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Seeing a waterway shrunk by the land forms around it like this, I find it miraculous that we can travel it from the ocean to the Great Lakes, but some of you, I know, might be starting to feel claustrophobic.

The drone photo below is taken in Little Falls looking back east toward the the Herkimer home and beyond that the Noses.  As before, you notice three modes of transport paralleling each other.  In the left half of the photo, between the railroad and the state road, you’ll notice remnants of John Pierce Stone Works and the quarry above it.  John Pierce had a number of quarries and a Manhattan contracting company.  The road on the right leads to the NYS Thruway.

Bringing the camera down from the drone to human height and swiveling 180 degrees, we look west at the daunting lock E-17 to the left and the Mohawk River to the right heading around Moss Island.  If we followed the river, we would soon be blocked by a falls. It’s called “little” because the drop is not as big as Cohoes Falls, seen earlier near the Flight in Waterford.  Yet, it was big enough that the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company built a short canal around it in the 1790s.

Once inside the lock and looking back, it’s fun the watch the guillotine door descend, as the counterweight, connected by a huge chain, rise. It’s the only lock in the system with such a lower “gate.”  Any guesses on the weights of gate and counterweight?  Answer will be given at the end of this post.

Moss Island often has climbers, as viewed here from the boat,

and even if you’re not a technical climber, you can walk a path up the back side of the cliff to get photos of traffic eastbound  entering and

departing westbound from the top of the lock.

This 1910 photo shows the cliff, the the current lock under construction.  To the right, the location of the previous locks.

Little Falls was the scene of a horrendous train derailment in 1940, attributed to “speed kills.”  A plaque on the north side of the river commemorates this tragedy.

The charming village on the north side of the gorge has seen the population drop from 13,000 in 1920 to fewer than 5000 today.  Now, as in the past, the town is known for cheese.  In fact, the large house that you might see on the ridge high above the town, the Burrell Mansion, was built by David H. Burrell, who invented many devices used by the dairy and cheese industry.

If the building below looks like a freight house, it was built as one.  It’s currently one of eight that have survived of a total of 28 built for cargo transfer in the Barge Canal era.  Currently, Canal Harbor and Rotary Park, west of the village,  has amenities for boaters.  Across the river, some modern industrial buildings belong to Feldmeier Equipment, a world leader in the manufacture of tanks for the dairy, pharmaceutical, and brewing industries.  They grew out of the Burrell’s legacy, and are one of Little Falls largest employers.

Lots of “loopers” transit the Canal, but here’s one of the more unusual craft I’ve seen not so much for what it is than for what it was doing . . . , a vet doing the loop in a kayak as post-Iraq therapy.  Note the yellow decal topside just behind the solar panels behind his cockpit.

Along the way to lock E-18 we follow Jacksonburg Mountain.  First peoples called it Mt. Okwari, or “bear mountain.”  John Jost Herkimer, father of Nicholas,  settled here in 1722, with permission from the local Mohawks, who called him Okwari, because of his imposing size and strength.

Approaching lock E-18, we can clearly see the Mohawk River heading to the right, and the lock leading into another land cut.  The “island” created in between is called Plantation Island Refuge Area.  Clearly, it’s working well as a refuge, since last year as we sailed by, a complacent coyote watched us pass from the safety of his bank.

At the top end of E-18, you can see the green light, signalling that Lil Diamond II was free to enter. Lil Diamond II is one of several boats operated by Erie Canal Cruises, whose dock is several miles west of E-18.

The taller building at the far end of the lock is a power house, i.e., hydro-power generating station.  It’s one of 26 built into the Barge Canal, only a few of which like this one are intact.  Remember that the Barge Canal with its DC electrical equipment predates the grid, so each lock needed its own power generation.

Visible from the river is the 1753 limestone structure referred to as the Fort Herkimer Church.  A walk around the church allows you to see the gun ports in the thick limestone walls.

Herkimer is the base of operations for Erie Canal Cruises.  North of town, there’s a quarry where the public can dig for “Herkimer diamonds,” aka Little Falls diamonds.

Illion is the home of Remington, where an enterprise begun by Eliphalet Remington continues to operate, manufacturing guns, typewriters, bicycles, and sewing machines throughout its 200+ year existence.

Up ahead is lock E-19, where

train traffic finally crosses from the north to the south side of the Canal.

Surprise boat encounters can happen anywhere along the Canal.  One of my bigger surprises was rising to the top of lock E-19 a few years ago and seeing Draken Harald Hårfagre waiting for the lock to clear before heading eastbound.  Vikings!  Eastbound in central New York!  Who knew?    Other unusual vessels that have transited include Hōkūleʻa, Ra, and the presidential yacht Sequoia.  A short account of the latter doing the loop can be read here;  I hope to post about that more in the future. And there must be a thousand more stories I don’t know, would love to hear.

A few miles south of lock E-19 is Balloon Farm, home of  Carl E. and Mary Meyers.  Carl was an inventor of lighter-than-air aircraft, and Mary—also known as Carlotta the Aeronaut—was  an early American aviator who set many flight records before she retired in 1891.

Now the Canal is entirely in a laser-straight  “land cut,” the Mohawk having too many meanders.

This photo is looking NW.  Note the diagonal piece of land rising from the lower right corner.  The waterway above that is the Canal, with the NYS Thruway above that. The wide body of water from the left corner is the Utica Canal Terminal, aka Inner Harbor and the Mohawk meandering off left center.   Getting back to the diagonal piece of land . . . there’s a lattice structure with a red sign atop spelling out UTICA.  This sign seems important because Utica is barely visible from the Canal.  Where the 19th century canal transited Utica, today you find Erie Boulevard.

Just beyond the Utica sign, there’s a lock that leads into Utica Canal Terminal.

Well, the icon may soon be gone, but

it cleverly mimics this sign a few miles to the south atop the Matt Brewing Company, touting the product that made Utica famous, and the beer that was pouring from taps minutes after Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933.  A miracle? 

At the intersection of the Erie and the Chenango Canals, and connected by rail, Utica was well-placed for commerce. Chenango was one of almost a dozen “feeder” canals, referred to as lateral canals, connecting to the Enlarged Erie.

A century ago, 66% of Utica’s workforce were employed in the textile and clothing trade, an industry soon to head south. An interesting profile of the city’s bust and rebirth can be gleaned from this paper.

The sign below in the lobby of the revived Hotel Utica, opened in 1912,  hints at the prestige the city once had.

Stanley Theater is another icon of Utica’s past.  Not much farther south of Genesee Street is the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, with an impressive collection, founded by three generations of the family of Alfred H. Munson.

Before we miss the boat heading west, a few seconds for two more quick details about Utica.  First, you must try Utica greens, one of many food specialties along the Canal.  And second, John Butterfield, a former mayor of the city, is credited with founding both American Express and Wells Fargo.

A few miles west of Aqua Vino on the Canal, we get to lock E-20, here looking east toward the lock off the stern of this 1920s ice breaking tug.

And here’s the info on lock E-17, taken from a plaque on the lock itself.

 

 

 

Preface:  There’s a new heading at top of the page called “virtual tour.”  Covid-19 has changed everything. Now it’s not alarming to walk into a bank or business establishment wearing a mask.  Many people commute from bedroom to desk, and a really long commute is one that involves stairs.  I’ve been to a few remote concerts already this week,  and virtual travel is happening without getting beamed up or down.   Webinars and Virtual guides are popping up everywhere, and zooming has a whole new meaning.

Today I begin posting a “virtual tour” across New York state by the waterway that changed our national history.  You don’t need a ticket or a passport or a subscription.  We’ll take some zigs into the surrounding land, and some zags into history because we don’t need to stay between the channel markers.  Transit from the Hudson River to Lake Ontario will take ten posts, ten days.  Also, to avoid confusion, click here to find the distinction between 1825 Clinton’s Ditch, the 1862 Enlarged Erie Canal, and the 1918 Barge Canal, today often referred to as the Erie Canal.  I’ll point out some vestiges of the 19th-century waterway.  That distinction and other terms are defined here.  Yes, some parts of the canal have been filled in, but those parts were obsolete already.  Sal would certainly saunter along if he could, but he’s got other duties.  Besides, Sal’s been replaced by Cats and Cummins and other mechanical critters.

Here’s a good place to start:  a weathered and water-stained distance table I saw in the wheelhouse of 1932 Canal tug Seneca. Although I don’t know the date of printing, the table clearly comes from a time when commercial traffic on the Canal made runs between the sixth boro to Lakes Erie and Ontario routine.  I’ll refer to it for distances now and again.  In this series, we’ll head to Three Rivers Point, and then take the Oswego Canal/River to Lake Ontario.

We’ll begin just south of Waterford, the eastern terminus of the current Canal.  Approaching from Troy on the Hudson, you’ll see

this sign in the town of Waterford indicating the entrance to the Canal, branching off to port.

Waterford, a town of just under 9000, is a fantastic stopping point for boats even today.  Note the red brick visitor’s center and just to the right, the bridge leading over to Peebles Island.  That Second Street/Delaware Ave bridge links this to a few photos farther below, taken decades apart.

Before plunging into history, have a look at where these boats come from.  Double click on most photos to get larger version.  Often recreational boats,sometimes loopers, tie up there for information and provisioning; international yachts . . .

Great Lakes work boats,

and self-described slow rollers.  We’ll roll quite slow too, to smell the flowers and avoid  . .  you know . . what Sal might’ve left behind.

To this day, commercial vessels that can squeeze under the 112th Street Bridge congregate in Waterford in early September each year for the Tugboat Roundup.

Can you spot the one tugboat that appears in both photos, above and below, taken more than a half century apart?  It’s Urger, whose story is long and involved and can be deciphered here.  The self-propelled barge, aka Eriemax freighter, on the wall to the right is Day-Peckinpaugh, which transported cargo on the canal from 1921.  She’ll come up again later in the trip.

Note the same Peebles Island bridge?  Judging by the barges, I’d place this photo at about a century old, back when the Barge Canal-iteration of the Erie Canal opened.  The archival photos throughout the series come from the Digital Collections of the New York State Archives, and this is my credit.  Visit the New York State Museum also virtually here.

 

In the next post, we enter the flight.  For now, let’s hail the lock master on VHF and see if he’ll open gates.  Click on the link in the previous sentence, and scroll, to see the friendliest lock master in my experience;  as with anything, your experience maybe different. .

Consider this a work in progress. Nycanals.com maintains extensive info about every lock in the journey on their site.

Any additions, corrections, or other comments are appreciated.  I have literally thousands of photos of the canal, but would welcome your best as well. I’d love to make this an ever-growing communal project.  Let me add one more from the 2008 Waterford Tugboat Roundup.

Again, black/white photos from New York State Archives, Digital Collections. Color photos WVD, unless otherwise stated.

Fred of tug44 created a systematic tour here several years ago.  Sally W went through the same itinerary from June 11 until 22 in2012.

 

Private planes can’t be fun for slow and prolonged travel, and RVs–unless I could drive something wild like these or a Fuller— leave me cold, but these yachts seem a popular way to see the world . . . at least one of the loops.   What I might enjoy more than a loop is a crossing, a la William Least-Heat Moon, with a smaller and more adaptable vessel.

I was not stalking the yacht below, but here I caught Ann Marie Rose entering the Upper Bay on June 8,

under the 9W bridge in Kingston on June 16, and then

on July 1 in Little Falls, NY.  Maybe I can find them on AIS.  She’s 48′ and registered in Virginia.  I’d say they travel at an appropriate pace, around 200 miles a month.

Copesetic is 46′ and registered in Chesapeake City, MD.  It’s maybe owned by someone with the last name Cope?  I’ve never been inside a catamaran motor yacht.

Ocean Star is truly from Ketchikan, AK and headed eastbound in the Erie Canal. From the West Coast they traveled by truck until they splashed into the Mississippi in Minnesota.

You can tell Scott Free (61′) is in the Canal by the fact that her radar dome and all that supports it is set on her nose, to make the low bridge.  I did a double take upon seeing her, imagining this was a boat inspired by Blount’s Grande vessels.

The natural beauty of the Canal envelopes these three cruisers as they

make their way west to share lock E-18.  The green boat in the middle appears to be a 42′ Kadey Krogen;  a friend has done two crossings of the Atlantic with his, and is now off California, after starting in Panama about a year ago.

I can’t tell you much about Sláinte, but she was pretty in the dawn light.

And this one . . . Boatel I  was headed to Toronto for the season.  It’s a floating accommodation, not to be confused with Botel, where I stayed back in 2014.  Scroll here to see my photo.

Anyone know where she spent the winter?   Maybe it’s “no tell motel.”

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

 

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