that Buck had fruit trees planted just north of this lot, as he writes in the condition that the trees would not be harmed in the building of the dry dock. To find this drydock today, we would need to dig in David Nielens yard, or between River and Canal Streets. Standing at the junction of River Street and Moore Place, the old canal ran off to the west toward Ed and Jeans parking lot and to the east on a line toward St. John’s Church. Although Ed and Jean lot is built on many feet of fill, the area just to the east appears to be at historic elevations. In the 1830’s map below, the road just to the right of the word “Byron” is Canal Street. The dry dock can be seen above the canal.

This dry dock was purchased by George Washington Millener, John Davis and Joseph Duram. Millener’s father was Alexander Millener, a drummer for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. (You might recall the Millener family was in the news a few years ago as the Cayuga Museum wanted to sell a painting of Mrs. Millener and child. The painting was done by Sheldon Peck.) Alexander was a visitor to Port Byron as two of his sons, George and James, lived here and another, Joel, married a woman from here. Joel owned a large dry dock business in Rochester. In the 1850’s, Joel and George ran a large, but temporary, boat building business in Syracuse, as they built boats for a coal company in Pennsylvania.

The deed books are peppered with purchases and sales of shares in this business. At any one time, George Millener had at least one partner and often two or three. Either the boat building business was very profitable or, more likely, not so profitable, or extra cash was needed to keep things going. Lorenzo Ames began working at this business in 1834 as a sixteen year old. He would later purchase a dry dock from Millener, but not this one.

When the route of the canal was changed in the late 1850’s, George lost his business. But instead of giving up, he moved the business to the corner of Canal Street and a new road, East Dock Street. Apparently, this dry dock was not legal, as Richard King, the builder of a new dry dock near Lock 52, wrote letters concerning its construction to the Canal Commissioners, but to little satisfaction. So for a time, Port Byron had the King dry dock, the Millener dry dock and a small slide dock run by Ames. In 1861, Lornezo Ames purchased a quarter share of the Millener business, closing down his slide dock. In 1873, Ames and a Chester Cole purchased Millener’s share. This partnership was not to last, as by the end of 1873, Cole sold his share to Ames. In 1879, the paper reported that Millener had to repurchase a half share of the business to save it from foreclosure. In 1880, Ames, once again the sole owner, sold the business to Tanner and Shetler, who closed it down and concentrated on the “famous” Tanner dry dock we all know about.

Parts of the second Millener dry dock can still be seen in the yard of house that sits on the corner of Canal and East Dock. Also the ditch that runs along East Dock was used by the dry dock to drain the dock into the Owasco Outlet. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Enlarged Lock 52

A visit from good friend Andrew Lauren prompted a revisit to Enlarged Lock 52 and the surrounding area. So on a very cold Sunday morning, we headed out to see what could be seen.

Lock 52 is the lock that lies directly alongside the Thruway, and it sits on Thruway property, so it is kind of inaccessible to the public. So I won't say how we got some of the photos we did. Anyhow, don't do as I do; do as I say! So don't say you were not warned. You can be ticketed for trespass!

It helps to start with a map, and we are fortunate to have a good map circa 1896.This map shows the lock, drydock, and other neat things to find.

Parking at the Erie House on Maiden Lane, we head toward the lock. As we approach the lock, we are on the high side. This lock was one of five that stepped down to the west, in this case, the lock is stepping the canal down to the level of the Montezuma (Cayuga) Marsh. From this point, the canal is level through Montezuma, across the marsh and onto Clyde. At Lock 53 in Clyde, the canal steps up until it reaches Lake Erie and Buffalo. The reason we have this step down is that Lock 52 sits at the base of a little high spot in the canal. To the east, the canal rises over a small hump, passing through Lock 51 at Jordan. After passing by Camillus, the canal steps down to Syracuse, and then back up another rise until it reaches the Rome level. After Rome, it is all downhill to Albany. So let's get back to the map and the tour.
This view is basically the same as the color postcard above. Except all the water, gates, buildings and well, everything is gone and what is left is stone. The three holes in the front show that this is the high end. If there was no lockage to use water in the canal, it would overflow through these passages into a tunnel that passes straight through to the far end.

These views look into the lower end of the lock. It is difficult to duplicate the postcard view as one would need to stand in the Thruway to shoot it. You can see here the lengthened end and if you have the opportunity to download my guide to Lock 52, you will know that the towpath is on the side away from the lengthened chamber. The missing stonework was first thought to be from Thruway construction work, and we know that some stone was removed during the construction of the highway. However, this photo shows that stonework was already missing in the 1930's.
  The road this photo was taken from was in existence on the south side of the canal when the canal was in operation. It can be seen on the map except that it appears that the road was pushed across the canal after it was abandoned to allow access to the old towpath on the north side. What is remarkable that all the wood is gone, except for the gates. Someone made use of the wood and started on the stone. You can also see the end of the tunnel. Nowadays, even without the snow, the tunnel is covered by lawn.

What I didn't realize is how quickly the land dropped off on both sides of the lock. The lock really sits on the edge of the contour or elevation change and was built out into space with banks formed on both sides. It is clear that soil and land was removed during the construction of the Thruway, but not that much. If you take a look at these photos, you can get a sense that the land did drop off.

Why the drop off? Drainage.On the map, you can see the drainage ditch collected water from the wet areas on the south side of the canal and routed it north toward the Seneca River. The map shows the ditch running down both sides of the canal, and the cross under culvert. The stonework for the culvert is still in very good shape on both ends. There is even an intact culvert marking stone.

The road on the map crossed over the drainage ditch on a small bridge that is somewhat intact.
The road is still remarkably intact although I don't know if you would be able to see it in the summer. After walking around the wet area to the southwest, we got this view of the lock and what is called Guidone's Hill, a small drumlin that was cutting off and used as fill during the construction of the Thruway.
Another road was constructed during the Thruway building, and it is now known locally as Rooker Drive. It was a temporary entrance to the Thruway from Route 31 for a bit as the Thruway to the east was being finished.
You can also see the line of the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern Trolley going off to the left. The first canal, Clinton's Ditch followed this line also. We then headed over to see what could be found of Tanner's Drydock and Clinton's Ditch Lock 60.

One chamber of the drydock is fairly visible, as is the drydock entrance. I thought that the first lock was part of this chamber, but I don't quite know anymore. The top map is the same as I posted before, and the second map shows the location of both locks in the 1850's. If you look at the property lines, you will see that the ditches and drydock don't quite line up. But it is close. Stone from the lock may have been used in the construction of the drydock.

 Here you can just see the stonework and drain for the drydock. The drydock pit is beyond. Below is the curved stone entrance as seen from the canal.
This is about as close as I could get to duplicating the old photo of the man on the boat.

So there you have it, a winter day tour of Lock 52.