Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Erie Canal

After dropping our grandson, Lee, at the airport for his trip home to South Carolina, we drove over to Akron, NY, to see our good friends, Dick and Mary Anne Sander, and spend a little time relaxing and seeing the local sights.
Dick and Mary Anne were our gracious hosts for the week and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.  Good food, several drinks, and adult conversation made it a special time.

While in the area we stopped at a town called Medina to get our first glimpse of the Erie Canal.  But first, we checked out the downtown area.

Lots of old churches and historic homes.

This was the YMCA.

The building used to be a custom shirt factory and the section on the lower right is called the Shirt Factory Cafe.

Bent's Opera House, circa 1864.  Under renovation now but still in use.
Our first glimpse of the Erie Canal.  One side was homes....  

and the other side was farms.  This was an alpaca farm.
How many pups from South Carolina can say they swam in the Erie Canal!

Having lunch under a lovely shade tree alongside the canal.  Doesn't get any better than this.

When Governor DeWitt Clinton first proposed a canal from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes, detractors dismissed the project as "Clinton's folly."  The Erie Canal took seven years to build and was the engineering marvel of its day even though it was constructed without the aid of a single professional engineer.  It cut through 363 miles of wilderness and featured 18 aqueducts and 83 locks, with a rise of 568 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie in Buffalo, NY.  Finished in 1825, it spurred the first great westward migration of American settlers, opened the only trade route west of the Appalachians, and helped make New York state the preeminent commercial route in the United States.  Today, it is mainly used by recreational watercraft with the last commercial ship using it in 1994.

We also took a drive into Buffalo which is the terminus for the Erie Canal and spent the day at an area called Canalside.

Canalside has a lovely park with colorful chairs to sit in.

Boats anchored alongside a section of the canal.

In 1819, nine villagers formed the Buffalo Harbor Company and pledging their personal resources to gain a state loan of  $12,000, they dammed Buffalo Creek.  This created a channel across a sandbar opening a new mouth for the creek that connected with the harbor entrance.   By doing this, the Canal Commissioners finally declared Buffalo as the terminus of the Erie Canal. 

In 1926, the Hamburg drain, a major sewer line draining South Buffalo was built and, as a result, the Commercial Slip, the Erie Canal's original western terminus was filled in.  Today this area has been restored giving visitors an idea of its original layout and function with modern Buffalo in the background.  The Slip had remained buried until 1999 when archaeologists found some original stones from the Slip walls.

Housed on the waterfront is the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. 

The U.S.S. Little Rock with the U.S.S. Croaker, a submarine, in front.

This is the U.S.S. Sullivan, the only ship ever commissioned by the Navy for more than one person.  It was named for the five Sullivan brothers who died in the Battle of the Solomon Islands and lost their lives when the ship sank.

Downtown Buffalo.

Close-up of the city and county building and more restoration work. 

The fireboat Edward M. Cotter built in 1900.  In 1960, it became the first U.S. fireboat to cross an international boundary when it helped fight a grain elevator fire in Port Colborne, Ontario.  The ship was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996 but is still in service today.

A General Mills plant on the water.

Grain elevators on the Canal.

We decided to take a drive north so we could see Lake Ontario.  This building is called the 30-Mile Point Lighthouse and was built in 1875 to protect ships from a shallow sandbar on the lake.

The Captain viewing Lake Ontario up close.

The pups swimming in the water although Max decided it was way too cold.

A lovely area to stop for lunch.

We also came across this six-sided house built around 1840.  It is in the Greek Revival style with triangle closets and frieze windows. 

One of our best day trips was to the town of Lockport, aptly named because it is where locks 33 and 34 of the Erie Canal can be found.

The locks are right in the center of town.  They can accommodate barges up to 43.5 feet wide and 15 feet high and can lift them 49 feet vertically.  The depth of the water  in the Lockport section is approximately 8-12 feet.

The locks are still being used for watercraft and we were hoping we might be able to see them in use.

We were able to walk over most of the locks and see how they worked.  Above the locks is one of the main streets of the town.

This section of the locks is a spillway to allow extra water to run past the locks.

In the center of the locks is the Erie Canal Museum.

In 1825, when the Erie Canal opened, a single horse or mule would tow a boat down the canal.  The boats would often carry two shifts of animals and crew who would rotate for six-hour work periods.  Work was hazardous, especially at night, when the towpath along the canal was slippery since it was high above the water with no safety rail.  Animals and riders were lost by falling off the towpath into the waters below.

Strong winds could hold an empty boat against the bank or wall and make towing impossible and sinking boats would slow down other traffic.  Sinking boats that were top heavy would often capsize and dump their cargo.  If it was a grain boat it could swell up and necessitate the use of dynamite and dredging. Commercial enterprises were alongside the canal with stores and shops built as close to the towpath as possible. Farmers with produce stands, grocers, and other merchants selling goods and supplies all contended for the potential business offered by passing barges.

Today, recreational use of the waterway is estimated at 55,000 pleasure craft per year and the towpath provides many miles of hiking, biking, and green spaces  for leisure activities.

The plaque shows that locks 34/35 will lift a boat 49.1 feet and where the next locks are depending on which way you are traveling.  

A pleasure boat entering one of the locks.  Notice the high water marks on the side of the walls.  Down along the inner walls are ropes that the crew hold to keep the boat from moving too much.

You can stand on catwalks above the locks and watch it happening.  See the Captain looking over the side.

The lock door almost closed.

Holding the boat steady as the water rises.

The water has now lifted the boat half of the vertical 49 feet in this lock....

and the boat will sail into the next lock to finish the trip.  Once the boat is in the next lock, and the doors are closed, the water in this lock will again recede.

Lockport is an interesting city with lots of history.

Beautiful old churches and buildings line the canal. 

Definitely another neat place to come back and visit.

Or better yet, rent a boat and travel the canal.  Now that would be a blast!

 That's it for our stay in Akron, NY.  The weather was great and we were able to see many unusual places.  Now we are traveling on to the Finger Lakes of New York and wine country. Hmmm, that could be fun, too.  Peace!




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