I had the good fortune to spend some time on the Erie Canal a few weeks back. Before then, I’d walked alongside the canal frequently, nearly every day with my old pal Macey. Over the last six years I’ve enjoyed watching the seasons change around the small stretch of canal that runs through our little village of Pittsford, watching the trail coverage thicken in the summertime with dense bushy greenery, explode with fall colors for a spectacular three-four weeks in late-September and early-October, and turn a sharp spartan grayscale for our nearly six months of winter. The autumn colors are easily the biggest attraction every year. Around that time it’s common to see folks with camera equipment slung around the necks of professional and amateur photographers alike, some from our village, some from neighboring towns, and some from all over the region, setting up tripods on Schoen Place bridge to capture the fall foliage.
It’s a pretty stretch of the Erie Canal, to be sure.
I’ve picked up a bit of the Canal’s history here and there over the years, which has enhanced my appreciation for the waterway. Where we live, for example, many of the mid-19th century homes in the neighborhood, formerly called “Little Ireland,” were temporary squats for the Irish immigrants who settled here to trudge the originally rather shallow canal. Begun in 1817 and finished in 1825, the original canal — which New Yorkers disapprovingly called as “Clinton’s Folly” and “Clinton’s Ditch,” ridiculing then-Governor DeWitt Clinton for proposing such an ostensibly unworkable feat — was 363 miles (584 km) long, stretching from Albany on the Hudson to Buffalo on Lake Erie, yet only 40 feet (12 m) wide and 4 feet (1.2 m) deep. Between 1834 and 1862 the enlargement took place, with the second iteration of the Canal officially completed in 1918. The enlarged Erie Canal boosted revenue for New York exponentially, allowing the steady movement of massive amounts of goods through the state, heading either into New York City or westward to the Great Lakes. Thereafter the Canal was resoundingly recognized as a tremendous engineering accomplishment.
A few weeks ago I took an Erie Canal tour on a 19th century “packet boat” replica with the Sam Patch boat company, which works out of the Port of Pittsford (PoP). The tour covers most of the areas I’ve been walking along for a while now and took us into Lock 32, where we got an experience of what it’s like to be closed into one of the locks, raised up, and spit out the other side, meters higher (or lower, depending on which way you’re traveling) than when you entered. It was a nice change of view to see the towpath (where folks walk along the canal) from the vantage of the water, and a really interesting experience to “ride the lock” (note: in the photo of the Sam Patch packet boat, in one of the buildings behind the boat, there’s now a microbrewery called Lock 32 Brewing Co., which has been a really nice addition to the PoP; and if you enlarge that photo, you can see me: the gentlemanly dude sitting inside the boat with the black tophat).
The video at the bottom on this post captures our boat’s entry into Lock 32 and the closing of the huge doors right before our slow rise upward. The three photos show the height we moved up before being released from the lock. All told, it took about 2.5mins to fill the lock and raise our boat. The water that fills the lock spills in as the “gush” of water seeping through the canal doors, with gravity doing most of the work. One of these days, I’d like to rent a houseboat and spend a few days going up and down the Erie Canal. Perhaps some of EMPs fair readers will join me!?