Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ten Years, a milestone?

Ten years ago, I finished writing a book about the Erie Canal in Cayuga County. I had not started out to write a book, but rather to see what I could find out. To be honest, I was fairly disappointed that so little attention was being paid to the canal, its history, and its possible reuse. At the time, I was living in Weedsport and I spent many hours at the Old Brutus Historical Society, flipping through the card files and the old copies of the Cayuga Chief. I kept coming home saying, "Listen to what I found today! I should write a book!" My wife, ever helpful, said, "shut up and write the damn book!" When I was done, I found a local printer and had 250 copies printed, which I thought was a huge gamble. I then went on the "senior citizen" tour, where I gave talks using my slide projector, to any senior's group, service organization, church group, or anyone else who would listen and needed a free program. Over the following five or six years, I sold over 800 copies of the book, a figure that still surprises me.

A couple years ago, the ever energetic Cheryl Longyear and I decided we wanted to help celebrate the canal, and the resources we have available in the county. We started doing tours and promotions during the Canal Splash weekend; and held focus group meetings with local educators and the historical societies. One of the things that came up was the need for a website that could hopefully pull all of what we had rediscovered and found together. We applied for a small grant from the Canal Corporation to help create a website. One of the things I wanted to do on the website was refresh the book I had written and get it up as a resource. We found a local webdesigner, Adam Sweet of Weedsport, to help us out.

It wasn't until I was re-working the book that I realized that ten years had gone by. What a difference ten years has made. In ten years, a new enthusiasm has taken hold when it comes to the canals, across the State and across the County. There is a realization that the canal still has something to contribute to our area. The towpath trail, at least from Port Byron to the eastern county border, once covered by tall weeds and large trees, has been cleared and made into part of the Canalway Trail system. The Town of Montezuma is actively working on the development of a park, as is the Town of Mentz. Even the Village of Port Byron investigated the idea of rewatering the old canal. Four murals have been painted highlighting our history. And we had started a website and two canal related blogs.

And my old slide projector is only pulled out when nothing else works, in fact, I don't even think I can find a slide film processor anymore. Instead they have been replaced by a digital camera, laptop, and large monitor or projector.

So if you head over to the Cayuga County Canals website, you will find a copy of my book, with full color photos and maps. The pdf files are rather large, so give it a moment to download. Check out the other resources we have available, and let us know if you need more. I look forward to the next ten years and the changes that will come.

1 comment:

  1. I just downloaded the full PDF, thanks a lot for making the fruits of your labor available in this way. I also hope the overall download count well exceeds your 800 printed copies, the content warrants much broader dissemination. I am a canal buff, myself, but of the "socialist" variety: my main focus is the Grand Canal in China, which is a tad longer and a tad older than the NY State canals, but I find that many basic principles apply to both canal systems, such as water management, the mechanics of a lock, the economies tied to transporation and logistics, etc.
    Anyway, I was up in Montezuma just a couple days ago to fill in some gaps in my local canal geography, and was pleasantly surprised to find Dawn Jordan being commissioned - again - for another of her very scenic murals (but why is it fastened to a container? Temporary measures I hope...), and the whole signage has changed from my last visit, too, very informative and educational. C-S Canal lock 11 is easily accessible from the west side, it looks to be in excellent shape.
    Thanks again for all the work!
    Thomas Hahn/Ithaca