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!

 

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

Erick Tichonuk, Lyons, NY

The crew of the Lois McClure accepts an etched glass plate commemorating the 200th anniversary of the canals and the 2017 Legacy Tour from Bob Stopper of the Village of Lyons.

If you ever wonder whether one person can really make a difference you should crew aboard the Lois McClure.  Nowhere is it more evident than when we pull into a port and everything runs great, from reserved docking space, to crowds of people showing up, to gifts of meals.  No place is the power of one more evident than in Lyons, and that title goes to Robert Stopper.  Ask any boater on the Erie who has stopped in Lyons, they know Bob.  He is a tireless promoter of his community, caretaker of all who stop, and a “get it done” individual.

Bob’s been taking care of us for many years as we’ve toured the canals.  As always, he reached out at the end of last year to see if we were coming through so he could be prepared.  We stayed in touch as our tour schedule solidified and Bob went to work.  Bob will be the first to say he’s not a one-man-band, but he has an amazing ability to rally his community.  As the tour got underway I received the full itinerary from Bob about the donations of meals, hotels and rides to and fro, from the generous citizens of Lyons.

The delay in our schedule due to canal closure ultimately impacted our visit to Lyons.  Rather than taking a “day off” in Lyons and opening the following day we ended up pulling into town and immediately opening for four hours, and that was 24 hours late.  Did this ruffle Bob’s feathers?  No way. He adapted and overcame.  He met visitors at the dock at the original appointed hour of our visit and let them know of our new schedule.   As a result when we opened a day late there was a line of people waiting to board!  He even made new arrangements for our meals including a chicken BBQ for lunch and a community pizza party complete with homemade salad and maybe even an icy cold beer.  At this very special evening meal the crew was proud to receive acknowledgement of our efforts to keep the history of the canal alive in the form of a beautiful engraved glass plate, now proudly displayed at our Basin Harbor campus.  We were able to reciprocate a small token of our thanks by presenting Lyons with their own white oak and pine trees slated to be planted at the school.

The crew of Lois McClure wishes to acknowledge Bob, and the many others like him along the canal, who make a huge impact on their communities.  They are the spirit of the Erie Canal.

Gregg Banse Joins Lake Champlain Maritime Museum as Director of Marketing and Business Development

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum & Research Institute is pleased to announce that Gregg Banse will be joining the team as Director of Marketing and Business Development. He will be responsible for designing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to support the growth of new educational initiatives and the museum as a whole. Gregg is a native Vermonter and comes to the position from George Mason and American Universities in Washington DC, where he was Director of Digital Communication Strategy. Prior to that he was at Norwich University and was a consultant in the online industry for 14 years. Gregg has a love for Lake Champlain and a long-held fascination with maritime history.  He is a runner, kayaker and fiddler. Gregg looks forward to sharing this new chapter of his life with his wife, daughter, two step-sons and two rescue dogs.

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

Drew Stierhoff

Lock 24 at night

After a long day of interpreting in Rome, the crew woke up bright and early for a long transit day. With weather forecasts looking grim for the next day, we decided to make the run from Rome and try to cross Oneida Lake in one trip. We moved Churchill up to tow ahead on a long hawser rather than her usual spot on the hip of Lois. This way the potentially choppy waters on Oneida Lake wouldn’t damage the boats as they bang together. We then moved our gray inflatable, Oocher, to tow behind Lois, so the fleet was in a line to cross the lake. Although it was a long day, we were glad we did the trek when we had high winds and buckets of rain dropped down on us the next day on our way from Brewerton to Baldwinsville the next day. With soaked clothes, the crew persevered through the rain to make it safe and sound to Baldwinsville.

Churchill towing ahead of the Lois McClure on Oneida Lake
Trees headed for Montezuma Heritage Park

In Baldwinsville, the crew had a much needed off day to recover after 3 long days in a row. That night we ordered some pizza to say goodbye to our first mate Isaac, who would be leaving us the following morning. After a short break he’ll be heading back for his final year at Maine Maritime Academy. Isaac started crewing as a volunteer while still in high school. It’s wonderful to have him return with new maritime knowledge and skills. Some people are just natural mariners, and Isaac is one of them. He will be sorely missed, as he is a hard worker, natural leader and carries a positive attitude no matter what’s afoot. Thanks for your service Isaac.

It was a good thing we weren’t travelling, since that day they closed the canals due to high water levels and currents on the Seneca River. The persistent rain on already saturated watersheds was having its effect. The closing did leave us in a bit of a predicament, as we were supposed to be open in Weedsport the next day. We had made special arrangements with Cheryl Longyear of the Montezuma Historical Society  who pulled together a special group from Chittenango Landing Boat Museum and the Camillus Erie Canal Museum to come by and check out the boat. With some last minute phone calls Cheryl was able to get the word out that the boat would be open in Baldwinsville instead of Weedsport, and an enthusiastic group of canal historians were still able to come down and check things out and speak with Art. Thanks to everyone who made the unexpected trip to Baldwinsville to check out the boat!

Heavy currents on Seneca River

We remained stuck in Baldwinsville for the next two days, putting us slightly behind schedule. Baldwinsville was a good place to be stuck, as there was a diner, library, showers, and plenty of pubs within walking distance. We also opened up the boat from 3-6 every day to give the Baldwinsville community plenty of opportunities to check out the boat. The Canal Corp crew at Lock 24 made us feel right at home.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Luckily this gave the crew plenty of time to rest before our long days ahead, where we would need to make up time on our schedule. The fast currents of the Seneca River slowed the boat down to a painful 3-4 knots from our usual 5-6. We spent the night docked below lock 25 in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Plenty of mosquitos came by that night to tour the boat. The crew had to make sure their mosquito nets were tucked in, or else they would be eaten alive! We left the following morning for Lyons. We pushed back our stop in Lyon’s by a day, and opened for an afternoon whistle stop.