Canal Cruise Adventure

I have lived in close proximity to the Erie Barge Canal all my life (well, with the exception of the time I lived in NC, but I still considered “home” to be here by the canal). It is really difficult to get anywhere around here without crossing the canal at least once – usually multiple times because of the way it snakes through the county! I enjoy watching boats on the canal and taking photos of it. I also wrote a final paper on the canal’s history for my Geography course when I was working on my Bachelor’s degree at North Carolina Wesleyan College that earned me an A+ for the paper and maintained my 4.0 for the class! So, it may surprise you to read that I have never taken a cruise on the canal – I have ridden in a boat on the canal when my parents had one when I was a little girl, but I barely remember it – and I’ve never seen the locks up close, let alone been on a boat going through them!

Well, I remedied that this week……a friend and I went to Lockport and took a narrated cruise on the canal and through the locks! What a THRILL!!! I was absolutely fascinated by it all – especially the locks – it was an amazing experience for me! Here are some photos and some tidbits of information that I learned along the way —- some of the info may be vague and other tidbits I had to look up to be sure I had my facts straight because I was so fascinated with what I was looking at and excited about being on the cruise boat that I wasn’t paying that much attention to the guy that was telling us all about it! hehehe But, I’ll do my best, here!

First – for those who don’t live around here and are not familiar with the Erie Canal, here is a little history lesson for you…courtesy of Wikipedia and the official Erie Canal web site!

As America grew westward, it was determined that an easier way to get goods from the east coast of NY to the Great Lakes was desperately needed – it typically took pack animals and wagons 2.5 weeks to get from NYC to Cleveland, Ohio and could take up to 4 weeks to get to Detroit – all across rugged terrain and mountains. So, then New York Governor Dewitt Clinton proposed a canal be dug from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. He was met with much resistance and ridicule, but finally was able to garner enough support to break ground on July 4, 1817. The canal was hand dug by immigrants – largely Irish immigrants, and took eight years to complete. On October 26, 1825, the canal was officially opened for use with a state wide celebration, including the first boat – the Seneca Chief – to travel the canal carrying Governor Clinton from Buffalo to NYC. When the ten day trip ended at the Atlantic Ocean, Gov. Clinton ceremoniously dumped a bucket of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean to “Wed the waters”. A return trip carried a keg of Atlantic Ocean water to be poured into Lake Erie to complete the ceremony. The canal project took 8 years and cost $7 million (an unthinkable amount of money in the early 1800s)! The original canal was 4 feet deep, 40 feet wide, and could carry boats hauling 30 tons of freight. It was considered an engineering marvel of its time, consisting of 18 aqueducts to maneuver the canal over ravines and rivers and 83 locks to adjust the elevation along the way to account for a rise of 568 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. After two projects to enlarge the canal, it now measures 12-14 feet deep and 120-200 feet wide with 57 locks capable of handling barges carrying 3000 tons of freight over lifts of 6-40 feet high. Today’s canal is mostly used for recreation vehicles, but in its heyday, provided major economic benefits to the commercial industry and was responsible for establishing booming canal towns all along the waterway throughout the state – including Albion!!!

So, what did I learn listening to the cruise narrator that I didn’t know before?

  • Lockport, NY has the only double lock system anywhere along the canal. Locks are located throughout the state to account for elevation changes, but Lockport has the only double set – two locks that raise (or lower, depending on which direction you are traveling) boats 25 feet each for a total elevation change of 50 feet!
  • The second highest paid job in the construction of the canal paid 50 cents a day and was usually performed by young boys of about 11 years of age – it was to crawl into the rocks to set gun powder left over from the War of 1812, light it, and get out before the blast broke up the rock!
  • Governor Clinton started construction in the middle – at about Rome, NY – and worked in both directions, figuring that if another Governor came into office before it was completed that didn’t support the project, he’d have to do “something” whether he liked it or not!
  • I knew that before tugs and other powered vessels came around, barges were pulled by oxen, mules, and horses. What I didn’t know was that one of the jobs on the canal was a “driver”, also known as a “Hoggee” (pronounced HO-gee) – this person would control the tow line to keep the animals going in the right direction and from falling in the water – he also controlled the tow line when two barges were passing in opposite directions so that they would not become entangled in each other’s lines.
  • One such “Hoggee” later became President of the United States – James A. Garfield!
  • Lockport, NY also has the distinction of having one of the widest (not longest – widest) single span bridges in the world – it goes over the canal near the double lock system.

And, now, here are some photos of our adventure:

003Our cruise boat – of course, we sat on the upper deck!


Leaving the dock


The upside down bridge

This bridge, built in 1902, appears to have been built upside down. Rumor has it that the railroad built it that way so that it would be difficult for larger vessels to pass under it in an attempt to put the canal out of business in favor of the newer modes of railway transportation.


Coming up on the first of two locks


Entering the first lock

The lock system is fascinating!!! The vessel pulls into a chamber, the massive water-tight doors close behind it, and water is allowed to flow into the chamber to raise the boat up to the level of the water on the other side of the chamber doors. Once the water is equalized, the doors open and the vessel is allowed to move out of the chamber. In the case of the Lockport locks, the vessel moves directly into a second chamber and goes through the same process. Both locks in Lockport are 25 feet for a total elevation change of 50 feet over the two locks. When traveling in the opposite direction, the same process happens, except that the vessel is lowered rather than raised.

This was very exciting to go through — I felt really strange – eerie, in fact – as we entered the chamber and the doors closed behind us……and then my heart really started to pump when the water began to enter the chamber – brought to mind scenes from movies where the adventurers are trapped in a chamber and water rushes in to drown them… was a HUGE relief to feel the boat start to rise and watch the space between the boat that the top of the chamber wall decrease as we rose to the new water level!  🙂

The following photos show the progression of the lock process – notice the wall height decrease as we rose up:



The chamber doors closing behind us





The doors opening for us to move to the second lock


Entering the second lock


The massive doors opened flush against the lock wall



Water entering the second lock



Doors opening to allow us out of the second lock chamber


And, we’re out…..

Sign indicates these are locks # 34 and 35


This photo is coming back through the locks on the return trip

We just entered the first lock chamber to begin our first 25 foot descent!

You can see across the next lock to the canal 50 feet lower than our elevation at the location of the photo!


Doors opening to let us out after the two lock, 50 foot, decent back to our original elevation


Going under one of the widest single span bridge in the world

Called “The Big Bridge”, it spans 399 feet wide and 129 feet long. Multiple streets cross the bridge and a large section of it is used as a parking lot for the Lockport City Hall. Because of its size and location, it is also often used as a helipad for medevac services.


Under the bridge, you can see the original rock canal wall with the original markings from the star tipped cutting tools used to break away the stone

Photos of other sights along the cruise:


Part of the original retaining wall – built by German stone masons who built the wall with no mortar – the stones were smoothed and shaped so that they fit together perfectly and the weight of the stones has kept the wall from breaking or leaking for close to 200 years… far!


We went under a few bridges – stationary ones……


More stationary ones……


And, lift bridges….

There are 17 lift bridges along the canal, with 7 of them right here in Orleans County!!!

This one, of course, is in Lockport, not Orleans County, but I had to make that plug!!! 🙂


And, we passed a couple of other boaters along the way – this little fishing boat….


And, this bigger boat….


There were a number of interesting buildings….like this colorful row…..



And this pretty church steeple near the locks


This building and two signs interested me as we went through the locks:

The “Tom’s Diner” sign in the upper window

And the sign that says “No Smoking in the Lock Chamber”


I think I’d like to try this place out

a winery and food shop and a place boasting “artisan crafted gelato”


The company that does the canal cruises has a museum in this old building


This stone house with double red doors was the summer home of an engineer who built bridges, including (I believe they said) the George Washington Bridge that connects NYC with New Jersey and something about a bridge in Niagara Falls… of those tidbits of info that I wasn’t paying very close attention to because of the excitement! 🙂


The gentleman who built and lived in this stone house was planning to get married, but there wasn’t an appropriate church close enough to have his wedding, so he built the church next door just so he could marry his sweetheart! How romantic is that?


The church in the background, just left of center, looks like it is missing something – like someone stole its steeple! In fact, they told us that the church never did have one! Sure looks funny to me!


Back at the boat dock, we found this lovely rock garden and little pond with the remains of an old building in the background – it was so pretty (I wish the photo showed the beauty of it better than it does)!!! It was off an outdoor area that appeared to be used for parties – very nice setting!

Kim and Cathy

The happy cruisers……that’s me on the right with my dear friend, Cathy, on the left!

So, that’s my latest adventure…….and history lesson!!! 🙂 I had such a good time! I see there is another company that does canal cruises out of Fairport, NY – I’ll have to be sure to try that one out next season to compare them!

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