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Yes, I missed doing this in July, so today I play catch-up.

Three vessels were on the July page.  First, it’s Louis C, a small tanker reborn as a small crane ship.  I was last aboard her on a very cold morning in January 2020.  The enclosed workshop forward of the wheelhouse features a wood burning stove that has no appeal in August but was very welcome in January.

Fugro Enterprise, now as then, is working off Atlantic City, making bathymetric charts of the area where the 99 turbines of Ocean Wind will soon sprout above the surface of the waves.

The third and more prominent boat on the July calendar page is Nathan G, and rather than use a photo from July 2019, let me put up this one from July 2020, where Nathan G is one of the tugs escorting USS Slater to the dry dock.  That dry docking will soon be finished, and Nathan G will possibly accompany the destroyer escort back to Albany.  For more info on Slater and memberships, click here.

For August, on 17 August 2019 at 0615 and we were at the western end of Lake Ontario approaching Port Weller.  You’re looking over the after deck of Grande Caribe.  In case you’ve not heard, Blount Small Ships Adventures made a shocking announcement this Monday that their BSSA vessels are for sale. 

Welland Canal pilot vessel Mrs C approached ready to deliver a pilot, having just

retrieved one from the down bound Federal Yukina.

A few days later in August at 0722 and at the northern end of Crystal Island in the Detroit River, about 50 miles north of Toledo OH and 25 south of Detroit MI, we passed

Edgar B. Speer as she was about to enter the down bound lane between Crystal Island and Stony Island.

Speer is one of the 1000-footer, aka “footers” who ply the Upper Lakes unable to get beyond Lake Erie because they greatly exceed the dimensions of the Welland Canal.  Speer‘s cargo  capacity is 73,700 tons.   That would be a lot of trucks.

All photos, WVD.

On the 2020 calendar, the top right photo shows a shore fisherman, a small fishing boat, a tug, and a tanker.    The 2013 and 49,999 dwt tanker, Elandra Sea, as of this morning is in the Java Sea, likely almost as far from the sixth boro as you can get.  The tug escorting her in is Capt. Brian A. McAllister.   It turns out that was the only photo I took of that vessel, because of the fisherman, small boat, and industrial vessels and setting.

What I was really there for that morning was the mothership of Sandy Hook Pilots, New York No. 1, the current one as the new one is being created.  It seemed to be an event happening on the after deck. Surprisingly, I believe I’ve never posted this shot until now.

Upper left on the June 2020 page is Helen Laraway; seconds before I took the photo chosen for the calendar, she passed this this container ship E. R. Montecito, escorted in by  James D.

The 2004 and 7544teu container ship is currently in the Malacca Strait, heading for Durban SA, and carries a new name. . . GSL Grania.  I cherish info like this, reinforcing the fact that the sixth boro is but a tiny place on a planet of countless coastlines.

Assisting her in were James D, JRT, and Margaret.

The lower photo on the calendar was taken in the Mohawk Valley, lock E-13, easily accessed via the westbound lanes of the NYS Thruway.  Grande Caribe was Chicago bound.  For more info on E-13, click here.

As she departed the lock, she passed one of the newest tugboats on the Erie Canal, Port Jackson, named for the part of Amsterdam NY  on the south side of the river.    It turns out that the family of the namesake of Port Jackson moved west and distinguished himself.   The barge attached to Port Jackson no doubt has an identified; I wish I knew it and its history, given the riveted hull.

The next shot after the one on the calendar shows the 183′ x 40′ Grande Caribe shrinking as it juxtaposes with the ridge that makes up the Noses.   Grande Caribe is currently in Warren RI, as Blount Small Ships Adventures has decided that in the wake of COVID, it’s better to use 2020 to plan for 2021.   So, neither of the Grande vessels will be transiting the canal this year.  Given the virus, I’ve planed some gallivants, but as is true for everyone, much of that is on hold.  I’m free to gallivant now, but my sense of responsibility says I stay put and see this all as opportunity to craft a different path.

All photos, WVD, who is working his way through his library again.  Last week it was Pieces of the Frame and Uncommon Carriers.  I’m currently re-reading The Night Inspector, historical novel by Frederick Busch, on the exploits in post-Civil War New York featuring a mask-wearing disfigured wounded vet who worked as a sniper in the Civil War, and his friend M, who is none other than Herman Melville, the washed up writer who currently works in the harbor as a night inspector, aka a deputy inspector of Customs who would row out to any ships arriving inport in the dark hours and waiting until morning to clear customs. Here‘s another review.

I’ve also discovered the many videos of Tim B at Sea on youtube.  Interesting stuff . . .  answers to questions you’ve not even considered yet in some cases.

Three Rivers Junction, where the Seneca meets the Oneida, forming the Oswego, it’s got to be right around that bend.

At Three Rivers we sail into our own wake;  we’ve performed the ouroboros.  There’s just this sign, which we saw on leg 9 of the earlier virtual tour.  No pier, no quay, no wharf, no concession stand . . . no place or reason to stop. Different groups of the Haudenosaunee may have had their names for this convergence, but I’ve not learned any.  The inn that was here, off the left side, has never been replaced.

If we turn north here, we return to Oswego.  If we turn east, we head for Waterford.  I know a boat currently in the Pacific that was right here coming from Lake Erie/Buffalo seven years ago, and turned east here.  Arriving from Lake Erie, about 200 miles back, meant getting lowered 200.’  From here to Waterford means about 160 miles, but we have to be raised about 60,’ and then lowered about 400.’  Quo vadis?

This is the end of the line. Thanks for coming on the virtual tour.

I hope you carry away a sense of the beauty and variety of this corridor, which you won’t see from the NYS Thruway or even the Empire State Trail.  Part of my goal was to help virtual travelers see a past, present, and future microcosm of the tangled evolution of this continent.  Conflicts and other events happened here between indigenous peoples, then between Indigenous and European, then Europeans tangled with each other, and finally schisms arose and continue to arise between different descendants of settlers.  Infrastructure innovates and then becomes vestigial, to be left or removed or reimagined and repurposed.  This tremendous although seasonal thoroughfare got built and evolved.  As of 2020, the locks can still be made to accommodate vessels up to 300′ x 43.5′ with water draft to 9′  and air draft 15.6′.  If SC-330 existed, it could still make a real trip from salt water back to Manitowoc WI.  I’ve included photos of some fairly large vessels in these two virtual tours.

I end here at the crossroads (or crossrivers, more accurately) because the waterway is at a fork, a decision point, in its history.  One future is the status quo or better, another future might see it become vestigial, i.e., the end of the line.  Either way, some role evolves.  Here‘s a description of the state’s ideas just four months ago, although given Covid-19’s appearance, that January 2020 speech seems like years ago.

Some speculate, Article XV of the NYS Constitution notwithstanding,  that we face the Erie Canal’s  disappearance as a thoroughfare.  It DOES cost taxpayer money to operate and maintain even if transiting recreational vessels pay no fees, said to be the case through 2021. Since 2017 recreational boaters have paid no tolls;  before that, fees were very low, especially calculated as a percentage of the value of some of the yachts I’ve seen transiting.  Commercial vessels pay, although the tolls are small compared to those in Panama. Also, the sheer number of recreational boats has declined since a high of 163k in 2002;  in 2018, 71k transited locks/lift bridges.  In that link, this:  “The figures account for each time a boat goes through a lock or under a lift bridge, not the actual number of boats. If a boat travels through several locks, it would be counted as locking through each time. The numbers also do not account for boaters who only travel locally and do not go through a lock. A large percentage of boating traffic falls into this category.”   I’d love the be able to unpack those numbers further.

If  tolls cover 5% of the budget,  remaining 95% … a lot of money … needs to come from somewhere else.

This navigation season would normally have begun next week around May 15.  That will not and can not happen this year, a direct result of NY-on-pause policies implemented to combat Covid-19 spread, and I support those policies.  But canal maintenance projects that involved draining  (de-watering) sections of the canal (remember guard gates and moveable dams?) and disassembling some locks, severing the canal,  are not finished. But what if the canal never opens as a thoroughfare at all in 2020?  In May 7, 2020 Buffalo News‘ Thomas J. Prohaska reports that eighteen legislators from canal communities across the state have written NYPA calling for full opening this season of the thoroughfare.  It would be the first time that it has not opened since 1825.  It’s undeniable that March and April 2020 for New Yorkers as well as folks in the rest of the US and the world have been unprecedented. Just earlier this week in central NY a hot spot appeared among construction and agriculture workers.  But we will go back to the way things were, right?  Recent special funding stemming from Re-Imagine the Canal focus, though, seems to be going to non-navigational projects, ones that look at the water rather than ones that enhance the thoroughfare.  To be fair, the strategy seems to be to increase reasons to come to the water in hopes that this will increase usage of the water, the locks, and the lift bridges.

Will this be the 1918 canal in 2118 or sooner, ruins in a countryside park, places to make people reflect on their mortality?

Will it be sublime views of nature reclaiming its space?  There’s intermittent water but no thoroughfare, a severed waterway, and eventually

it’s gone, reborn or devolved into a gully or a bog.

We choose.  We have voices. We have fantastic 21st century writing, communication tools to speak to “deciders.”

These posts have been my individual effort during the “Covid-19 pause” to share a draft of a project I had imagined would involve augmented reality.  This has been my way to stay indoors and busy during this unprecedented time.  Many of you have helped over the years, have shaped my perception and understanding on this place.  You know who you are and I thank you.

If you’re interested in learning more about this waterway, consider joining the Canal Society of New York, an organization that’s existed since 1956, and holds yearly conferences and field trips along the waterway.  Their website has lots of information and many useful links.

If you want more detail about the canal from Eriecanalway.org‘s application to the US Dept of the Interior/National Park Service in reference to the New York State Barge Canal Historic District, click here and start in section 7.

I plead guilty to multiloquium here, so let me end with a set of my photos I’ve taken along the Erie Canal, a treasured thoroughfare as much now as in 1825.

Dancing by the river,

skimming through the system,

looping together,

paddling as far as you want,

transiting from seas to inland sea,

waiting timeless bateaux ,

max’ing the dimensions

solo shelling,

Hudson boat getting raised at lock E-17,

Canadian boat heading for the St. Lawrence,

awaiting passengers to summit the thoroughfare,

stopping for regional treats,

exploring the middle of the thoroughfare,

using minimalist power,

repositioning delivery,

mustering,

returning from a tow,

locking through at season’s start,

fishing in the shade,

frolicking on fantasy fiesta floats,

simply yachting,

squeezing through and under and above,

bringing tools to a job,

rowing a home-built,

locking Urger through for at least the 10,000th time,

raising money from Buffalo to Burlington VT,

[your tour guide] tending line . . .

the air guides standing vigil, and

the misunderstood “monsters” preparing to plumb the depths of the canal, just some of the things that happen here.  This last photo is for TIB, who wanted to know.

 

 

 

 

The Oswego River is the second largest river flowing into Lake Ontario, but it feels in places like a stream.  I don’t have to tell you what the largest river into Ontario is, I hope.

If you study the east bank, lots of traces of the original 1828 Oswego Canal, a verdant mudbank and even stonework like this for a former lock.

A detail to look for on the west side of the river just north of Minetto is the beer cave, where Brosemer Brewery used to cool their products in the age before refrigeration.

I’ve never been inside, but here’s a photo of the interior.

As evidence of the commercial traffic still plying the system, here’s a New Jersey-based tugboat on its way to Lake Erie.

In Oswego there’s a flight of three locks in just over a mile that will lower us 46′.  The canal runs along the left side of this photo; notice the passenger vessel about to exit the top end of the lock O-7, climbing toward Minetto.  Along the right side of the photo, i.e., the west side of the river, water has to tumble that same distance, a fact that allows hydropower generation and a thriving sport fishing industry, both in the river, out on Lake Ontario, and elsewhere in the locality.

In summer, Oswego enjoys its connection to the big lake.  What’s a recreation area today was an industrial only area back over 150 years ago.

Industry still exists.  Tourism to the right, and cement to the left.

Count the three tugboats in this photo from 2014.  From near to far, Margot is pushing some oversize electrical equipment from Schenectady to Massena; the blue Cheyenne is heading to Lake Erie via the Welland Canal to retrieve new barges from a shipyard, and Wilf Seymour, the tugboat on in the distance pushing the large barge* that has delivered aluminum ingots via the Saint Lawrence River for use at the  Novelis plant just north of Oswego.  Interesting as evidence of the commercial value of the Canal, Margot is based in Troy NY, Cheyenne then in Hillside NJ**, and Wilf Seymour in Burlington ON.

***That barge transports the equivalent of 920 20-ton trucks, and Cheyenne is now based in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

A different day brings different commercial boats here;  I’m not sure where the speedboat is based, but the two boats on the wall are from New Jersey and Rhode Island, and

Seaway Maid, from Clayton, on the St. Lawrence.

From right to left here, the white building is the H. Lee White Maritime Museum and the tug in the front of it it LT-5, a veteran of the Normandy invasion. Here‘s more on that tug, aka Nash.   Moving to the left, it’s 85′ schooner Ontario, and Niña and Pinta of the Columbus Foundation.  I wrote here about touring the Niña and Pinta on the Hudson back in 2012.  Ask me about schooner Ontario and I’ll tell you a sad tale.

This Canadian sailboat enters the system here, bound for the Caribbean.

Proximity to Canada made Oswego, the US first port on the Great Lakes, an important station in the Underground Railroad.

If you’re interested in some hard-to-explain details of Oswego harbor, you’ll love browsing through all the historical photos here.  Oswego became an official US port of entry in 1799, and

an active shipbuilding center. Vandalia, 91′ x 20′ and built here in 1841, was the first propeller steamship on the Great Lakes.

The brig Oneida was built here as well, less than a decade before the War of 1812.

Working backward here, this place was wrangled over for a long time, and a plaque in front of the star-shaped fort on a bluff east of the mouth of the river is …

my all-time favorite historical marker:  “Built, captured & destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed . . .”  Needing more historical recognition is Dr. Mary E. Walker, the only woman as yet to receive a Medal of Honor, and do read that link.

Notable in the recent era, Fort Ontario served as a refugee settlement shelter called “safe haven” in 1944-45.  In summer 2019 refugees returned to Oswego to commemorate the 75th anniversary of their sojourn there.

So here were are;  we’ve virtually transited one possible course on the Erie Canal, traveled about 225 miles.  We were raised 405′ and then lowered back down about 175′,  doing some rounding of numbers. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride, learned something about this waterway, and gotten some good photos.  As to food and drink on board, sorry . . . that’s not my department.

Let’s head due west about 20 miles,  into Lake Ontario.  Here I’m looking south toward Sodus Point, where I learned to swim in the early 1960s.  It’s so calm I could  “stand-up canoe-paddle” all the way to the lighthouse.  Six months later this SE corner of Ontario had 20′ to 30′ waves, according to NOAA.    This area of the lake, called the Rochester Basin, is 802′ deep at its greatest depth.  NOAA held meetings in summer 2019 for public comment on a proposed designation of the area as a National Marine Sanctuary.

If we continue on this course about 140 miles, we’ll be at Port Weller, ON, the entrance to another Canal, the Welland.  But unless you sign me on for that  trip, I’ll be leaving you here.

Until tomorrow with something different.  Meanwhile, the virtual boat crew needs to refuel with virtual fuel, do virtual maintenance on virtual hardware, etc . . . and we’ll begin another transit through different portions of the canal on May first. Let’s NOT make that may day, which has a whole set of negative connotations I’d rather avoid. Seats are still available for good prices, all, of course, virtual.

Meanwhile, if you plan to do a real transit of the canal –read this note about the 2020 season opening!!–and need crew with local knowledge, get in touch.  I can tie knots, throw lines, and spin yarns.  And if you want to make real evaluative comments of our virtual trip–e.g., errors, omissions, additions…–I’d love to read them.  Comment here or to my email.

 

Let’s catch up on numbers using the distance table from tug Seneca.  At lock E-20, we are 95 miles west of Waterford.  Also, we have risen from 15′ to 420′ above sea level. For the next 18 miles, we’ll be navigating at the summit level in a laser-straight narrow channel, with a bike trail along the south side.  If you crop away the left side of the photo, this might be a jungle waterway.

Rome was a significant location even before settlers arrived;  First Peoples traveling between the Hudson and the Great Lakes would portage here.  It was sometimes referred to as the Oneida carry, or carrying place.  Because of a necessity to keep this strategic location, different European powers built a series of forts here.

Pay attention to the buoys;  at green 623, we’ll be about a mile north of the Oriskany battlefied.  Nothing is visiblefrom the canal, but here General Herkimer was mortally wounded when ambushed on his way to support a patriot force led by Colonel Peter Gansevoort who was under siege by forces of Brigadier General Barry St. Leger in Fort Schuyler, aka Fort Stanwix.  The ambush led to a bloody but pivotal battle in the American Revolution;  also significant, it pitted Herkimer against loyalist John Johnson, son of William Johnson, both sons of the Mohawk Valley.  Patriots and Loyalists were both allied with different contingents among the Haudenosaunee.

Although Herkimer lost the battle against the forces with Johnson,  it led St. Leger’s force to withdraw to Oswego and British Canada and the 1777 attempt to end the rebellion by dividing the 13 colonies failed, and we won the war.

A note on Peter Gansevoort, he was the maternal grandfather of Herman Melville, who spent part of his youth in Troy, across the Hudson just south of Waterford.  I’ve often wondered what Melville would have written had he traveled west of the Canal, rather than south to NYC and out to sea.

On the north bank as we approach Rome, vestiges of an industrial past are plentiful.  Here’s the dock where Day-Peckinpaugh, in her last years of service,  discharged cement into the silos in the distance.  From 1942 until 1995, Rome was also home the Griffiss Air Force Base, which consumed a lot of fuel.  In recent years, the former base has transformed into a business and technology park, still serving as an airport and housing a USAF research and development lab (AFRL).

During the early 20th century, Rome came to prominence for the manufacturer of copper, brass, and other metal products.   Revere Copper, maker of copper clad Revere Ware, operated here from 1928 until 1974, when the plant was mothballed and production moved to South Korea.

At its peak, Rome produced 10% of copper products in the US.

See the old General Cable water tower?  They had a large complex here from the 1920s until 1971.  The marina and area around the old freight house is referred to as Bellamy Harbor, after Frances Bellamy, sometime resident and originator of the flag pledge.

Below, we are looking straight west toward lock E-21.  To the right, we’re looking up the Mohawk.

Two reservoirs provide the water supply for the Canal.  Several miles north of Rome is the Delta Reservoir, where Mohawk River water is impounded.  Below the dam is a fish hatchery.

,

North of the reservoir is a beach, and this sign explains the origin of the reservoir’s name.  The other reservoir, Hinckley, is larger and about 15 miles farther east, draining into the Mohawk via the West and East Canada Creeks.

These guard gates stand just west of the Mohawk/Canal confluence.

Rome was also where Canal construction began, in both directions, on July 4, 1817.  Several miles west of Rome we pass the “junction lock” on the south side.  If you see this from the air,

it’s apparent as a junction between the Barge Canal going lower left to right in the direction of Oneida Lake, and the 19th-century canal traveling from Rome (lower right) toward Syracuse, to the south of the Lake you see in the distance.

The summit level ends at lock E-21, and beyond that

it’s downhill, and the power houses are west of the lock office, not east.  At this point, we are 420′ above sea level, and heading for Lake Ontario, usually about 247′ above sea level.

We continue tomorrow with our descent toward Lake Oneida and Lake Ontario.

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.

 

 

 

This dissected ridge just beyond E-13 is referred to as the Noses, a gap already gouged, the opening to the west.  Looking west, notice that this break is used by the Thruway I-90 south of the River, north of it, a major railroad, and to the north of that, a major state road, 5N.  The 19th-century canal ran between the Thruway and the south cliff, aka Little Nose. The north is called Big Nose.

Here’s a quite technical geology article, but here’s the idea:  a fault line runs through the Noses, the single ridge that once held back Glacial Lake Iroquois.  Water then tumbled over a waterfall.  Eventually the ridge gave way here, and  water gushed out, draining the lake and scouring out the gorges of the Mohawk Valley.  Keep this in mind heading west.  According to First Peoples lore, the Great Spirit cracked open the ridge in anger, wanting to punish them for corruption, converting a lake into a river.

This gap was the way west for early settlement of what we now call the Midwest, and east for trade that led to the rapid expansion of the port of New York City.

Looking back east from the water, you see rail and highway traffic on opposite sides.  The Walmart trucks are explained by a Walmart distribution center near Johnstown.

Grande Caribe here appears from a lush valley and approaches the town of Canajoharie, and heads

into lock E-14, seen in the distance beyond the black railing.

Canajoharie developed into a major Canal port because of the work of Bartlett Arkell, founder of the Beechnut, originally a packing company.  Canajoharie is certainly a rewarding place to walk around, stopping at the Arkell Museum, the family home, other homes, and old churches.  Beechnut still operates in the area in a much larger and newer facility across the river from Amsterdam in Florida, NY.

Many old stone buildings can also be found in Palatine Bridge, the side of the river the lock E-14 is located on.

Note the sign just west of lock E-14.  Amish?

Several miles north and west of Palatine Bridge in Stone Arabia, this 1788 Dutch church is open to the public.  If you want a still-accurate portrayal of the area, click on this 20-year-old article.

Fort Plain, location of lock E-15, was once an important manufacturing center.  The town was first settled by Palatine Casper Lipe in 1730.  Fort Plain was also home to Bud Fowler, and if you’re a baseball fan and don’t know the name, you must click here, or just google him.

An intriguing very large white building on the north side of the river just beyond E-15 is the garage for salt storage and the Longhorn Trucking Company.  It’s intriguing because of its size and absence of windows, spawning in my experience a plethora of stories about its purpose.

A bit further west is the Old Palatine Church, built in 1770.  Major funders for the construction were the Nellis family, who remained loyal to King George, and therefore had to flee to Canada not long after construction.   As is true for the 1788 Dutch church in Stone Arabia, this church is open for special occasions.

Just before St. Johnsville is the fortified Palatine homestead built in 1750, currently restored and operating as Fort Klock.  Although it was located not far from the river via a trail that comes out between red buoys 408 and 410, it’s not visible from the river.

Lock E-16 leads us into the first “land cut.”  Because the river meanders so much in this section, Barge Canal builders decided to bypass the river to the south.

Canal boats often overnight at this very remote lock because of constant dredging needed to keep the waterway navigable.

Less than a quarter mile west of the lock is this  southside wall, actually a portion of old lock 34, and a good tie up for small boats.  The recessed stone section, visible in the foreground,  once accommodated lock gates.

The landcut created an unnamed island.  You can name it.  I’ve named it Jigonhsasee Island.

Guard gates between the mainland (right) and the Jigonhsasee Island control water flow.  Dredging is often needed here because of silting from Nowadaga Creek flowing in from ridges to the south.

If both guard gates above are closed, water is shunted over the Rocky Rift moveable dam, the most remote one on the lower Mohawk.  Invisible on the south side is the Thruway and south of that is the Indian Castle Church.

Just round this bend,

you’ll see a sign indicating the home of General Nicholas Herkimer, son of Palatine immigrants who settled this area.  Click on the link for much more detail.

The site is a worthwhile visit.  The obelisk to the left marks Herkimer’s gravesite. The 19th-century canal ran right in front of the house, so you’re looking at the south bank of the canal.

We’ll stop here.  A few miles ahead is the most spectacular lock in the system.

More on the Palatines can be found here.  There’s even an annual Palatine conference/reunion.   Some prominent US families with Palatine ancestors include the Rockefellers and the Zengers.

For more on the Haudenosaunee,  the story about the formation of the “Iroquois confederacy,” this is a good read.

If you want a diversion, catch the next charabanc and see the sights:  from Canajoharie to Howe’s Cave is 20 miles, and to Cooperstown is less than 30.   Cooper will come up again later.  Hurry back, or you’ll miss the boat west.

Drone photo by Jim Kerins.

Related and in relation to the 2020 canal season, here’s an article from boatUS.

You won’t see the 80′ Cohoes Falls from the boat heading into the lock E-2, but this is the reason for the flight of five locks you climb right after leaving Waterford bulkhead to starboard.  The falls, shown here in September, is only about a mile, as the crow flies, from the Waterford visitor center.    Imagine the torrent stretching across the entire width of the lower Mohawk during a quick warming and melting spring, looking

like this.

Lock E-2, the entrance to the flight, looked like this about a century ago.  To the right side of the photo, note the Champlain sidecut locks still functional then;  these three locks, of dimensions appropriate to 19th century shipping, allowed access between the Hudson River and the old Champlain Canal. Today they are a spillway past lock E-2.

 

Grande Caribe, an Eriemax passenger vessel, enters lock E-2.  All 34 locks in the Erie Canal can accommodate vessels up to 300′ x 43.5′ x 12′, although the locks in the western half can only be reached if airdraft is less than about 15.’ The past four years I’ve worked as onboard lecturer on this vessel and her twin.  Her superstructure has been lowered to 21′ so that she can fit under the low bridges along the way to Lake Ontario.

The water below lock E-2 is 15.2′ above sea level.

The record year for commercial cargo on the Canal, then referred to as the Barge Canal, was 1951, when records show 5,211,472 tons of cargo was transported, most of it petroleum in units like Carmelite II,  built in Brooklyn in 1941, pushing Hygrade No. 26 into lock E-2.

In May 2018, the Canal opened for the 100th season;  yachts of substantial size enter the lowest lock of the flight vying to be part of the first locking through, and

local school children sing welcome songs as these vessels exit the top of E-2 on opening day, guaranteeing they’ll never forget their Waterford welcome.

On the south side of lock E-3 you can see a Canal maintenance dry dock and to the left, the shops.  When the area is flooded, boats are floated in via the gates at the far (west) end.

Today this slope has extensive tree cover.  Without tree cover, you can clearly see that the flight resembles a staircase, each lock raising vessels just over 30′.  For archival photos , the digital collections of the NYS Archives are a great place to spend many hours as we make our way west.

This photo is taken from lock E-5  eastward down to E-4 and beyond. Note the blue catwalk just beyond the railings atop the lock gates.

This is from that catwalk as tug Frances pushes a barge toward lock E-5, and

the same view in winter.  Click here for archival photos of this area taken in 1911.

The Canal is increasingly a recreational space, and in summer 2019, hundreds of kayaks transited through the lock.  I’ve seen these locks operated for a single racing shell and spotter boat.

Above lock E-6, a series of guard gates protects the flight.  Twenty-some guard gates, like these,  are used in the system.

When the Canal was constructed, places like these–seen above today– needed to be excavated.

At the top of the flight, we are 184′ above sea level.  In less than two miles, we’ve transited five locks, of 57 total in the system, and been raised about 160.’  Since we are heading for Lake Ontario at Oswego in this part of the tour, we’ve got 24 locks and over 185 miles left.

In the next post we head west.

And a postscript . . .  these photos show more boats in the locks and waterway than is typical, but shots with boats in the waterway, which I’ve taken over the many transits I’ve made, are just more interesting.

As a reminder, CB here expands to Chicago-bound, our journey.

Dean Marine and Excavating are continuing work on the breakwaters in Oswego.

Madison R stands by as the barge is loaded with boulders brought in by train.

The ubiquitous Rebecca Ann waits along the wall in preparation to head for the Welland Canal.

 

 

 

As we follow Rebecca Ann, we pass Madison high and dry and waiting for deployment.

H. Lee White’s Eleanor D stands as a reminder of the commercial fishing that once happened here.

Over in Rochester, a party boat fishing vessel enters the Genesee River.

The fast ferry fiasco that ran two seasons or so 15 years ago has resulted in this Australia-built Lake Ontario boat now the object of derision in  . . . . ready for it . . .  Venezuela!!

During the first half of the 20th century, Rochester was a coal-export port using these two boats.

Today tug Seaway Patricia operates here to provide bulkhead reinforcement for the high-water-level-afflicted shorelines.

All photos by Will Van Dorp, and taken in Oswego and Rochester.

 

This post, beginning in the hamlet of Jacksonburg NY,  overlaps a portion of the canal represented in yesterday’s post.  Notice our vessel to the left below;  the cattails beside the road to the road are growing in the original canal bed from 1825.

Our tender ferries folks back from shore excursions.

I believe this is tug Lockport in Herkimer.

Gradall #2 and tug Governor Roosevelt conduct dredging at Illion marina.

 

Tug Seneca undergoes shore work at Lysander.

Juice is generated in Fulton.

 

And as we approach Oswego, a sentinel watches our progress.

All photos by Will Van Dorp, who needed to reduce file size to enable this post to load.

 

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