In recognition of a near century of service, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor – in collaboration with the NYS Canal Corporation, the Heritage Documentation Program of the National Park Service, and NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation – is sponsoring the nomination of the NYS Barge Canal System to the National Register of Historic Places.
The nomination includes the currently operational New York State Barge Canal, including the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca Canals. The period of significance for the nomination is 1905, when construction began, through 1963. If approved, the historic district will include over 250 structures – every lock, lift bridge, guard gate, and dry dock on the system. Continue reading
The legacy of industry, the can-do spirit that fueled construction of the canal system, and the nationally-recognized architecture in the Canalway Corridor are unique elements of the region’s heritage.
Ideas about how to tap them to fuel investment in the 21st century innovation economy in your community will be presented at Where Canal Meets Commercial Corridor: Unlocking Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Your Downtown, a day-long presentation sponsored by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor in Buffalo on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Continue reading
Cyclists can now see more of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor using new bicycle tour routes that connect with the cross-state Erie Canalway Trail. The on-road routes, ranging from easy to challenging, take riders through scenic countryside in Orleans, Ontario, Wayne, and Madison counties.
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor spans 524 miles across the full expanse of upstate New York, encompassing the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals and their historic alignments, as well as more than 230 canal communities. Continue reading
On the eve of the opening of the Erie Canal navigation season, acclaimed performer and teaching artist Dave Ruch will present a treasure trove of music and stories from the workers, captains, crews, immigrants, and professional songwriters who plied their trades on upstate New York’s iconic waterway.
This special concert is being presented live in an online format on April 30, 2014 at 7:30 pm eastern daylight time, available around the world to anyone with an internet-connected computer or device. The Erie Canal navigation season opens on May 1, 2014. Continue reading
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the New York State Canal Corporation have teamed up to sponsor 28 events in 2014 to showcase the Canalway Corridor’s nationally significant heritage and the tremendous recreational appeal of the waterway and trails today.
Working together, federal and state partners provided financial assistance to more communities and expanded the number of sponsored events from 20 in 2013 to 28 this year. Continue reading
As the United States entered World War I, it was thought that the Nation’s transportation facilities were not up to the task of mobilizing and supplying large quantities of materials and men to the east coast for shipment to the war front.
What took place over the next three years was an experiment in the nationalization of the railroads, and to a much smaller extent, the waterways.
In 1917 New York State found itself with a rather big problem. After fourteen years of planning, engineering and construction, the new Barge Canal was almost ready for use. Although terminal space was still being built, plans were to have the entire canal channel and locks ready for use in the spring of 1918. However, there were few boats available for use on the canal, for a number of reasons: Continue reading
Since the mid- 1960’s. the idea of creating a park to celebrate the canal heritage of Montezuma New York has been tossed about. At the time, Town Supervisor Byron Lapp guided the purchase and consolidation of many acres of land located between the Seneca River and the hamlet of Montezuma. These acres, along with land owned by the State would eventually become the parkland.
The idea in the 60’s was to build a marina near the remains of the Montezuma or Seneca River Aqueduct. The idea was too big for the small community, and it was soon dropped. However, the land that had been acquired remained in Town hands. Continue reading
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is accepting applications through Friday, October 25, 2013 for 2013-2014 Canalway Grants. Grants ranging from $2,000 to $7,000 will be awarded for projects that serve to advance the goals of the Erie Canalway Preservation and Management Plan.
Proposals related to historic preservation, conservation, recreation, interpretation, tourism, and community development will be considered. Awards must be matched dollar for dollar. Continue reading
This weekend, nearly three dozen boats are expected along the Waterford wall, in front of the Visitor’s Center, for three days as the town relives its canal heyday for its annual tugboat round-up. Now in its 14th year, the Waterford tugboat Roundup and has become one of the four premier waterfront festivals in New York State and the largest maritime festival north of New York City.
Family-friendly music plays from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, tugs will be open for tours, kid’s games and activities, tour boat rides, line-tossing, tours of the tugs and more. Shuttle busses will run from remote parking. There is no charge for the event (other than a nominal charge for the tour boats). Continue reading
The Albany Ale Project has launched a new website, albanyaleproject.com. The site revolves around the extensive history of brewing and beer making in the City of Albany, and the research into re-discovering the 19th century phenomenon of Albany Ale, a double XX strength ale brewed across the city and exported around the world.
The new website has biographies of key players in the research of Albany Ale; a history of brewing in Albany from the 17th century to today; images from the collections of the Albany Institute of History and Art; and more. It’s hoped the website will serve as a hub for information on Albany Ale. Continue reading
Celebrate the history, culture, recreational appeal, and beauty of the New York State Canal System and Erie Canalway Trail during Canal Splash!, a coordinated series of locally organized events and activities, including nature and history walks, museum and gallery exhibits, rowing regattas, kayak and canoe outings, musical performances, boat tours and more. Continue reading
After eight years with the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Executive Director Beth Sciumeca has announced that she will be transitioning out of her position as executive director over the next six months to pursue other professional opportunities.
Sciumeca has worked for the Erie Canalway since 2005. She led the organization during the early stages of implementing its Preservation and Management Plan. An announcement that appeared in the Canalway’s newsletter said “She has been instrumental in raising the stature of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor both nationally and statewide.” Continue reading
Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site will be hosting the 30th annual Canal Days Celebration on Saturday, July 13, 2013 from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. Admission and parking are free. Canal Days is dedicated to the historical significance of the Erie Canal and its impact on New York State.
Canal Days 2013 will feature live entertainment on the main stage: from noon to 2pm County Line Rebels, 3pm to 5pm Mac’s Favorite Jazz Band, and finally from 6pm to 8pm the All Paul Show. This Paul McCartney and Beatles Tribute Band will be followed by the first ever Capital Region Daytime Fireworks show; which will include colored smoke and syncopated noise makers. Continue reading
Just as the eastern section of the Erie Canal was set to reopen from previously flooding closures, heavy rain fell onto already saturated ground late Thursday night and into Friday, causing creeks to rage out of their banks throughout the Mohawk Valley.
The torrent flooded several canal communities from Little Falls to Fort Plain, leaving a path of destruction, closing an Eastern portion of the Canal and some sections of the Erie Canalway Trail, and halted the replica canal boat Lois McClure. Continue reading
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission has announced the recipient of the 2013 Erie Canalway Heritage Award of Excellence: Enlarged Erie Lock 60 and Gallup’s Change Bridge #39 in Macedon, Monroe County. Honorable Mentions were awarded to Bushnell’s Basin Boat Dock and Canal Amenity Center in the Town of Perinton and the Trail of Hope in Lyons.
The Heritage Award honors significant places of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and recognizes excellence in advancing the goals of the Erie Canalway Preservation and Management Plan. A five-person independent jury selected award recipients based on a written application and site visit, which included meetings with officials at each site, as well as community leaders, municipal representatives, and other stakeholders. Continue reading
The Friends of Schoharie Crossing are sponsoring a talk entitled “The History of the Barge Canal” on Tuesday, May 28 at 6:30pm. It will be presented by Craig Williams, historian at the New York State Museum in Albany at the Enders House, located adjacent to the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site Visitor Center, at 129 Schoharie Street, Fort Hunter, NY.
Closing in on its 100th anniversary, the modern day Barge Canal is not so modern anymore but back in the nineteen teens it was full of invention and innovation in much the same way the earlier canal had been in 1825. Williams will explain the Barge Canal’s construction, usage throughout the 20th century and its transition into the tourism business. Continue reading
Parks & Trails New York (PTNY) and the Canalway Trails Association New York (CTANY) have released their third annual report, Closing the Gaps: A Progress Report on the Erie Canalway Trail 2012. “Since PTNY and CTANY launched their “Closing the Gaps Campaign” in 2010 in conjunction with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, interest in completing the Erie Canalway Trail among citizens, community leaders, and local, state and federal government officials has reached an all-time high,” the groups said in a press release announcing the annual report.
The report notes efforts in 2012 to close the remaining 84 miles of gaps in the 361-mile trail that extends from Buffalo to Albany: Continue reading
Four recent developments remind us of the opportunities to tie history to other initiatives here in New York. Doing that successfully will continue to require leadership, persistence, and imagination.
*New York pride…and history? The New York State Economic Development Corporation is running ads in business journals to attract businesses to the state. The ads link to the Development Corporation’s Web Site. The ads say, among other things: Continue reading
The first 20 years of Keeseville’s Thomas William Symons’ work as an engineer were incredibly successful. A list of his achievements reads like a career review, but he was just getting started. After a second stint in the Northwest, he returned to the east in 1895, charged with planning and designing the river and harbor works at Buffalo. He was named engineer of the 10th Lighthouse District, which included Lakes Erie and Ontario, encompassing all the waterways and lighthouses from Detroit, Michigan, to Ogdensburg, New York.
Among his remarkable projects was “a very exposed, elaborate lighthouse and fog signal” on Lake Erie, near Toledo. Grandest of all, however, was one of Thomas Symons’ signature accomplishments: planning and constructing the world’s longest breakwater (over four miles long). Built along the shores of Buffalo, it was a project that earned him considerable attention. Further improvements he brought to the city enhanced his reputation there.
Another major project talked about for years came to the forefront in the late 1890s—the possibility of a ship canal spanning New York State. The 54th Congress in 1897 commissioned a report, but the results disappointed the powerful committee chairman when Symons’ detailed analysis named a barge canal, not a ship canal, as the best option.
In 1898, New York’s new governor, Teddy Roosevelt, assigned Thomas to personally investigate and report on the state’s waterways, with emphasis on the feasibility of a barge canal to ensure it was the correct option. A concern on the federal level was national security, which was better served by Symons’ plan to run the canal across the state rather than through the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, up Lake Champlain, and down the Hudson to New York City.
Thomas’ route across New York kept the structure entirely with America’s borders. (This and many other projects were requested by the War Department, which explains the security factor.) His additional work for Roosevelt reached the same conclusion, and after extended arguments in Congress, $100 million was appropriated for canal improvements. The decision was affirmation of Thomas’ judgment and the great respect in Congress for his engineering capabilities.
In 1902, the senate noted “the conspicuous services of Major Thomas W. Symons regarding the canal problems in New York,” and that he had “aided materially in its solution.” A senate resolution cited “his able, broad-minded, and public-spirited labors on behalf of the state.”
During the canal discussions, his life had taken an unusual turn. Teddy Roosevelt had won the presidency in 1902, and in early 1903, the decision was made to replace his top military aide. Keeseville’s Thomas Symons was going to the White House.
It was sad news for Buffalo, Thomas’ home for the past eight years. At a sendoff banquet, the praise for him was effusive. Among the acknowledgments was that his work in Buffalo’s harbor had brought millions of dollars of investments and widespread employment to the city. From a business and social perspective, one speaker professed the community’s “unbounded love, affection, and admiration.” The comments were followed by an extended ovation.
For a man of Symons’ stature, some of the new duties in Washington seemed a bit out of place. Officially, he was the officer in charge of Public Buildings and Grounds of the District of Columbia, a position for which he was obviously well suited. (And, the job was accompanied by a pay raise to the level of Colonel of Engineers.)
However, Thomas was also the president’s number one military aide, making him the Master of Ceremonies for all White House functions. Every appearance by Teddy Roosevelt was planned, coordinated, and executed by Symons, his close personal friend. Depending on whom the guests were, Thomas selected the décor, music, food, and entertainment.
He became the public face of all White House events. In reception lines, it was his duty to be at the president’s side. No matter what their stature, he greeted each guest as the line progressed, and in turn introduced each guest to Roosevelt. Everyone had to go through Roosevelt’s right-hand man before meeting the president (though he actually stood to the president’s left).
He also played a vital diplomatic role by mingling with the guests, ensuring all were seated and handled according to their importance, and allowing the President and First Lady to feel as secure as if they had planned each event themselves.
He was also the paymaster general of the White House, seeing to it that all funds appropriated for expenses were spent properly. The media regularly noted that in Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Symons was the most conspicuous person except for the president himself.
With so many responsibilities, the job of top aide to the president seemed impossibly busy, which is why Roosevelt expanded the staff from one to nine aides, all of them placed under the charge of Symons, who could then delegate much of his authority.
The only sense of controversy to arise during Thomas’ career was related to the development of New York’s barge canal, and it had nothing to do with him personally. He was the designer of the proposed system, and many felt it was critical that he stay involved in the project. But the new duties in Washington kept him very busy. Because Congress approved additional engineering employees to work under Symons, some felt it was wrong to allow Thomas to spend some of his time working on the canal project, away from his regular job.
Symons even agreed to forego the higher pay he received from the White House position in order to help with the canal. There was considerable resistance, but Roosevelt himself stepped forward, telling Congress that as governor, he had hired Thomas Symons to closely examine New York’s waterways. Thus, there was no man better suited for overseeing the $100 million expenditure.
The legislators relented, and by authority of a special act of Congress, Symons was allowed to work on the creation of New York’s barge canal system. After Roosevelt’s first term, Thomas left the White House and focused his efforts on the canal work.
In 1908, when the Chief Engineer of the Army Corps was retiring, Symons, by then a full colonel, was among the top candidates for the job. His strongest advocate was President Roosevelt, but after 37 years of service, Thomas submitted his name to the retirement list.
He remained active in the work on New York’s canals, which he monitored closely, and despite suggestions of excessive costs, the project came in well below the original estimates. He also served on the Pennsylvania Canal Commission and continued working and advising on other engineering projects.
His role in the building of America is undeniable, from New York to Washington State; the border with Mexico; the Mississippi River; Washington, D.C.; and so many other places. The world’s longest breakwater (at Buffalo) and New York’s barge canal system stand out as his major career accomplishments. And Roosevelt’s first administration took him to the highest echelons of world power for four years. He shared the president’s gratitude and friendship.
Thomas Symons, trusted aide, the man Teddy Roosevelt called the “Father of Barge Canals,” died in 1920 at the age of 71. In 1943, a Liberty ship built in Portland, Oregon was named the SS Thomas W. Symons in his honor.
Photos: Colonel Thomas Williams Symons, civil engineer; a portion of the breakwater in Buffalo harbor.
Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.