Ship’s Log: Schooner Lois McClure, End of the 2017 Legacy Tour

Matt Harrison

Winter is in the air in Vermont and New York and the 2017 Lois McClure Legacy tour has come to a successful conclusion!  The canal boat made 36 stops in communities all along the canals, connecting the public to the history of their local waterways. Thanks to all of our friends who followed along online! As many have noticed, our blog entries gradually dwindled. The day-to-day tasks necessary for conducting a replica canal boat hundreds of miles along the Erie Canal can be time consuming and, regretfully, by the middle of the trip they had began to outpace our crew’s journal writing capacity. There were so many good things happening that it was all we could do to keep up the momentum! Much thanks to the volunteers who not only helped on the journey but also contributed their experiences for the blog.

The busy second half of our tour was full of highlights. The towns of Pittsford, Palmyra, Clyde, and Newark, along the idyllic section of canal between Lockport and the Montezuma Swamps, were gorgeous and full of history. They also consistently provided the crew with generous accommodations and excellent weather. From there we headed on down to the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and spent a weekend in historic Seneca Falls, with its Victorian houses and historic downtown. A short jaunt down the Oswego Canal next brought us to Phoenix, where we had a blast with the local fourth graders, before proceeding on to another busy stop in Brewerton.

The big event of the tour happened in Syracuse in late September. As Peggy recorded, the crew had quite an adventure getting Lois into and out of the shallow Syracuse Inner Harbor without the help of tug Churchill. It all went smoothly and turned out to be an enjoyable break-from-routine! The Inner Harbor was looking its best for the conference and it was a fun novelty for the crew to be so close to a big city. Late in the week, we were honored to be a part of the World Canals Conference, which took place between Sept 24-26. Hundreds of professionals involved in the world of Canals gathered in Syracuse for a week of tours, seminars, and roundtables to consider the future of man made waterways around the world. For the grand public opening of the conference, Lois was one of numerous attractions open to the public within the Inner Harbor, another highlight being the Corning Museum of Glass’ glass barge. The unseasonably hot weather did not deter the brisk stream of visitors, even with glass furnaces over 2,000 degrees adding to the heat.  For the final event of the conference, Lois was looking particularly handsome, lit up for a sunset cookout on Paper Mill Island adjacent to the Glass Barge on the Baldwinsville waterfront.

World Canal Conference, with LCMM’s Jimmy D rowing in the background

With the conference concluded, we made headway for the Hudson, with some final quick but productive stops. In Ilion NY, we discovered a pleasant farmers’ market below a regal old barn and enjoyed the hospitality of Village Marina’s Café on their final night of the season. Onward to St Johnsville, where we welcomed another fantastic batch of fourth grade students. The crew very much enjoys these visits by enthusiastic forth grade classes. Erick and Matt were also lucky enough to tour the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library & Museum, a hidden gem in St. Johnsville that a number of visitors had clued us in to.  In Halfmoon, NY, we spent a day welcoming passersby aboard on our final stop before descending the great Flight of Five locks to Waterford. It was good to be back on the waters of the Hudson for our final open day, at the Waterford Farmers’ Market along the waterfront. One last bunch of Waterford and Cohoes school groups left with plenty of little oaks and pines to plant in celebration of what they’d learned aboard. It was the perfect way to end a great tour! Although the boat won’t be returning to Burlington this winter, our arrival in Waterford felt like a homecoming nonetheless, with old friends and familiar scenes. Lois will be well taken care of this winter, fittingly resting so close to where the Champlain and Erie Canals met for a hundred years.

We want to once again thank the numerous volunteers and community friends who helped us in one way or another along our journey, and particularly during the second half of the tour. We hope you’ll indulge our request for forgiveness in not mentioning everyone in this final condensed blog.  There are simply hundreds who make our voyage possible, and a sincere pleasure to undertake.

We would also like to thank and acknowledge the New York State Canal Corporation, our principal partner in this tour, for empowering us to make this historic voyage, and helping New York celebrate 200 years of canal history.  In addition, our home State of Vermont, for supporting our work as Ambassador for the State and the Champlain Valley.  Our sincerest thanks to the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership and Lake Champlain Basin Program for providing funding for our Stem to Stern and Aquatic Invasive education programs. And to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Saratoga Nursery for providing the trees we spread across the State.

While the Legacy Tour may be over, Lois will have only a short sleep this winter. She’ll be back on the water in early spring, in preparation for the 2018 Glass Barge Tour in conjunction with Corning Museum of Glass and South Street Seaport, beginning in Brooklyn NY in May!  Stay tuned for more on-water adventures.

 

 

 

 

Ship’s Log: Schooner Lois McClure, Seneca Falls & Clyde, NY

Alexandra (Sandra) Murphy

Mist rises from the Seneca River as the canal schooner Lois McClure pushes away from the dock at Seneca Falls, NY. Ship’s captain and Lake Champlain Maritime Museum co-director Erick Tichonuk turns her north toward Lock 3 of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, just around the bend. Tied alongside, the tugboat C.L. Churchill nudges the Lois McClure on her way, captained by the museum’s co-founder, Art Cohn.

On deck, a dozen waist-high white oak saplings sway on gangly trunks. Beneath them, a tiny grove of white oak and white pine seedlings bristles from plastic growing pots, greening the deck. The trees are part of the “Woodlands to Waterways” story that forms the backdrop for this year’s voyage.

Since setting out in early July from the museum’s docks in Basin Harbor, the Lois McClure has made port calls in 26 communities along the historic canal system that flows between Lake Champlain and the Great Lakes. More than 8,000 visitors have toured the boat so far, learning from crew members the story of the vessel and her place within the larger history of the canal system that connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.

Clyde mayor and public works person with Erick, Sandra, and seedlings

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Erie Canal, which stretches from Albany to Buffalo, NY. As part of that bicentennial celebration, Syracuse will host the World Canal Conference September 24-28, and the Lois McClure will be a featured event. The theme of the conference is “Our Vital Waterways: Agents of Transformation.”

For the forests of Vermont and New York, canals were, indeed, profound agents of transformation. The Lois McClure is a replica of an 1862-era canal schooner, designed from shipwrecks on the bottom of Lake Champlain. Like the canal boats of that time period, she is built from about 20,000 board feet of clear-grained white oak and white pine, plus two arrow-straight boles of white spruce for the vessel’s two 50-foot sailing masts. During the heyday of the canal system, up until the canals were rendered obsolete by railways in the 1870s, thousands of canal barges were built to haul cargo and passengers.

Tractor-trailers of the 19th Century, canal barges were capable of carrying a phenomenal amount of cargo cheaply and quickly by the day’s standards. During the canal season, April to December, cargo barges hauled raw materials like stone, wood, coal, iron, grain, hay, and wool to manufacturing centers, and carried finished products back. Of all the commodities to move through the canal system, lumber was most common. Albany, NY, at the confluence of the Champlain and Erie canals and the Hudson River, became the busiest lumber port in the country.

And so the forests of Vermont and New York fell to ax and saw. Rain and snow-melt washed exposed hillsides downstream, doubly damaging as runoff stripped the land of topsoil that could nurture new growth and choked streams and rivers with sediment. Increased flooding threatened the very canal infrastructure that facilitated the transformation from forest to clearing.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the mist-hung waters of the Seneca River. The Lois McClure—replica of the vessels that once carried so much lumber from the forests of New York and Vermont—now carries seedlings of the two tree species that were central to the canal era’s economic boom. During the week I was aboard the vessel, we received hundreds of visitors during port calls in Clyde and Seneca Falls. And we gave white oak and white pine seedlings to each town to plant in their public spaces.

Members of the Seneca Falls garden club with George Pauk and Erick, with 4 seedlings

For me, that gift symbolizes another transformation—a transformation in our attitude toward and relationship with the forest community of which we are a part. (Whether you live in the town or country in the Northeast, in open field or forest, you live on soil that was once forest and which would return to forest with remarkable speed if left to its own devices.)

It’s a gesture of gratitude, and of recognition of how much we have taken from the forest community without care for the impacts on the wide community of living beings that live there. The gift and the planting of these white oak and white pine seedlings can signal an intention to act with care toward the land that cares for us.

One of our central aims in Vermont Family Forests is to foster relationship with the forest that is focused on community wel l-being, with an understanding that “community” includes all living beings and the land from which we all spring. A mutually beneficial relationship nurtured by reciprocity and loving care.

As I carried my bags from the Lois McClure to the car that would shuttle me back to Vermont, crew members carried a fresh batch of white pine seedlings from the car to the boat, replenishing the on-deck nursery. What a privilege it was to travel for a week with the staff and volunteers of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum on this journey of transformation. Thank you one and all!

Ship’s Log: Schooner Lois McClure, Phoenix, Brewerton, & Syracuse, NY

My week on the LOIS MCCLURE  ~ Peggy Huckel, September 2017

I’d never been to Phoenix. “Not Arizona, what does it matter?” in the words of the old Three Dog Night song…  Last week I got to spend time in Phoenix, New York in the best possible way- on board the Lake Champlain canal schooner Lois McClure. My week rotation as a volunteer began on Tuesday with lunch at the famed Dinosaur Barbeque in Syracuse, before I was dropped off at at the boat, on a well-maintained dock in Henley Park, in this tiny town on the Oswego Canal. I greeted the crew, most of them old friends- Art and Anne, Erick, Len, Matt, and Barbara, and stowed my bags in my quarters below deck. Free wifi, bathroom facilities (including a coin-op shower), picnic tables, and a neat little museum made our stay very comfortable. Friendly historical society folks kept us company and made us feel welcome all week. Shady streets made for pleasant strolling and we found a diner and a tavern for sustenance and relaxation.

Wednesday was a day of rest, scrubbing the deck and other little chores. I got a ride in the tender when Erick and Matt needed to go over to where the Corning Glass barge was, in order to take some measurements. The same day, I was very excited to see the large tug Cheyenne (which I’d seen a week earlier at the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford) pass by and go through the lock (Lock 1 of the Oswego Canal) on her way to her new owners and new job in Detroit. And not long afterwards, the cruise ship Grande Mariner sailed by in the other direction, on her way back east after a trip to the Great Lakes. I waved to my friend Will who was on board. The Lois McClure seems big until something bigger goes by!

We spent the day very enjoyably showing several classes of fourth graders the ins and outs of the schooner. They were delightful students, well prepared, enthusiastic, and well-behaved (though I really think the adorable Josie Wales, the ship’s dog, stole the show).  We presented the town with two trees, as part of our forestry mission (see www.lcmm.org ) and were told that one of them will be planted at the school.  In the evening we opened to the public and had a nice stream of visitors who dodged the brief rain showers to come aboard. The rain left us with a sunny evening and one of many beautiful sunsets. I went to sleep to the sound of quacking ducks and squawking geese.

Friday morning we got underway, reentered the Erie Canal, passed through Lock 23, and were in Brewerton, on the Oneida River at the edge of Oneida Lake, by lunchtime. Again we had the rest of the day to relax and explore- that is, find food and restrooms- before watching the sun set from the deck. It was different here- Phoenix had been quiet, but here we watched many, many modern recreational lake boats come and go. We were between two bridges, one an interstate, so there was quite a bit of road noise too. Some boats docked by us, but were generally polite and quiet, and interested in our vessel. In the evening there was a deafening roar from a nearby speedway, but luckily they also knocked off at a very decent hour. The good news was, the prime (and pretty much only) feature at this dock was the Waterfront Tavern, which was very busy and had fantastic food! We ate like kings for three nights.

We opened to the public from 10 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. Both beautiful sunny, breezy days (after an unusually dense fog on Sunday morning), we enjoyed a steady but manageable crowd who all seemed to enjoy learning about our history and mission. We gave away more trees, and enjoyed a visit from the folks who had donated the oak trees to us. On my lunch break I took a walk across the road to the shady grounds of Fort Brewerton’s blockhouse, which was closed.

An interesting boat pulled in one evening, to share the dock with us. Farallone, a 61’ U.S. Army Quartermaster boat, almost 100 years old, spent the night and the captain and his wife visited us the next day. They were very interesting people; he is a wooden bucket maker, and made us a gift of one of his great, sturdy buckets. They are from Newport, RI and it turned out we have some friends in common. You see all kinds of boats on the Canal!

Monday morning we pulled out at 8:15, gassed up and pumped out at Winter Harbor, and were on our way, locking back through Lock 23, and proceeding for several peaceful hours filled with views of wildlife (herons, turtles, and the like) and picturesque little homes, and a little hint of fall color, until we reached a sign that said “Welcome to Syracuse.” Raising the centerboard and dousing our shady canopies, we headed across windy Onondaga Lake, and an hour later, we were experimenting with ways to get into the shallow channel to the Inner Harbor without the tug. About a half an hour later we had the inflatable lashed on and C.L. Churchill spun away to spend a week in a marina, while Oocher pushed us through Onondaga Creek. Another peaceful (but hot, without our shade) half-hour cruise and we were secured next to a long dock with a huge hotel looming over us.

And there, in the gravel parking lot, was the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum van, with Elisa and our new crew (Kerry and Barbara), loaded with re-supplies and ready to take me and Len back east. The schooner would be spending the whole week in Syracuse complementing the World Canals Conference event, before heading for home. I was very sad to leave, as life aboard suits me fine, but new adventures await! Thanks for the ride, LCMM.

AmeriCorps Member Erin King Joins LCMM

Hello, my name is Erin King and I am one of this year’s AmeriCorps members at the museum. I am from a small town in Missouri right on the Missouri River. I had a pretty amazing introduction to the natural world through family trips and excursions into my home state’s many parks and waterways. From an early age I was out hiking, canoeing, and exploring all that the Midwest has to offer. This early introduction gave me a love and appreciation for the outdoors, conservation, and environmental education that has stayed with me my whole life.

After I graduated from Truman State University in Northern Missouri I moved to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State and took a job as a kayak guide. The Pacific Northwest was totally new to me. I absolutely fell in love with the dramatic landscapes, ocean, and the work. I learned technical guiding and outdoor skills and found out that I really enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm and knowledge of the natural world with my guests.

Then, like many people I jumped around for a while, working and visiting many different places and trying my hand at some different jobs. I worked as a dog trainer, a confectionist in a fancy chocolate shop, and on a trail crew in Texas. I also worked on an alpaca ranch in Alaska, learned some carpentry in Colorado and most recently taught English in Japan. While I was in Japan I realized that I was really enjoying teaching but that something crucial was missing. And that’s when I found the Maritime Museum! I was instantly drawn in by the seamless combination of learning, nature, and technical skills. The outdoors was my very first classroom and I wholeheartedly believe that it is the most important one for kids and adults alike. I am very excited to be here at the museum, and learning all the ins and outs of what goes on here. And though it is very different from my childhood river, Lake Champlain is a pretty special place to work every day.

Ship’s Log: Schooner Lois McClure, Tonawanda & Buffalo

Erick Tichonuk, Tonawanda & Buffalo

Sunset in Buffalo harbor on the USS Little Rock and Lois McClure

With the Niagara Escarpment and Lockport in the rearview mirror (just a figure of speech, we don’t have a rear view mirror on the canal boat), we set our sights on Tonawanda, gateway to the Niagara River.  Historically speaking the original Erie Canal and the Enlarged Erie didn’t utilize the Niagara River to access Buffalo, instead the canal followed the banks of the Niagara River as it gradually ascends to Lake Erie.  Our old friend from previous tours, Harbormaster David Nedell, saved us a spot of honor in front of the amphitheater.  We consider this location special because stones from the original Erie Canal are built into the hillside theatre and mark the access to the old canal, now long since paved over.  Tonawanda was strategically located to take advantage of incoming lumber from the great lakes.  The banks of the canal were piled high with lumber awaiting shipment east.  Like Albany and Burlington, Tonawanda became a major lumber handling port thanks to the workings of the Erie Canal.  Today the banks of the canal along Tonawanda on the south side, and North Tonawanda on the opposite bank, are havens for recreational boaters.

Captain Dick Spoch lends a helping hand in the currents of the Niagara River

When you leave the Tonawandas and head downstream you quickly spill into the Niagara River.  You want to be sure to go left.  If you turn right and go too far you’ll definitely make the news, but not necessarily in a good way, as you descend Niagara Falls.  By turning left you’re headed upstream and into the current.  It’s literally an uphill battle, and more than just the Churchill can manage.  Oh yes, we would eventually make it if our fuel held out, emphasis on eventually.  That’s where Captain Dick Spoch enters the scene.  We gave Tow Boat US Buffalo a call to set up the extra tow power we would need to make it to Buffalo in a reasonable time.  Captain Spoch arrived at the appointed hour with his rigid hull inflatable with twin 225 hp outboards.  He knows his trade well and made off to our bow, giving us the added thrust.  For a couple hours we plied our way upstream in a glorious blue sky day, the hawser line stretched taught between the vessels.  We passed through Black Rock lock and into the myriad of breakwaters that protects Buffalo’s waterfront, well ahead of schedule.  As we made our formal acquaintances with handshakes on the dock I asked Captain Spoch what we owed him.  With a wry grin and a nod he said, “Don’t worry about it.”  Thanks Captain!

Harbor master David Nadell and his daughter accept trees on behalf of Tonawanda

There on the dock of Buffalo was our dear friend from years gone by Tom Blanchard.  He and his wife Paula had been instrumental in helping us set up our visit.  The Buffalo waterfront has undergone an amazing transformation since our first visit in 2007 when were challenged to dock along a rough sheet pile wall.  Today the waterfront is home to Canalside, a wonderful venue that embraces the canal history.  The original “commercial slip” that accessed the Erie Canal has been partially excavated and is well interpreted.  Canalside also encompasses a park and boardwalk that is full of activities.  We made great friends with Rich Hilliman owner/captain of the schooner Spirit of Buffalo and Buffalo River History Tours , John Montague of the Buffalo Maritime Center, Mike Vogel of the Buffalo Lighthouse Association, and Captain Brian Roche of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.  They all embraced our visit as an added attraction along their bustling waterfront.  The crew unanimously agrees that we had our best shower experience yet.  We were invited to use the showers aboard their US Navy Light Cruiser Little Rock!  We all descended into the bowels of the huge vessel with mouths agape wondering how we would ever find our way out again.

Grain elevators on the Buffalo River

Another highlight for the crew was an Oocher ride up the Buffalo River.  As our inflatable passed General Mills and the unmistakable smell of Cheerios we marveled at the ally way of derelict grain silos.  We had done the ride ten years earlier, but now there is a transformation afoot.  Where once there seemed no hope for this post-apocalyptic landscape we passed tour boats, tiki bar boats (not a typo), even rock climbing walls up the sides of silos.  It was active, still in the stages of renewal, but not as hopeless a feeling.  Although our tour of the Buffalo River was a highlight for some I’m quite sure our volunteer firefighting crew members Art Cohn and Jeff Hindes would have to say their ride on the world’s oldest working fire and ice breaking boat, the Edward M. Cotter, was theirs.

By the end of the weekend we had seen over 1,200 visitors on board.  So many folks sincerely appreciated the connection of Lake Erie with the Erie Canal and the fact that boats exactly like our Lois McClure would have lined these docks to make the exchange from lake vessels to canal.  Our hats off to Buffalo for generating a vibrant waterfront that embraces its history.  We know there’s plenty more good things to come for the City.

Ship’s Log, Schooner Lois McClure; Lockport, NY

Art Cohn, Lockport, NY

A Lockport cruise boat passes Lois McClure on her way to the double locks with just over 49 feet combined lift.

As the name implies, Lockport is all about the locks on the canal.

One of the great engineering challenges facing the canal builders was to figure out a way over and through the Niagara Escarpment. This natural feature caused the land to rise some 60-feet approximately 30 miles east of Lake Erie. The solution the engineers came up with was to build a stairway of five-locks followed by the “deep cut” through several miles of solid rock just west of the top of the locks. It gave Lockport its reason to being and suggested a name for the town dominated by this, “flight of five” locks.

French’s 1824 Gazetteer of the State of New York calls Lockport, “one of the creations of the Erie Canal…the canal here descends the terrace called the Mountain Ridge, or Ontario Heights, by 5 double combined Locks, each 12 feet descent, to the Genesee level. …In May 1821, there were but 2 buildings in what is now the Post-Village of Lockport. On the 1st of Jan. 1823, the era of this work, it has 1200 inhabitants, and 250-300 buildings, a printing-office and a weekly newspaper, 12 stores, 24 mechanic’s shops, 5 law-offices, 8 physicians, 8 inns, 4 schools, 1 meeting house, [for Friends] and had preparations making for a Baptist church. Note. In June, 1823, the actual population, exclusive of laborers on the canal, was 1448; 400 buildings.

The Erie Traveler awaits its short demonstration trip up the restored locks of the original Flight of Five

Lockport became a much illustrated example of the skill and problem solving of the early American canal engineers and the locks and water power helped create great prosperity in the community.  The original locks were expanded to the five masonry locks we see today and are one of the great symbols of the revitalization occurring all along the New York State canal system. The recent restoration of two of the stone locks to operational condition and the creation of the Erie Traveler by the Buffalo Maritime Center now helps demonstrate how the old locks worked, and is fueling new interest in the Canal Bicentennial. Plans to restore a third lock and to re-develop the Erie Canal Museum located between the “Flight of Five” and the new locks 34 &35 will be a great enhancement when completed. Adapting the hydraulic power-tunnel system on the mountain, the very popular Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises and new plans to offer the adventure sport of Zip-Lining all have added to Lockport’s energy and revitalization.

Lois McClure Captain Erick Tichonuk presents City of Lockport trustees with white oaks and David Kinyon of Lockport Locks Heritage District with a white pine.

Lockport will play a central role in interpreting the Erie Canal and the genius of the early canal builders in overcoming the obstacles and building the most successful public works project in the world.

The crew of the Lois McClure wishes to thank David Kinyon of the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation and Jessica Dittly of Lockport Main Street Inc for supporting our tour stop in Lockport.

Ship’s Log, Schooner Lois McClure, Medina, NY

Art Cohn, Medina, NY

Lois McClure hosted the Medina Sandstone Society for an evening function celebrating the community’s 185th birthday.

The original attraction of the location of the Village of Medina was the water-power of Oak Orchard Creek, which flowed with great potential for water-powered industries that soon were connected to the new Erie Canal. But it was the ancient sandstone deposits in Medina and surrounding communities that would ultimately become the community’s greatest engine of industry and wealth. With the new Erie Canal (1825) creating an cost-effective and efficient way to get heavy stone cargos to market, the first quarry was opened in 1837. The business flourished right into the 20th century and at its height, 50 quarries operating 2000 acres of quarry were in operation. The stone began to appear in building all over the region and as far away as Albany, New York City and Washington. There is even a record of Medina Sandstone being incorporated into Buckingham Palace.

That Medina was a dynamic hub of commercial activity with quarries, the Erie Canal and some of the richest farmland in the State of New York was captured by writer Arch Merrill in 1945. To prepare for the book Merrill had taken a trip on a tugboat along the canal to learn, as we aboard the Lois McClure try to learn today, the secrets of the past. Merrill interviewed a life-long Medina resident Charles Hood and recorded that “Hood recalled colorful times in Medina in the heyday of the quarried and of the canal, when there were some 35 saloons in the village. Mix quarrymen, canallers and transient fruit pickers, stir well with alcohol on a Saturday night and you have a steaming dish for the constabulary.

The Medina Sandstone business faded during the first part of the 20th century, but the downtown is a one of the most colorful, picturesque and historically preserved along the Erie corridor. The Culvert Road under the Erie Canal and the Church at the junction of two streets as well as Oak Orchard Creek were deemed so unique and interesting that they were written up by Ripley. The farmland the fruit orchards that surround Medina today and can be irrigated by the Erie Canal are breathtakingly beautiful and some of the most productive in the nation. But the personal highlight for me turned out not to be the stunning stone buildings or the sweeping curve of the Erie Canal or the engineering accomplishment of the aqueduct crossing Oak Orchard Creek. For me, this visit to Medina will always be about Grace, the old canal, and the generosity of the human spirit.

Art meets Grace and accepts the donation of a canal history book containing information on her father.

On the day we arrived, Erick called over to the tugboat to let me know there was a person here who was here that I might want to talk with. As the project historian, I have always used these travels to find people with direct connections to the canal and this has added much to our understanding of that era. As I stepped over the lifelines to Lois and looked to who this person might be I saw Grace, an elderly but spry lady with her walker and a book in her hand. She told me immediately that her father had driven mules for his father on the old towpath canal and it was even written up in the book she had brought to show me. She had the page open to the place that described her father and it said;

“The first real canaller I met after leaving the tug was Albert Lavendar,…He is a rugged man in his seventies with a vivid recollection of his boating days.

He was born at Shelby Basin on the banks of the canal and as a boy of nine drove mules on his father’s boat across the State-at the prevailing wages of $20 per month and keep. Throughout his youth, he worked on the canal in season, turning to barreling of the apples in the fall.

‘Fights? Well it was hard to keep out of them.’ Lavender grinned reminiscently. ‘Generally they happened when boats tried to ‘hog the locks’ and beat the other fellow through. Smart captains used to have a piece of silver ready for the lock tender. That got results.”

 

A young visitor makes the connection between wheel and rudder

I was instantly impressed that in this one story I had an accurate picture of a slice of life on the canal in the 1870’s and took out my file cards [thank you Captain Roger] and wrote down the name of the book. Grace then asked me if I would like to borrow it for the night and that she could come back the next day to pick it up. I enthusiastically took her offer and as she walked away back to her house supported by her walker, I began to read. I was able to get through the first third of the book which set the stage for Merrill to be traveling on the Matton 21, the only steam tug still left working on the canal, pushing a gasoline barge through the system. Merrill was searching for the old canal while taking stock of the one in operation in 1945; just like we do in our present day travels aboard the Lois McClure and C.L. Churchill.

The next day Grace took time from her volunteer duties at the church distributing food donated by Wegman’s to those who need it, to return to see our canal boat. I was delighted to talk with her about the book and show her around the Lois McClure, the size and type of canal boat her grandfather would have operated and her father drove the mules for. She seemed to be able to return to the days of her father stories and enjoy a better understanding of his early life.

After a very nice visit I handed the book back to Grace who surprised me by saying, “I’ve decided to give the book to you, you can use it now more than I.” I protested that this book contained stories of her family and she had to keep it for her children and grandchildren. She said she had another copy somewhere and that it would make her very happy if I would keep the book. I teared up just a little and accepted Grace’s gracious gift. The Erie Canal is celebrating its 200th anniversary of the start of construction and Medina is celebrating 185th anniversary of the establishment of the City and its Fire Department. But in this lovely town on the bend in the Erie Canal, Grace and her generosity of spirit will be the thing I most remember of this visit..

*Arch Merrill, The Towpath, the Gannett Company. 1945

Ship’s Log, Schooner Lois McClure, Holley-on-the Erie Canal

Art Cohn, Holley-on-the Erie Canal, NY

In a beautiful gentle curve where the Erie Canal crosses high above Sandy Creek, is the Village of Holley. At the border to Orleans County we were met by an official escort by the Orleans County Sheriff marine patrol who led us to our berth at the idyllic Andrew Cuomo Canalway Trail. This beautiful park has walking trails, a pond with fountain, children’s play areas, picnic tables and a spectacular waterfall. Perhaps more near and dear to the crew was the close proximity of showers and bathrooms. We were looking forward to the visit to Holley because it was one of the communities we had missed during the 2007 tour, and because it was the home of our long-missing friend Bernie Ruggeri who we hoped we might be able to find.

2017 is the beginning of the eight-year bicentennial commemoration of the building of the Erie Canal and our visit to beautiful Holley gave us an opportunity to get to know one of the central contributors to the building of the Erie Canal system. Myron Holley was a Connecticut born scholar who moved to Canandaigua NY and from there was elected to the State Legislature and the Canal Commission. However, it was his role as Treasure and Superintendent of Construction that his biographer reminds us that, “For eight years, he rode on horseback up and down the canal route, inspecting the work, arguing for disbursements in the state legislature, obtaining loans from local banks, paying the crews with cash, resolving problems, even caring for malaria sufferers working in the Montezuma Swamp and occasionally burying cholera victims. He slept in workers shanties, primitive inns, and often under the stars. He administered millions of dollars over eight years of canal construction and kept records in a worn ledger stored in his knapsack.” (1)

Myron Holley

History shows he was a dedicated, hard-working and honest man who handled the vast sums of money required to meet the payroll’s and pay the expenses of the contractors building the canals. During his long tenure of service, although accused by the enemies of the canal of improper accounts, no funds were ever found to be missing. Writing in 1828, John Grieg, vice-chancellor of State University of New York and a U.S. Congressman said of Holley,

 

I have always been satisfied that his intelligence and zeal and unwearied exertions both in mind and body on the subject [of canals], from the moment of his appointment as Canal Commissioner, essentially contributed to bring the Erie Canal to a Successful completion.”

Holley, the town, was originally named “Saltport” but in 1823 changed its name to honor Holley’s contributions during the height of canal construction period. By then the salt mining had declined but the new canal promised great prosperity. “Where the canal crosses Sandy Creek, the little village of Holley, is claiming a name and a share of the business.” [1824]. An 1841 gazetteer described Holley as being “… a short distance east of … the Holley embankment, one of the greatest on the Erie Canal, elevated 76 feet above the [Sandy] creek.”

A surprise visit from long time friends of the museum Judy and Will Stevens of the Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham. Behind them are the beautiful Falls of Holley.

The town fathers had the foresight to set out the town with a prominent central square complete with business, homes and churches. One of the significant features of the town occurred during the original 1825 canal’s enlargement when the canal’s route was changed to just north of the village. The enterprising community members working with canal planners managed to utilize a portion of the original canal as a “circumferential highway” which provided boats the ability to leave the main canal and access Holley’s downtown which allowed the community to enjoy a long and prosperous canal-era prosperity. Today the rich farmlands and orchards surrounding the Village provide an idyllic backdrop for this beautiful canal town.

We had a picture-perfect day for hosting the community and with the word out, we saw over 300 people in a community of 1400 people. A band played in the gazebo, the Humpty’s Hots food truck provided great hot dogs (they gave the hungry crew complimentary hot dogs after our long day of discussions) and we enjoyed a wonderful old-fashioned visit where we talked about the canal with families, elders and kids.

One of the highlights of Holley was making contact with Bernie. In 2007, our first trip out the Erie Canal, Bernie had been the Section Superintendent in the Cayuga area where we put up and took down our sailing rig. Bernie had essentially adopted the boat and her crew and not only provided logistical support above and beyond the call, but toward the end of our stay in his section, brought us an eggplant parmesan made by his mom. Edna’s cooking was legend in her hometown of Holley, and it became legend aboard the Lois McClure in 2007. Upon arriving in Holley, it didn’t take long to find friends of Bernie’s and in short order Bernie showed up for a reunion. The reunion was all the sweeter because Bernie came with his mom, Edna, both looking great and enjoying the good life.

Thank you Myron Holley for your integrity and dedication is helping to build this world class water highway. Thank you Holley for providing us one of our nicest port-visits, and thank you Bernie and Edna for being part of the family that makes us feel so welcome along the way.

 

  1. Reisem, Richard, Myron Holley; Canal builder, Abolitionist, and Unsung Hero. Friends of the Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. 2013

 

Myron Holley is buried at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY.

Ship’s Log, Schooner Lois McClure, Rochester & Spencerport, NY

Rochester & Spencerport, NY

Sunrise on the Erie Canal outside Spencerport

After a great stop in Fairport the Lois McClure crew made the short trip to Rochester.   We went under the first of many lift bridges leaving Fairport.  With the Barge Canal expansion completed in 1918, wider and higher bridges were needed across the Erie Canal.  The low bridges of the old canal would no longer cut it.  The longer and higher bridges required of the expanded canal would be costly projects, which would require tearing down buildings to make room, and reworking the existing roads around the canal.  To avoid building these expensive bridges engineers invented the lift bridge.  These low bridges allow cars to pass at street level, then lift up to allow boat traffic to pass through the canal below.  These bridges were just one of the many innovations that the Erie Canal sparked in its creation and expansions.

Entering Rochester on the Genesee River.

As we got close to Rochester we took a sharp right turn into the Genesee River, which intersects with the Erie Canal.  We took the Genesee downstream to Cornhill Landing near the heart of downtown Rochester.   We docked close to the old aqueduct, where the old Erie Canal passed over the Genesee River, now converted to a bridge for Broad Street.  The crew had a day off to check out the city before we opened to the public the following day.  We were joined the New York State Canal Corporation, who set up a table by the boat to talk about canal history, and pass out canal information.  The crew was impressed by the visitors who came because of their deep interest in canal history.

Lois preparing to dock in Spencerport taken by Don Fernberg

The next day we traveled to Spencerport for our next visit.  We had another short trip, as we continued to visit the smaller canal communities just outside of Rochester.  The first step in the trip was doing a 180 degree turn in the Genesee River to get back to the Erie Canal.  This required the Oocher, the crews inflatable motorboat, to push on the bow of Lois McClure.  The Oocher is a great utility boat to have in situations like this, which require sharp turns in close quarters.  The Oocher’s 50HP Honda can quickly turn the boat on a dime, the ultimate bow thruster!  After this maneuver we went back up the Genesee and hooked a sharp right to get back on the Erie Canal.

High Falls on the Genesee River in the heart of Rochester

Since we were now traveling the same route as the original Erie Canal the Erie Canalway Recreational Trail, which utilizes much of the original towpath, also runs along the barge canal.  As we travel we encounter plenty of runners and bicyclists using the trail.  Many of the bicyclists are passing us, as we are usually moving at around five knots at any given time.  The people running, biking, or fishing by the canal are always very friendly, and will usually wave to our crew as we pass by.  Since 1862 canal boats are no longer typical on the canal many people yell out “what kind of boat is that?”  After a deep inhalation a crew member will yell back the long winded reply of “it’s a replica of an 1862 class sailing canal boat”.  We always try to tell inquirers our open hours in the next port so they can come visit.

We were now travelling through a long, flat stretch of the canal.  Where locks used to break up our journeys, they were now broken up by lift bridges.  Lift bridges are usually fairly quick to get through, but they still require us to slow down as we approach, and wait for the bridge to lift up before passing under.  We arrived in Spencerport, where we were greeted by our host Simon Devenish of the Spencerport Depot & Canal Museum.  Our public day started off with a series of morning television spots on the local Rochester news.  This helped boost our attendance as we enjoyed a steady flow of people coming on board the boat throughout much of the day, only interrupted by a brief heavy shower, the weather story of the 2017 tour.

Ship’s Log, Schooner Lois McClure, Fairport, NY

Erick Tichonuk, Fairport, NY

Tour Co-Director and Tug Captain Art Cohn holds court on the stern of Lois McClure. The schooner crew engage visitors for hours on end with discussions of history, archaeology, and the environment.

Fairport has an active canal waterfront.  Every time we visit they have to reserve us space because of the popularity with boaters.  This is the result of a community embracing its waterfront.  They embrace the history, provide good boater facilities, and you’re in the heart of the action downtown.  The phenomenon of being downtown when on the canal is true through much of the western end, whereas much of the rest of the system the canal is outside of town.  This resulted from the final enlargement of the canal to the New York State Barge Canal System in the early 20th Century.  The final enlargement took advantage of the natural waterways by “canalizing” the rivers and lakes.  This meant rivers such as the Mohawk, Seneca, and Oswego were dammed to provide navigable pools of water that met the new 12’ draft requirements.  Locks were installed to circumnavigate the dams.  This new system provided better flood control, and the means to generate power at the dams.  This also meant the relocation of the canal outside of the heart of many communities.  The former canal was paved over and turned into innumerable “Canal Streets” and “Erie Boulevards” making way for the automobile.  The western section of the canal rarely uses natural waterways for navigation, so it typically follows close to the original track of the enlarged Erie Canal.

Mayor, assemblymen, tree committee, and representatives of Fairport gather at a press conference to accept white oak and white pine trees on the Legacy Tour.

Fairport has always embraced the Lois McClure and made it part of the community.  The 2017 Legacy Tour is no exception.  We kicked off our first day in port with evening hours, welcoming local dignitaries and locals alike.  The decks swelled with the voices of visitors asking questions of our crew.  We suspect the ice cream shop next to the boat helped our attendance.  The following morning kicked off with a press conference where we presented the Tree Committee of Fairport with their trees.  Fairport is designated as a Tree City by the National Arbor Day Foundation and has an active tree inventory and planting program.  Our visit was planned, promoted and organized by Martha Malone of the Office of Community and Economic Development in partnership with our long-time friend Scott Winner of the Fairport Partnership.

Lois McClure Captain Erick Tichonuk providing one of the many interviews on tour.

When people approach the Lois McClure for the first time they’re drawn in by the size and uniqueness.  For many they know they’ve seen one before, but just can’t place it.  What they’re recollecting is their 4th grade history book where they were introduced to the Erie Canal, the boats, and the mules that towed them.  Next they’re trying to figure out what we’re all about.  Are we going for a ride?  Sorry, we made it so historically accurate it won’t pass Coast Guard regulations for taking passengers underway.  How much of my life do I need to commit to this tour?  That’s up to you. Spend 5 minutes or two hours, and visitors do both.  How much does it cost?  Nothing, except your time and maybe a donation if you feel the experience was worth it, which most do.  You can thank our generous and supportive partners such as the New York State Canal Corporation for bringing this piece of floating history to your community at no cost, and therefore providing no barriers to visiting.  The thing that makes the Lois McClure experience unique is you get out of it what you put in.  Our crew of staff and volunteers works tirelessly (nearly) to engage people in this amazing story.  It’s relatively easy because the story is so interesting, and when folks respond with their exclamations of amazement or thanks and praise for bringing them this vessel, it’s all worthwhile.  It’s the face to face meaningful dialogue that makes a visit special.

We’d like to make a special thanks to Pam who is co-owner of Bed & Breakfast The Inn on Church in Fairport.  She provided our crew with two rooms for two nights, providing a much appreciated break from boat life and an immersion into the lap of luxury.  Breakfast was stupendous and her hospitality and congeniality seemingly endless. Thanks Pam!