A Walking Tour of Port Byron’s Canal and Other Notable Sites

By Michael Riley Canal Historian Second Edition 2010











A Tour of Port Byron’s Canal and Other Notable Sites.
The settlement that would become Port Byron was fairly well settled as a milling place by the time the Erie Canal was opened to traffic in 1820. The Owasco Creek (otherwise known as the “outlet” since it is the sole outlet for Owasco Lake) provided water power to grist mills, saw mills, tanneries and potash manufacturers which were located along its banks. Early settlers chose to live in the higher hills away from the creek, and away from the low areas prone to seasonal flooding. The Erie Canal, built in the low lands at the base of the hills, spurred people to move out of the hills and settle along the route of the canal. Thus our tour of canal sites is relatively flat and easy to walk. This tour will take you around the village of Port Byron in a somewhat clockwise fashion. There are many other parts of the village worth visiting, and these will be added to the tour in the coming years. The tour is about a mile and a half long. Start- At the Mentz Town Office building complex on Mentz Drive. As you begin, note the building itself. It was once used as the school bus garage and work shop, as well as housing the boilers that heated the school (the reason for the chimney). The bus garage and the Central School, were built in late 1930’s by the WPA as a work project during the depression. The school replaced an older building that burned on December 24, 1935. These school buildings were built in 1937 and 1938 at a cost of $500,000. This “centralized” school brought together nineteen outlying one room schools and the village school. (Two post card views on page 4) The school was last used by the school district in 1990, however the elementary school had moved out in 1954 and the middle school by 1978. All are now located on Maple Avenue. Image #1 was taken soon after the school construction was complete. Note the churches located on Church Street.

Image #1

Two views of the 1938 school soon after construction.


Next door is the old Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern Trolley Depot Building, built about 1908. It is now used as the American Legion Hall. At this depot, beginning in June 1908, one could board a trolley and travel to Auburn. On July 23, 1908, people could board fast interurban cars and speed to Rochester. It wasn’t until December 18, 1909 that service to Syracuse was open. Before December 1909, people wishing to get to Syracuse could take a round about trip, going to Auburn and then onto Syracuse by a trolley connecting those two cities. Image #2 shows the Port Byron Trolley Station. There were eight of these large stations built along the road (Fairport, Palmyria, Newark, Lyons, Clyde, Port Byron, Weedsport, Jordan) . The front part was the passenger depot and the rear was the freight depot. These stations were well described in a book about the trolley system; Designed by Gordon A. Wright, a Syracuse architect, the buildings were of frame construction on poured concrete foundations. The exterior finish was 1 5/8 inch Georgia Pine vertical siding separated by panels of rough cast Portland cement. Interior walls had a 4 1/2 foot wainscot of white oak with a “fumed oak” stain. The balance of the walls and the ceilings were plaster. Roofs were slate. Heat was supplied from a coal fired furnace in a small basement. Each station was divided into two portions; a 16x25 foot waiting room seating 35 people at one end and a 20 x 50 foot freight room at the other. The waiting room included a 10 x 14 foot ticket office and suitable rest room facilities. The freight room floor was, of course, on the same level as the freight car floors. On one side of this room, two 9 foot sliding doors opened onto a loading platform adjacent to the track. Wagons and later, trucks were accommodated at similar doors located on the opposite side of the freight room. Each building cost about $5000 each. (The Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern; Gordon and McFarlane, 1961)

Image #2 These buildings were so well built that all of them survive to this day. As you are standing here looking at these buildings, note that you are on the route of the trolley tracks. The route is now covered by the old school and the post office. The tracks to Auburn turned south to follow Main Street up the hill. Walk east toward the Post Office and Main Street. Take a right on Main Street into the downtown area.


STOP 1- Downtown, Triangle Park. The large square building located north of the triangle is known as the Port Byron Hotel, image #3. Built somewhere around 1835 by Samuel Lytle, it is the oldest building in the downtown area. The last use of the building was in May, 1999, when it was being used as a bar. It burned, and has not reopened since. The building fell into disrepair and was saved at the last minute in 2009 by a contractor who rebuilt everything except the brick walls. The building now looks much as it did during its hay-days. Directly across Utica Street (Rt 31) from the Port Byron Hotel was a large hotel named, The Howard House. (image #5) This building was torn down in the 1950’s after a couple fires destroyed

Image #3 Above and below– The Port Byron Hotel has had different names over the years; the National, the Park, and the Port Byron. At one time, a stage line ran from here to the railroad stations a mile to the north. Note the trolley tracks in the post card view below. These went to the depot.

Image #4


much of the structure. Note the round grassed area with the short posts. This is now the tri-angle park. Now turn and look south. More then a hundred years ago, you would have seen the next view, (image #6) showing the west side of Main Street looking up the hill. Note that there are no trolley tracks in the street, so we know this photo was taken prior to 1908. Take note of the man standing in middle of the street. The first Erie Canal would have crossed Main Street in this area. Port Byron (then known as Bucksville) was located on the first section of the canal ever to Image #5

Image #6


open. This happened in 1820, moving traffic between Montezuma and Utica. It was a water route of about 90 miles. Located to the left of the street, behind the row of buildings on the east side of Main Street, was a small basin. This was one of two in the village. This basin was built by local businessmen for boaters to unload their goods and be out of the flow of traffic. It may have been a “depot” for passengers, being so close to the Auburn road. We do know that it filled in fairly quickly, probably from silt runoff from the hillside. The State had no interest in keeping it open and it was allowed to close, much to the dismay of the locals. (see map #1, next page) Walk to the corner of Routes 38 and 31, and then west (right) on Rt. 31 / 38. As you walk along, you are on one of the first streets in the village and the route of the early east – west turnpike. The canal was to the south, running behind the Pit Stop and other buildings. The house at 35 Rochester was the site of Nathan Marble’s home. He once welcomed Fredrick Douglas to his house and to Port Byron to speak against slavery. When you come to St. John’s Church, carefully cross the street and go into the church parking lot. STOP 2- St. John Church Parking Lot. The early canal crossed the creek (Owasco Outlet) at this point on a four arch stone aqueduct. (Image #7) This aqueduct was used from 1820 to 1857, but it remained in place and intact into the early 1900’s. Note the barn built on top of it. It was taken down to supply stone to various canal repairs, and most likely to reduce flooding problems in the creek. A part of one arch can still be seen if one carefully walks down the bank between the parking lot and creek. It is slowly falling apart and is only being held together by the parking lot blacktop. Looking south (upstream), you are looking toward the “milling district” of the village. A large dam across the creek formed a mill pond that supplied water to many mills from a period from 1812 to the 1970’s. The large wooden building on the east side of the creek sits on the site of the first mill ever built. Over the years, the mills changed and grew, and the current building, known as the I. R. Warren mill, was the last of many generations. Across the creek, on a small island of land, sat other mills, cheese factories, paper mills and the first water works in the village. The land was also used as a village land fill, in the days before pollution controls and DEC over sight. Walk back to the street and continue west on Route 31. Go across the creek. Stop when you come abreast of the green roadside mileage marker labeled ; 31, 3108,1047. Look across the road to the south, at the base of the hill.

Image #7


The Canal in 1834. Map #1

The small basin and the “downtown”.

About where St. John’s is today.

Beach’s Mill and Storehouse.

Millener’s Drydock and the basin.

Lock 60 and the cooperage.


STOP 3- Beach’s Mill, Raceway, Water pipe in hill side. Standing here, look across the road at the wooded area behind the house. (see map #2) This was the location of Beach’s Mill, a very large four story stone grist mill. This mill was built in 1830 and lasted until 1858, when it burned. It was never rebuilt as the age of large scale local milling had passed. When it was in operation, boats full of wheat docked near the mill and were unloaded by conveyor into the mill for grinding into flour. It was then packed into barrels and taken away by boat to the large cities in the east. The wheat came from local western New York farms. However as farming moved into the flat plains of the mid-west, it was no longer profitable to boat the wheat to this mill. Rochester, with its large mills and more reliable Genesee River, got most of the milling business. Beach’s Mill was served by a large mill race that was about two miles long. The mill race started at a dam located south of Hayden Road. It followed the west bank of the outlet all the way until it took a sharp right and powered the mill. The tail race dumped the water back into the creek. It is known that John Beach, a co-owner of the mill and its name sake, was a part of a 1830’s effort to build a canal between Port Byron and Auburn, and it is possible that this millrace may have been part of his plan to make a profit at the expense of the canal construction. However that canal never made it much beyond a mile of its starting point at Owasco Lake. Amazingly, the first Erie Canal never used the Outlet as a water source to fill the canal. The water was being used by many mills, and it may have been a decision by the canal builders not to harm the mills by taking and thus reducing their supply of water. By the 1860’s, it was noted that the canal needed more water and this mill race was purchased by the state to be used as a way to get water to the canal. A wooden trough, apparently built on legs and standing above the street carried the water from the mill race to the new enlarged canal. (The enlarged canal will be discussed in detail at a later stop.) The wood structure was always a source of problems (leaks, rot) and by the 1890’s, the state put in a 48 inch iron pipe to carry the water under ground to the canal. Parts of this pipe can still be seen at the base of the hill, west of the house. Map #2 The early attempt to build a 10

canal from Auburn to the Erie Canal was to be re-born in 1922. After the opening of the new Barge Canal in 1918, business interests in Auburn asked the state to build a canal from the Seneca River to Auburn, using the valley of the Owasco Outlet. The plans called for the old Erie Canal to be reused from Montezuma to Port Byron and then head up the Outlet by use of seven locks. Parts of this plan called for hydroelectric dams to be built along the outlet. However, the costs involved and the amount of projected traffic did not warrant the construction of the canal. If you were to turn around and look north, you can see the dead end street, Moore Place. This is the historic route of Rochester Street, which paralleled the first canal in this area. Walk west along Rt 31/38. Look at the garage on the lower level on the home to the right. This was the route of the canal. Stop at the junction of River Street. Notice the odd junction of the streets. This intersection is a remnant of the days when the old turnpike crossed the Erie Canal on a bridge. Continue to walk west on Rochester. Stop about a hundred yards west of River Street. STOP 4- Millener Dry Dock 1822-1857 Look to the north, toward the homes that are set back from the streets. The first canal ran in a southeast to northwest direction in this section of the village. In 1822, David Johnson built a drydock on land north of the canal, about where you see the two homes. George Washington Millener and others purchased the business in 1827 and George ran it until the close of the first canal in 1857. George’s father, Alexander Millener, was a drummer for George Washington, hence the name of our drydock owner. Walk west until you get to the store parking lot and then walk into the parking lot toward the rear of the lot. STOP 5- Parking Lot. Notice how the parking lot has been built on fill, raising it above the surrounding ground. This is recent work. The ground was much lower before the store was built. For our purposes, this is the location of the second and larger of the two village basins. Around the basin you would find warehouses and other canal related businesses. As you walk toward Rt 38 on the west side of the lot, you are on the canal. If you look across Rt 38, you can see West Dock Street. This street is built right on the route of the first canal, making it possible to look back and forth to get an idea of how the canal cut through this area. In your mind, try to draw a line from the River / Rochester intersection and West Dock. Walk north on Route 38, (Canal Street) for a few feet until you come to East Dock Street. Turn right onto East Dock and stop. Look to the house located on the northeast corner of Dock and Canal Streets. STOP 6- Millener Dry Dock 1858-1875 At this point, we can take a few minutes to explain the canal enlargement. The first canal, built from 1917 to 1825, was four feet deep and forty feet wide. It was very well used to the point of over crowding. The State decided in 1834 to enlarge the canal to seven feet deep and seventy feet wide. This would allow larger boats to be used and it would give the state the chance to correct many of the errors they had made when they built the first canal. One of the largest errors to correct was to remove many curves and twists found in central New York. Over its length, this decision cut the length of the canal from 363 miles to 350 miles. But it was also decided not to change the route of the canal within village or city limits if it would harm business districts that relied on the canal, even if that meant leaving in a curve or twist. But for some reason, people wanted the canal straightened in Port Byron, a decision that would remove the canal from the main business district. A court battle ensued and over a course of many years, the canal route remain undecided. It seemed that half the village wanted the new route, and half wanted the old route. In 1857, the new route people won their battle, and even though the enlarged canal was about complete along the old route, it was abandoned and the new route built. It was proposed to allow the old route of the canal to remain open, although at the older 4 by 40 dimensions, but larger boats built for the new canal 11

would not be able to use it and this idea was soon abandoned also. Some businesses that needed the connection to the canal, such as the old mill, could not survive. It is not surprising that to see that the business burned about the same time the canal switched routes. Other businesses could move and Millener’s drydock is one that did so. A new dock was dug and the business was moved from the old canal to the new. Millener’s dock was located on the corner of Canal and East Dock St. Parts of the stone walls can still be seen in the yard north of Dock St. With the new canal came new competition. Millener soon faced competition in the boat repair business. King and King built a new dock to the west of here. By 1875, George Millener was an old man and sold the business to Lorenzo Ames, who then, after a few years, sold it to the competing business, which by that time had been sold to Tanner and Shetler. Walk back to Rt 38 / Canal Street and walk north until you come to the next street which is Green Street. Stand off the road and look to the east. During canal times, image #8 is what you would have seen. Nothing remains of this view. In the photo, River Street can be seen crossing the canal just beyond the canal boat. Continue to head north on Route 38 until you get to Maiden Lane on the left. Go left (west) on Maiden Lane until you reach the dead end. Walk into the yard of the white house, and south to the bed of the enlarged canal. STOP 7 - Erie House, Lock 52, Tanner’s Drydock, Powerhouse. The Erie House was a canal side tavern / hotel built in 1892 by Peter and Antonio VanDetto. It is interesting to think that someone would take the chance on building any canal business when it was obvious to everyone that the statewide canal business was in serious decline. There was a minor boomlet when the state decided to enlarge the canal to nine feet deep. Many men were hired and they descended on Port Byron for a month in April of 1896. Whether this was enough business to pay for the business it is not known. However it is known that Peter VanDetto was a mover in the Italian community and he had many other business interests. The Erie House was never really

Image #8


known as a hotel, rather it was a bar that served the canal and village until it closed some time around 1917. Peter’s daughters lived in the house up until the early 1990’s, when it was sold after both sisters had passed away. Standing here, you can look across the canal (south) to the location of the King and later Tanner dry dock. (Image #9) This drydock was first built around 1860, soon after the canal was enlarged and the new route opened. The first owners were Richard King and Finley King (not brothers, perhaps cousins). They sold around 1873 to Oliver Tanner and Andrew Shetler. This firm bought out the competing Millener drydock and closed it, leaving this business to survive until the end of the canal era in 1917. It does appear Tanner tried to keep the business open as a hardware store, but without the canal, it was a losing effort. The buildings located on the drydock property have nothing to do with the old Tanner business. These buildings were part of a foundry and wire manufacturing business that has operated on and off since the second World War. The large brick building located behind the drydock is known as the trolley power house. It was built circa 1908 as a place to transfer power from the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern Interurban AC power supply lines to DC power used by the electric trolley cars. Electric power was never made in this house. The power was made in one large power house in Lyons, NY. AC power can travel long distances, but DC power can only travel about five miles before it loses its energy. Thus, the trolley company stationed these “power” houses along the trolley route at ten mile intervals. Each station converted the AC to DC and fed it into the electric supply lines above the tracks where

Image #9

it was used to power the cars. Image # 10 shows the power house circa 1909. To the west, near the Thruway, stands Lock 52 of the enlarged canal. However, the lock is on private property and the Thruway police take a dim view of people climbing around the locks, so stand near the fence when you are viewing the locks. This lock is very similar to the other 72 locks built along the canal. If you were to stop at any of the remaining locks found across the state, you would see that they all look very much alike. But this lock was the source of many problems for the canal. Of the 72 locks built along the route of the canal between Albany and Buffalo, 67 of them lifted the canal up from tide water at the Hudson River in the east to the higher Lake Erie in the west. We call these west lifting locks. 13

Image #10

Enlarged locks 47, 48, 49, 51, and 52 all locked down to the west. The first three locked down into Syracuse. From Syracuse, the canal then climbed up to Camillus and Jordan, and then it went down two locks (51 and 52) to the Seneca River. To put it another way, water from Lake Erie, over 100 miles away, flowed downhill until it reached the Seneca River at Montezuma. But when the water reached Montezuma, it would have had to climb uphill if it wanted to keep flowing eastward. And water can’t go uphill. The first canal faced the same issues. Port Byron, Weedsport and Jordan are on a small bump in the landscape of the canal. But there are differences of note between the two canals. Enlarged lock 52, along with the Montezuma Aqueduct, replaced three locks (60,61,62) and a troublesome river crossing from the first canal. Let’s get back to the difficulties of the lock. Canal boats typically traveled heavily loaded from west to east. As the boat approached this lock, the boat was entering at the low end of the lock, so the captain had to carefully steer the boat in between the high walls. The ropes that attached mules to boat had to be worked through the lock walls and around the buildings. Water from the upper level leaked through the gates, creating a current that pushed against the boat coming into the lock, making it harder on the mules to pull the boat into the chamber. Rope marks can still be seen on the stone walls as evidence of this tough work. In 1880 the State installed a water operated machine to help the boaters and locktenders deal with this problem. The locks were designed to pass water from the higher level to the lower level, even when they were not being used. Excess water spilled through the three large openings that can be seen on the end of the lock. It then passed through a culvert built in the bottom of the center island. The State machine used this spilling water to turn a water wheel, that, by a system of gears, turned capstans that could be used to pull boats in and out of the lock. The images below show the upper end of the canal in winter and summer. Now, let’s move on to another issue / problem. Water is reused over and over in the canal, as it passes through the locks Water supplies are typically located high in the system, and they flow to the lowest point where they are dumped into a near by lake or river. The water supplies for this section of canal were located upstream of Lock 51. However, Lock 51 only has half the lift as Lock 52. So each time a boat passed through Lock 52, it used twice the water as was provided by Lock 51. This often left the canal low on water between Port Byron and Jordan, which could allow boats 14

to run aground until the levels settled and refilled. The solution was to tap into the Owasco Outlet, a move that had been avoided for many years. By 1864, the State purchased the rights to the old Beach Race and filled this level with Owasco water. (more detailed information on the lock can be found in appendix 1)

Image #11

Image #12


Walk back to Maiden Lane and then back to Rt 38. Notice the old cemetery on the north side of Maiden Lane. Many of the early settlers are buried here in the oldest cemetery in the village. It was said that the construction of the Thruway was to cut through this part of the village, however it might be that the cost of removing this cemetery made the engineers change to a more northerly route. The intersection of Green St and Rt 38 forms a cross that delineates the boundaries of great Lots 61, 62, 72, and 73. If you were to face north and look up Rt 38, Lot 61 would be to your left, 62 to your right, 72 would be to the left behind you, and 73 to your right behind you. Cross Rt 38 and walk east on Green St. Walk to the Owasco Creek bridge. STOP 8 - Green St dam, mill, aqueduct. Stop on the bridge and look upstream (south). This area formed the second milling district of the village. It was served by a small dam that crossed the creek just upstream of the bridge (image #13). Mills were found on both sides of the creek. The large building to the right is the last remaining mill. John J Tanner, son of OB Tanner, started a planning mill here in 1888, but there were mills here before that time. Delven Wilt purchased the property in 1913 and turned it into a feed mill, which ran until 1950. The last use of the building was by R.N. Hitchcock, who plated metal. The dam was removed in the early 1990’s to ease flooding issues. The route of the creek has been changed many times over the span of 200 years. In the beginning, the creek was changed to provide for dams and mill ponds, but over the last 50 years, the creek has been straightened so that water and ice flows would not back up and flood the village. Piers of all the bridges have been removed and only clear span bridges can now cross the creek. To the down stream of this bridge (north), early maps show that the creek looped to the west. Construction of the Thruway eliminated this loop. The enlarged canal crossed the creek just upstream of the dam on a four span aqueduct. Image #13 shows the dam and aqueduct, which is labeled in this view as “new aqueduct”. It was refitted with a cast iron trunk in the early 1900’s. Not much is left to see. The middle piers were removed as part of the flood control efforts in 1990. Only the bank wing walls can be seen today.

Image #13


Walk east on Green Street. The yards on the south side of Green Street are very large and deep as they once abutted the new route of the canal. It may have been hoped that new business would take advantage of this land, but it never happened. As you walk along, look for 17 Green on the left. This house, or at least the site, was once the home to Clara Barrus (top photo). Born in 1864, Clara was what we would now describe as a feminist, going off to a Boston medical school in 1881. After practicing for a for few years, she became the secretary to naturalist John Burroughs. Clara wrote many books about John Burroughs and traveled the all across America with him. One of her books was a memoir of sorts, titled “A Child of the Drumlins”. The book was described as a “psychological study” of her early life. Clara died in 1931 and is buried in the Port Byron cemetery. Continue to walk to the corner of Main and Green. The brick house at the northwest corner was the boyhood home to Richard Bonelli, a world famous opera baritone. Richard Bonelli was born on February 2, 1889 as Richard Bunn. The family moved to Syracuse in 1896. Bonelli’s debut was in 1915 and he preformed until 1945, when he retired but continued to teach. He died in Los Angeles on June 7, 1980. Turn right, and head south on Main. Walk down Main until you come to 145 Main. STOP 9 – Main Street crossing of Canal. The house at 145 Main has been built on top of the canal, parts of which can be seen in the yards to the east. We are fortunate to have two views taken from this one spot. The first view (image #14) look back up Main Street, and much of the view remains today, except for the trees. The house closest to the photographer is #155. It was right next to the bridge over the canal, a corner of which can be seen in the photo. The second photo (image #15) shows the canal, looking toward Utica Street. The bridge in the background is the Utica Street bridge, and the state shops can be seen beyond the bridge. The large barn was used as a warehouse. Nothing remains of this view. The canal last saw use in 1918 as workers from the drydock sailed a new boat eastward to New York City. All regular traffic had stopped 17

Image #14

Two views from the same spot. The above view looks north along Main Street. Notice the fence and turn in the sidewalk as the street narrows to cross the bridge over the canal. Turning to look east, you would have seen the view below. The bridge that the boats are passing under is the Utica Street bridge (Rt 31).

Image #15


at the end of the season in 1917, as the State began to make full use of the new Barge Canal. It was the end of 97 years of canalling in Port Byron In January 1937, workers working on the school project, contract #1, filled in the old canal. The canal was filled in from Main Street to the creek. This house was moved from the school site to here on the newly filled in canal. Return to the starting point by walking north on Main and then west on Mentz Drive. End of Tour.

Other SitesThis tour is set up to combine canal and other noteworthy sites that are located along the canal tour. It does miss some excellent sites that should be seen. Cemetery - The Town Cemetery is located on top of the hill south of the Village. Turn right at the end of Mentz Drive and head south past the red light. Turn left on Pine Street just after passing through the light. Drive up the hill until reaching the “Y”. Bear to the right on McClellan Street. Turn right at Park Street and enter the cemetery. The oldest sections are on top of the hill. Watered Section of the Enlarged Canal– Schasel Park, which sits on the western end of a mile long section of watered canal can be found by turning left (east) at the traffic light. Go past the firehouse and turn into the park. This park is the western end of a section of the Canalway Trail. This trail can be followed from here to Camillus, about 18 miles east.


(Appendix 1)

Following the Flow– Stop 4 Enlarged Erie Canal Lock 52
Lock 52 is the sister lock of Lock 51. Where Lock 51 defined the end of the Jordan summit level, this lock defines the base of the downward elevation change between the high point at Jordan and the lower Seneca River at Montezuma. Once a westward bound boat left the lock chamber, it would travel 16 miles, crossing the Seneca River and the Montezuma (Cayuga) marshes before it entered Lock 53 at Clyde and begin again the climb toward Lake Erie. Lock 52 is very similar to Lock 51, except that it has twice the amount of change in elevation. Lock 52 had the 4th highest lift on the Erie Canal system. Boats were lifted or lowered 11.298 feet. The lock is notable for the many issues that the canal managers had to deal with. The first issue was water and since we are “following the flow”, we need to stop and think about the use of water in the canal. The canal was an artificial river, a man-made environment. So water had to be diverted from natural sources into the canal. On this section, a majority of the water came from Skaneateles Lake by way of the Skaneateles Outlet. The water was let in at the high point and flowed downhill, maintaining the 7 foot depth needed for navigation. Along the way, water was lost due to seepage through the canal banks or into the soil, by evaporation, and by cycling the locks. Why is this a problem? Let’s look at a situation where two boats are passing through Locks 51 and 52 at the exact same time. As the first boat passed through Lock 52, it would use 162,914 gallons of water, and this water was removed from the level between Locks 51 and 52. As the second boat passed through Lock 51 at the same time, it used and released 84,893 gallons of water into the 51 / 52 level, and this created a deficit of 78,000 gallons. If traffic was heavy, it is easy to see that more water was being taken from the level then was being replaced. And boats would soon be running aground. The deficit was estimated to be 20,000,000 gallons of water a day. To replace this water, more water was taken from Skaneateles Lake, which could completely drain the water from the Skaneateles Outlet. Water from the Owasco Outlet, which passes under the canal at Port Byron, was not taken until the mid 1860’s because of mill interests along the stream. Even when the water was taken from both streams, it was not enough to keep the canal filled in dry weather. Another issue that troubled the canal commissioners was the difficulty in getting boats into the lock. Hopefully the diagrams on the next two pages help you understand the problems, but it is helpful to understand that a majority of the freight on the canal traveled from west to east. The farmlands in the mid-west were shipping grains and other bulk goods to the populated east coast cities. Boats would return light (empty) or with finished factory goods supplying the farmers and growing cities and towns in the west. So fully loaded boats entering Locks 51 and 52 were entering with the water level at its low level, increasing the difficulty of getting the boat into the chamber. In 1880, Lock 52 was the first lock fitted with the water power capstans to help boats into the chambers. This is explained more on page 3. This lock was brought into use in September of 1854, as was the enlarged canal between Port Byron and Montezuma. The first canal was in such bad shape that it could no longer be used. But after leaving the lock, boats headed east had to reenter the old canal until they reached just east of Lock 51. It was not until 1858 that boats could make use of the new canal through the County. Enlarged Lock 51 replaced Locks 60 and 61of the first canal. The original canal closely followed the hill contour just to the south and parts can be seen winding through the flat lands between Port Byron and Montezuma. The enlarged canal took a much straighter route to the west.

2) Some of the water in the chamber can escape by passing under and around

3) Much of the displaced water can escape the chamber by flowing over the top of the lock gates.

1) As the boat enters the lock,, water is displaced and pushed

Fully loaded boat headed downstream. (entering a full

2) Water is pushed forward until it hits sill wall. Water

1) As the boat enters the lock, water is displaced and pushed 3) All the displaced water has to flow out of

Fully loaded boat headed upstream (entering a empty lock)


The drawing above shows a lengthened lock #52 and a double header entering the chamber. Excess water in the upper level of the canal (left side of drawing, A1) has to flow through the openings at the head of the lock, down into a large pit and through a culvert located in the middle island. The exiting water creates a current (A2, A3) that makes control of the boat as it lines up for the chamber more difficult. Leakage around the lock gates (B1) creates a small current (B2) that pushes against the boat as it enters the chamber. As the boat enters the lock, the water in the chamber is pushed forward until it hits the end of the lock, which in turn pushes back against the boat. For the boat to completely enter the lock, all the water it will displace has to leave the chamber by flowing under and around the boats. The mule on the towpath has to try to pull the boats against this resistance as the line lays over the island and stone walls. The turbine was located at the head of the lock, using the flow of the excess canal water to turn capstans (black dots near gates). A rope was fed back to the boat, replacing the towline. Mechanical power then pulled the boat into the lock chamber. A newspaper account of 1886 described the process. “With regard to the double lock, I think it is called No. 50, near Geddes, just west of the city of Syracuse, and which is considered a model, I had the opportunity of visiting this lock immediately after the canal convention. This lock has a turbine wheel run by the waste water, and by means of connecting lines boats are drawn in and out of the lock. While there I saw what is called a “double header” or two boats fastened together, towed by horses, coming west through the canal. They were loaded with about 100 tons of merchandise each, equal to about 200 tons in all. I commenced to time them when the bow of the first boat entered the lock before the line from the turbine wheel was put on, to the time when the stern of the last boat left the lock. Exactly eight minutes elapsed. In the meantime the driver had taken his line and fastened it to the first boat and I observed that the boat continued to move by the momentum she received in going through the lock.” (The Courier, Buffalo, NY Sept. 10, 1886)