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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is pleased to host “Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom,” a Summer Workshop for Educators, on Wednesday, August 2. Members of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association serve as faculty for this all-day seminar, and for a series of panel discussions for young adults and adults to be offered in the fall and spring at area libraries. Supported in part by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council, these programs are presented in conjunction with the traveling exhibition Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage, now on view at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
Developed by Abenaki culture bearers with deep understanding of how this vibrant regional culture continues into the 21st century, the Summer Workshop for Educators will provide teachers and home school educators with new resources and age-appropriate techniques to help elementary students learn about the Abenaki tribe’s 11,000 years in the Champlain Valley. The seminar will help participants to better support any Native students while presenting American history, and will establish a network of educators and Native culture bearers who can remain in dialogue through online and social media platforms. The program will also include a gallery talk in the exhibition Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage, which explores Abenaki identity and continuity through garments, accessories, and family photographs.
Workshop presenters draw on recent scholarship and oral history combined with cultural traditions and personal experience to provide a Native perspective on the history and culture of Vermont and New England. “History books, museums, and schools in New England often present Native culture as if the Abenaki disappeared in the eighteenth century,” says VAAA director Vera Longtoe Sheehan. “Now we are trying to bridge the gap between the Native and non-Native communities through the Wearing Our Heritage project. Our goals are to reclaim our place in New England history, to make connections between our shared past and the present, and for the region’s Native people to be recognized as experts in their own history and culture.”
There was a lot of excitement among the crew leading up to our stop in Rome, where we would be joining in the festivities of the Erie Canal Bicentennial Celebration. The community of Rome pulled out all the stops for the Celebration with live music all day long, vendors and food trucks as far as the eye could see, and reenactors in firing off cannon shots as if it was the Wedding of the Waters ceremony. Rome has a good reason to put on such an extravagant celebration for the Erie Canal. Two hundred years ago, on July 4th 1817, the Erie Canal began construction, and the first shovel full of dirt was dug in Rome. The Rome Historical Society even did a reenactment of that fateful day. Of the many towns we visit on our tour, Rome has the longest history with the Erie Canal; and they sure know how to celebrate it.
The community of Rome, as well as canal enthusiasts from all over, came out to the Bicentennial Celebration in huge numbers. The Lois McClure saw her biggest crowds yet, with over 800 people stepping aboard the boat! It was astounding to see so much excitement about the canal, and we were glad to be a part of such an amazing event. The day ended with the Lois McClure crew watching the fireworks show from the deck of the ship. Special thanks to our principal partners at the New York State Canal Corporation and the New York Power Authority, plus the town of Rome for planning the Bicentennial Celebration, and inviting us to share the history of the Erie Canal and the boats that plied its waters.
A week of robot creation, lake exploration, and fun has just come to an end for another summer; ROV building summer camp was fantastic! Thank you campers!
We had a great time, and wanted to share the videos taken by camper’s ROVs. SeaPerch kits can carry a GoPro video camera and they bring back some fun footage from under the waves of Lake Champlain. Enjoy!
It was a glorious sun filled, blue sky day in Utica. We had entered Oneida County and were now under the caring eye of Kelly Blazosky, President of Oneida County Tourism. Many months ago I had done a reconnaissance trip along the canal thanks to a planning grant from the Champlain Valley National Heritage Corridor. My goal was to make contact with communities where we hadn’t been in a while or people in various positions had changed. I worked with our principal partners, the New York State Canal Corporation, to get contacts and stakeholder names in the various communities. It’s a long process to plan out 37 ports-of-call!
Kelly was my rock star. She embraced the coming tour, made all the necessary contacts with communities within her area, and set up meetings for us to attend to make connections and build excitement. Some facilities along the canal lack certain amenities such as showers. You can imagine how our crew smells after a day on the water in the blazing sun. Let’s just say engaging the public can be a challenge. Kelly provided us with a hotel room in both Utica and Rome so the crew can rotate through and “freshen up.” It’s people like Kelly that make things happen.
Beverly Esche, General Manager of Aqua Vino, has hosted us before. Her restaurant is on the best section of dock in Utica and she welcomes us with open arms. She also serves up some delicious food in a great atmosphere. We started off right in Utica, being hosted on a morning talk show and getting great coverage on the local television news. Mayor Robert Palmieri stopped by shortly after opening to get a glimpse of the history upon which his City was built. He was fascinated and appreciative of our boat and tour efforts, and excited to accept our gift of White Oaks and White Pines. They’re currently working with NY DEC to inventory their city trees and have a park in mind for planting our contribution. The Mayor could appreciates our style of engaging folks on a personal level through conversation. He was on his rounds of the City doing exactly the same thing.
The crew is looking forward to a down day in Utica to explore everything the City has to offer. Maybe that will even include a laundromat. Hey, it’s a great gig, but it’s not all glamorous. Next stop is Rome where we’ll join the City celebrating the very beginning of construction of the Erie Canal.
The Mohawk Valley is a beautiful series of lush green rolling hills cascading away from the river. It’s not uncommon to see Bald Eagles perched in trees or deer drinking from the river banks. Farm fields abound, and the landscape is only periodically cut by the occasional town or lock along the river. As you continue to gain elevation the hills get closer and the railroad and I-90 corridor close in, nearly touching one another, making the juxtaposition of three forms of transportation very poignant.
Nowhere is the closeness of the Mohawk hills more prominent than in Little Falls. Gneiss rock begin forming sheer walls where rock climbers find vertical bliss. Just when you wonder how a vessel could possibly climb this impasse, there, looming before you, is the mighty lock 17. This lock is the tallest in the system with a 40’ lift, and the only regular lock with a guillotine gate, raising vertically, dangling seemingly precariously overhead, but only to drip water on you as you pass under. The canal snakes along westward with cliff on the left, river on the right, and the picturesque community of Little Falls across the way. This is one of the few places where the 20th Century Barge Canal still follows the historic route of its predecessors.
Canal Harbor and Rotary Park in Little Falls has gotten a very good reputation amongst boaters and is now under the supervision of Harbor Master Mark Roy. The park is well kept with a cascading fountain. The former canal facility building has been converted into a boaters haven, with clean showers and rest rooms and a lounge. The Erie Canalway Trail follows a former rail bed and for the ambitious gives access to historic sites such as the Herkimer House. We welcomed aboard well over 400 visitors in our weekend stop in Little Falls, some of them old friends like Tom Ryan. Tom not only gave us a lift to the grocery store, he even loaned us his car so we could go back to Fonda to strip the running rigging from our masts, get them organized and covered until our return in the fall.
We were sad to see Jeff and Churchill Hindes, and our Maritime Apprentices Oliver Cole and Brandon Hanley pack up their bags, but the time had come for another rotation. New energy had arrived in the form of Americorp Member Matt Harrison, long-time volunteer Rosemary Zamore, and new comer from Moriah, Myles Madill. After an orientation and port safety briefing our newcomers were on the job, welcoming visitors.
The weather threw a heavy thunderstorm our way causing the Mohawk to rise a solid foot in just a few hours, but just as quickly it resided. It’s a dynamic and often challenging body of water, one this Captain will be okay having in the rear view mirror. As much as I love the scenery, the communities and the people, unpredictable weather like this year keeps your Spidey senses on alert.
To say that putting an 88’ wooden canal boat into a lock while the Mohawk River’s flow rate is up thanks to heavy rains is a bit “squirrelly” may be a bit of an understatement. Fortunately our trusty tug C.L. Churchill and our inflatable bow thruster Oocher with the 50hp Honda are just the vessels to get the job done. It’s a bit of an odd arrangement to not be completely controlling the tow (Lois) strictly from the tug, however Churchill’s low wheelhouse doesn’t afford good visibility so most of the steering is done from the canal boat. The tug has far superior capability to turn the package of vessels quickly, so it’s a common phrase to hear “Art, half right” over the radio, meaning I’ve just asked Art at the helm of the tug to turn the rudder half to full over right. The results of the request are rapid and definitive. The tug also controls the forward or astern propulsion, so it’s like telegraphing to an engine room to make requests except via a radio. After thirteen years of working together and with Captain Roger Taylor we really have evolved our system and have a good feel for how things react. The strong currents keep us on our toes, so you’ll frequently see us with binoculars to our faces trying our best to “read” the currents and eddies in an attempt to anticipate which way we’ll be set.
So with squirrelly currents we made our way to Canajoharie. It was with great excitement we touched down on their riverfront park, complete with the Village Police to greet us (no we hadn’t done anything wrong in Amsterdam). Each time we come to port the crew is busy putting away modern intrusions to make the visitor experience better. Today was no exception to the clean-up but it was accompanied with an air of excitement to this three hour stop. We had been coordinating with the Arkell Museum and the Village who were expecting the arrival of Cycle the Erie , an annual event that draws over 650 cyclists who bike from Buffalo to Albany. The crowd was steady and appreciative. Our crew enjoyed tours of the Arkell Museum during breaks from interpreting.
As curtains closed on our public boarding hours volunteer Churchill Hindes went to work making some magic happen in the limited galley facilities of Lois McClure. Our hats off to Church, for so willingly and enthusiastically embracing our desire to consume good food. He and his son Jeff, a history teacher and captain, have been frequent volunteers on “Camp Lois,” as they call it. They’re part of what makes our program so special. We extend our sincerest thanks to volunteers like Churchill and Jeff and all the folks in the communities we visit. Special thanks to the Arkell Museum and Village of Canajoharie for a wonderful visit. And the next time you’re visiting the Arkell check out the spiffy white oak tree in their yard.