Author Archives: Mike Riley

Mike Riley

About Mike Riley

Michael Riley has served on the Board of the Canal Society of New York State for more than ten years, has written seven guidebooks for Society tours, and serves as the co-Editor of the Society's journal, Bottoming Out. In 2002, he wrote, Twelve and a Half Miles; The Erie Canal in Cayuga County. He maintains a blog on the canals in Cayuga County at

The NYS Barge Canal During World War I

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120692pvAs 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

The Cat Tail Company: Montezuma Fibre

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17234smallOn Monday, February 19th, 1917, Bankruptcy Referee Stone closed the books on the Montezuma Fibre Company, ending the short history of a business now forgotten. The company was $69,876 dollars in debt and the investors of the company were going to lose all. After ten years of business, the company had only $1,619 left in the bank.

The Montezuma Fibre Company had it origins in 1906 when Eugene Kimmey of Syracuse came up with a process to use flag (what we now call cat tails) as the main ingredient in making a heavy weight, cardboard like paper. The 20,000 acres of Montezuma swamps were filled with “Montezuma wheat”, or flag. It grew wild, it was easy to harvest and the land it grew on was cheap. In the late 1800’s many locals supplemented their income by harvesting and shipping flag to distant cities for use in the making chair seats and caulking barrels. But for all their efforts these men barely made a small dent in the vast swamp filled with cat tails. Thus, the raw material sat waiting for someone to invent a way to use it. Continue reading

Montezuma Heritage Park: Interpreting Four Canals

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montezumaSince 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