Saturday, January 7, 2012

Montezuma Aqueduct

I almost titled this post, The Montezuma Aqueduct Graveyard, but I didn't want to create a lot of confusion. But as I walked through the moss covered remains of the old Montezuma Aqueduct, it felt a lot like a graveyard. So here is my tour of the west side of the Seneca River, or what should be referred to as the Montezuma Aqueduct Graveyard.

The Montezuma, or Seneca River, or Richmond Aqueduct, was the second longest on the enlarged canal system. You can read my post about the aqueduct elsewhere in this blog. When the barge canal was constructed, the aqueduct created a problem since it blocked the river and the dredging that needed to take place along the Seneca to make it usable as a canalized river. Dredges were deployed on both sides of the aqueduct, leaving the structure intact until the very last moment. In the winter of 1917-1918, the aqueduct was removed and basically tossed into the swamp on the west side of the river. Not many people realize that the aqueduct was simply taken apart and tossed aside. It makes sense, but there is a whole lot of stone that was thrown away.

If you park in the parking area, just to the west of the Rt 31 bridge over the Seneca River, you can walk down a trail / dirt road to the aqueduct. If it is dry, you can drive almost half way along the route, but it isn't worth getting stuck for the extra 10 to 15 minutes of walking it will save you. So leave your car next to the bridge and cross the road, then follow the dirt road back about 3/4 of a mile. It looks like the roadway may have been built back during the deconstruction of the aqueduct, to allow workers to get to the site. The first thing you will see are the stones covered with a thick layer of moss. I have been here in the winter when the area was covered with snow, and although beautiful, you don't get the sense of how many stones there are here. You will also find an occasional piece of iron, such as a rod or a bolt. This is why I wanted to call this a graveyard tour. Of course, be careful as you poke around the stones. They appear to have been dumped off the side of the towing path, so they are located on quite a slope.

You will also see the three arches of the aqueduct off to the left. The trail leads over the towing path, into the prism and to the berme side. It is the easiest way to go. If the area is dry, you can walk right under the arches, but we couldn't do this today. Winter is the best time to visit, as the top is very overgrown and it is easier to see everything without all the leaves on the tree. I have been here during spring floods, and have been very limited on where I could go.

Remember as you are standing here, that when the enlarged canal was in operation the surface of the river was about four feet higher then it is today. My wife Mary, and Lizzy the Canal Dog, would have been underwater.

Now, once you are done climbing and wondering and wowing, and you think you are done; stop. Don't rush back to your car quite yet. Start back down the trail and look over to your right. If you know your history, you already should be looking for the remains of the first canal. This is where the first Erie crossed the river by way of a slack-water crossing. A slack-water crossing is where the man-made canal entered into the river and the boats floated over the river as the animals walked over a low bridge. Once to the other side, the boats re-entered the man-made canal. To protect the canal from seasonal river levels, a guard lock was built to serve as the entry to the canal / river.

Where you are standing is Kipp's Island, a one time real island located between the Seneca River and the Clyde River. So if we were headed west on the canal (say heading from Albany to Buffalo), we would have passed from the canal through a guard lock on the east side of the river, and would be floating on the river. (In the early days, this was the connection to Cayuga Lake.) Our animal team and driver would have walked over a wooden bridge to this shore and we would have entered into a cut through the island. This is where you are now. You can see the path of the cut as it passes through Kipp's Island. Our boat would need to cross the Clyde River before re-entering into the man-made canal by way of another guard lock.

When the Montezuma Aqueduct was built, the Clyde River was rerouted to flow into the Seneca just above the new aqueduct, and the island became no more except in name only.

Okay, I hope you got all that. So once you find the old canal, you can scamper through the brush to walk on the old towing path, or you can walk a little further and take a right down a dirt trail. Both will take you east to the river.

Once at the river, you will find quite a dirt road that will take you all the way back to Rt 31 and your car. You will also be rewarded with some beautiful views of the seven arches of the aqueduct on the east side of the river.

Once you are back to your car, drive a little west on Rt 31, about a quarter mile. When you are middle of the low-lands, look for the cinder block building and the winding stream of water that looks a lot like a drainage ditch. This is a old Clyde River route. Once you pass the block building, you are off the island.

Note- don't do this walk during hunting season!
Note- I know this walk isn't Cayuga County, it is in Seneca County.

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