Sunday, December 1, 2019

More on the 1857 Change to the Route of the Canal

The 1858 change in the route of the Erie Canal through Port Byron has always been of particular interest to me, and I have written about it in past columns. In brief, when the State was enlarging the canal from four feet deep and forty feet wide, to one that was seven feet deep and seventy feet wide, the engineers took advantage of the rebuilding to correct some mistakes that were made in the construction of the first canal. One of these corrections was to straighten out the many twists and turns that hampered the movement of boats and water in the canal channel. However, to protect the many businesses, stores, warehouses, and docks that had been built along the canal banks in the villages and cities, the State said that the canal was not to be rerouted in these heavily populated areas. So the State said, straighten all you want, just leave the villages and cities alone. For the most part, this law held true. But there are always exceptions and as it turns out, one of those exceptions was in Port Byron.

Port Byron sat on a small loop which added about a third of a mile to the overall length of the 350 mile long canal. The original route of the canal though the village paralleled Utica and Rochester Streets, and the enlarged canal would have continue to use this route. But as some pointed out, by drawing a straight line between was is today Schasel Park and the Old Erie Canal Park, the canal could be shortened by one third of a mile. Of course this alignment would by-pass the village center, greatly harming all those businesses along the canal banks. And it would plow through some great farm lands along the flats. So for years the two sides went back and forth, and meanwhile the State simply enlarged the canal to the east and west. Most of the written histories of the village reflect the great argument between those who wished to leave things alone and those who thought this was a grand idea. I have long kicked around the idea that perhaps some land speculators saw this shift to new and open land as a opportunity to sell lots along the new canal.

A map found in the files of the Lock 52 Historical Society seems to back up my notion. This undated map shows the section of the village between Church, Main, and Green Streets, and the Outlet, basically where the Town Park and ball fields are located today. What is now Sponable Street is named Beach St, named for John Beach, the businessman who built the large grain mill and purchased much of the village acreage from the Buck family. Main Street is shown as State Street, reflecting the State Street in Auburn. Neatly defined lots line the canal and a new street called Center Street divided the land between the canal and Green Street. It was a bold plan that would have reshaped how the village grew.

As it turns out, the people who wanted the new and shorter route won the day, and the canal was removed from the village center by 1858. And as it turns out, the winners were also losers as by the time all this was settled, the canal era had passed by. While the two sides fought out this minor reroute, the railroads had constructed a direct line between Syracuse and Rochester. Passengers opted for the faster travel of the trains. Instead of having a packet boat landing in the village, stages could run between the hotel and the passenger station on the New York Central. The large grain mill, once the pride of the state, burned or was burned, in 1857 as it had lost its connection to the canal. Certainly the canal still had a lot of life left in it, and it would continue to flow through the village for another fifty plus years, but the hoped land boom along the new route never materialized.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Rewatering the Old Erie

If you happened to read the article about the rewatering of the canal and the flap about the $500,000 grant, or saw the editorial from the Citizen endorsing positive action in regards to the rewatering project; you might be curious and wish for more information. I wanted to give some back ground and share my thoughts.

This is not an easy project. It involves agreement between four governmental entities, what the public wants and desires, maintenance issues, engineering, some past history, and unfortunately as we experienced last January, flooding and loss of homes. So let’s get started.

The Erie Canal was a man-made creation. There was no stream bed into which the engineers made a canal. The reason that we even have the canal here were the east to west melt water channels that were a result of the retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago. This glacial outflow flow left natural valleys through which the canal engineers could lay out their canal. The reason we have Port Byron was that early settlers began to build homes and businesses around the flowing waters of the Owasco Outlet. So when the Erie Canal was built, the intersection of flowing water and man-made water created the perfect place to grow a village.

There are two key factors you need to be aware of to understand any of the current issues. 1) As the engineers laid out the canal through what was dry land, they would on occasion run into a natural flowing stream. In our case, the two streams were North Brook and Cold Spring Brook. The engineers had two choices, they had to find a way to go through the stream, or go around it. And 2) Although we tend to think of the Erie Canal as a eastward flowing stream, because of the landscape in this area, the canal in between Jordan and Montezuma was built with a westward flow. What this means is that Port Byron is downhill from Weedsport.

About three-quarters of a mile east of Port Byron, the canal intersects with what is called Cold Spring Brook. Before 1820, this stream flowed out of the hills around Auburn and joined with North Brook somewhere northwest of Weedsport. When the canal was constructed, this small stream was taken into the canal by way of a stream receiver, a structure that slows the flow of water by way of a pool and dam, and allows this water to flow into the canal. In this way, the stream becomes part of the canal and helps to replenish the water. In times of excess water flowing into the canal, the water would over flow the nearby aqueducts at Port Byron and Centerport, a sort of safety valve to help maintain canal levels and protect the canal banks.

 This 1896 map of the canal shows where was then called Herring Brook (today it is Cold Spring Brook) joins with the canal east of Port Byron. The stream bed to the north of the canal is gone. 

At Centerport we find the other method that canal engineers used to deal with streams. North Brook is another stream that flows out of the hills from near Auburn, but it is a much larger stream. It would have been unwise to treat this stream as they did with the smaller Cold Spring Brook. And yet the canal needed water from Cold Spring. So a connector between the canal and the stream was dug and control gates were constructed that would allow the canal operators the opportunity to turn the water into the canal as needed, and to turn away the water when not needed. This ditch was called the Centerport Feeder and we can see this connector ditch running alongside the east side of Centerport Road. A mile to the east, the Centerport Aqueduct was built to allow North Brook to flow under the canal and continue its way to the Seneca River. Today, no water is taken into the old canal by way of the Centerport Feeder, but water continues to flow into the old canal through the Cold Spring Receiver.

Here you can see how North Brook runs parallel to the canal and then turns to pass under the canal at the Centerport Aqueduct. The blue triangle is the pond that has recently been cleaned and landscaped. 

If you were to take a walk along the canal, starting at Schasel Park and walking to Centerport Road, you might notice at first that the canal is raised up on a embankment that cuts across some very wet lands. As you continue to walk east, you will notice that the canal towpath is cut into the surrounding lands. This “cut and fill” method of construction is used today when roads are built. A hill might be leveled and the spoils used to fill in low spots as to make the road as flat as possible. Canals builders used this same technique. And similar to a roadway, the construction of the embankment creates a dam through which the natural flow of surface water (rain fall, snow melt) cannot pass. So ditches are dug along the road to collect this water and funnel it safely away to a nearby river or lake. Canals had the same drainage system and these were called “Blue Line ditches”. You can see this quite clearly right at Schasel Park, where the flow of surface water runs between the towpath and the house, and into a stone culvert that passes under the canal to the south side. When the canal was in use, this water was then taken into a “state ditch” that ran through and under the village and along the old school ball fields on Green Street. This ditch then runs north along Shotwell and empties into the Outlet. Many recall chasing errant balls into the open ditch, or looking for frogs, and perhaps trapping muskrats.

You can see the blue line ditches as they cross under the canal, run through the village and then north. Interestingly, these are given the name Cold Spring Brook. 

When the canal was abandoned in 1918, is was easy to shut off the flow of water through the Centerport Feeder. The dam was closed and the old channel filled in so no water could flow into the canal. But it was different at Cold Spring since the natural stream bed had been filled in over time, and the only route for the stream was to flow into the canal and either go west to Port Byron, or east to the old aqueduct. If the canal had remained intact through Port Byron, it would have been easy to allow this flow to drain into the Owsaco Outlet. But the canal was filled in, so someone had to get the water to flow uphill toward Centerport and North Brook. If you are to walk along the canal, you can see where a dam was built across the canal just to the west of the Cold Spring receiver. I have heard it called the cow crossing, or the gas line crossing, but I suspect it was to stop water from flowing west toward Port Byron. Aerial images from 1938 show this dike in place.

This may have solved the problem of what to do with Cold Spring, but what about the water that continued to collect in the old canal bed between the dam and Port Byron? A pipe was placed into the canal bank near Schasel Park that allows any excess water in the canal to flow into the old state ditch drainage. When it all works, the water in the canal remains about at 4 feet deep.

In the 1990’s, the Village, or maybe the school, had the old state ditch modified by installing a large pipe in the ditch and covering it over. I have not followed this ditch all the way to the Outlet, but the section between the back of the firehouse and at least to Shotwell now runs through a pipe. Pipes are not as good at handling large amounts of water as open ditches. As the flow of water increases, the friction of the flowing water increases and thus slows the flow. It is something called the Manning’s Roughness Coefficients. (yes, this coefficient applies to open ditches) And when pipes are allowed to fill with sediments and other debris, the flow is further restricted. When the ditch was open, any flood waters would jump the banks and spread out. With a pipe and constructed channel, the water can only back up until it finds the nearest low area into which to flow.

You might recall that the Town filled in the low spot that was the old coal and lumber yard about 10 years ago. I suspect that this low area likely acted as a flood basin, collecting flood waters and allowing them to slowly drain away. When it was filled in, any flood waters had nowhere to collect. Near the library, you will see a large stand pipe where the drains form a 90 degree bend. This turn further slows the flow of water, but can help in allowing the pipes to burp off any trapped air. Another vent can be seen in a back yard along the ball field.

To the east of the dam and Cold Spring, nature has been filling in the canal with trees, both standing and fallen, cattails, beaver dams, sediments. Man has helped with a small culvert under Centerport Road. As this natural growth continues to fill the canal, it blocks the rapid movement of water along the channel to North Brook. I suspect that this might cause the water to back up and flow toward Port Byron, where the already stressed drainage system cannot take it.

A few years ago, I took these photos near the junction of Cold Spring and the Canal. 

The engineering study proposed under the grant should be taking all this into account, and hopefully suggesting solutions. I expect that one solution would be to clean out the old canal between Cold Spring and the Centerport Aqueduct. This would allow the Towns to rewater and maintain the canal in the warmer months and drain it when conditions dictate. The filled canal would become a historic and economic benefit in terms of tourism and help with our overall quality of life. In the winter, the drained canal would act like a large basin able to accept large and dangerous flows.

But what about the canal at Schasel Park? For the past decades it has had about four of water standing in it. There is no reason to make this any deeper. Four feet will maintain a healthy aquatic life and provide for paddling sports and other uses. And if the drainage through the village was cleaned out and maintained, the system could likely handle any flows that came west. To ensure this, a possible solution would be to install a pipe between the stand pipe by the library and the Outlet directly to the west along the old canal bed. This would shorten the distance that the water would be flowing through a pipe and lessen the restrictions.

As you can see, this is a very complicated issue. It not only involves what to do with a world wide known historical artifact, it involves nature, geology, and engineering. I am not an engineer. Nor (I think) is anyone on the Village or Town boards. Some years ago, the Village and Town paid for a study of the rewatering which was deeply flawed. It showed that the rewatering of the canal would flood most of Port Byron and large amounts of land between the village and Centerport. It was easily disproved of since when the canal was in operation, this land never flooded. I understand that some might feel burned by this old study. I hope that a $500,000 grant, with clear goals, will allow all parties the opportunity to study the economic and social benefits of rewatering the canal, and how to mitigate the flooding issue.

Flooding at Schasel Park and behind the firehouse in January 2018. 

The other option is to do nothing. The canal remains a stagnate pool of water and which may or may not flood again. As much as we close our eyes and pretend it is not there, the threat remains. We can not expect the flooding issue to go away on its own.

If someone was to say to you, give me $45,000 and I will give you $500,000, you would likely take the deal. It’s good money. I understand the desire to keep not raise taxes, but in terms of the damages that have occurred and are likely to occur again, doing nothing seems odd. If someone has an alternate plan, they should be speaking up. Not planning is simply no plan. 

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.