Barge canal on path to historic designation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 June 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – The Horan Avenue Bridge in Medina is one of many that were built when the canal was enlarged between 1905 and 1908.

The Erie Canal could soon receive added recognition as a historical and cultural resource after it was nominated for both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The New York State Board of Historic Preservation nominated the canal as “The Barge Canal Historic District” for the state and national registers. The nomination notes many of the historical artifacts from the widening and deepening of the canal from 1905 to 1918.

Orleans County has many of those features: lift bridges, single-truss bridges, guard gates, terminals and waste weirs.

The Barge Canal and 27 other sites in the state were nominated last week for the state and national designations. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state is rich in historic assets and can use them to draw more tourists.

“By nominating these sites as historic places, we are working to preserve that legacy for future generations, while also encouraging travelers from every corner of the world  to visit and explore the sites that made New York the Empire State,” Cuomo said.

The Barge Canal Historic District includes the four historic branches of the state’s 20th century canal system; the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals – all much enlarged versions of waterways that were initially constructed during the 1820s.

Orleans County has seven lift bridges, including this one on Main Street in Albion.

The district sprawls 450 miles over 18 counties and encompasses 23,000 acres.

“Adding these to the Registers places them in distinctive company and is a momentous step in their long-term preservation and celebration,” said Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The state Canal Corporation director also commended the Board of Historic Preservation for supporting the Barge Canal’s nomination.

“All along New York’s Canals are communities, both large and small, that share a sense of identity and common heritage that stems directly from the Canal system,” said Brian U. Stratton, Canal Corporation director. “These nominations give this marvel of American engineering its rightful place in history and further it as a mechanism for spurring tourism, economic growth and environmental restoration.”

The New York State Barge Canal is a nationally significant work of early 20th century engineering and construction that affected commerce across much of the continent for nearly half a century, state officials said.

The Erie Canal first opened in 1825. It was the country’s most successful and influential manmade waterway, facilitating and shaping the course of settlement in the Northeast, Midwest, and Great Plains.

It connected the Atlantic seaboard with territories west of the Appalachian Mountains, and established New York City as the nation’s premiere seaport and commercial center.

New York’s canals were enormously successful and had to be enlarged repeatedly during the 19th century to accommodate larger boats and increased traffic. The Barge Canal, constructed 1905-18, is the last and most ambitious enlargement.

The canal remains in use today. This boat passed by Albion last week. The Canal Corporation’s maintenance shop, pictured, was built in 1917 and is a contributing structure for the Barge Canal Historic District.

Congress recognized the canal as a national treasure in 2000 when it created the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. The National park Service since then has been working with canal communities to implement preservation and revitalization strategies, said Mike Caldwell, regional director of the NPS in the Northeast Region.

“This historic district listing will further enhance the Erie Canalway’s stature as one of our nation’s greatest and most recognizable heritage assets,” he said.

State and National Register listing can assist property owners in revitalizing buildings, making them eligible for various public preservation programs and services, such as matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.

The Barge Canal’s application identifies 566 contributing structures along the canal that add to the historic significance of the barge system.

In Orleans County, the contributing structures include:

The Ingersoll Street Lift Bridge in Albion, pictured in back, was buit in 1911.

Murray – Bennetts Corners Road bridge from 1911; Holley Waste Weir built in 1914; Holley Embankment (the tallest on the system, rising 76 feet above the valley of the East Branch of Sandy Creek); East Avenue Lift Bridge constructed in 1911; Holley Terminal, constructed in 1915 as a 16-foot by 30-foot wood frame freight house;

Guard Gate that is west of North Main Street and constructed 1914; Telegraph Road Bridge built in 1911; Groth Road Bridge built in 1911; Hulberton Road Lift Bridge constructed 1913; Brockville Waste Weir east of Fancher Road Bridge, constructed 1911; Hindsburg Road Bridge constructed 1911; and Transit Road Bridge constructed 1911.

ALBION – Densmore Road Bridge constructed in 1911; Keitel Road Bridge built in 1912; Butts Road Bridge constructed 1912; Brown Street Bridge from 1912 (includes a sidewalk); Albion Waste Weir off State Street behind Community Action, constructed in 1910; Ingersoll Street Lift Bridge from 1911; Main Street Lift Bridge from 1914;

Albion terminal and shops for Canal Corporation, built in 1917; Lattins Farm Road bridge from 1911; Guard Gates from 1913; Gaines Basin Road bridge from 1912; Eagle Harbor Waste Weir that includes three drain gates, built in 1912; Eagle Harbor Lift Bridge, built in 1910 with a wood frame tower; Allen’s Bridge Road Bridge built in 1909; and Presbyterian Road Bridge from 1909.

RIDGEWAY – Knowlesville Lift Bridge from 1910 (During a 1975 rehabilitation, the tower was replaced by one-story brick control building on east side at south end of bridge.); Knowlesville Terminal, west of Knowlesville lift bridge, and built in 1910; Culvert Road (This is the only place where a road passes under a branch of the New York State Canal System. There has been a road culvert under the canal here 1823. Stone portals at either end of the enlarged Erie Canal culvert were dismantled and re-erected when it was extended to its current 200-foot length as part of Barge Canal construction, according to the Barge Canal application to the state.);

Beals Road Bridge from 1909; Bates Road Bridge constructed in 1914; Guard Gate, west of Bates Road bridge, and constructed in 1914; Pleasant Street/Horan Avenue Bridge built in 1914; Oak Orchard Creek Aqueduct, constructed in 1914. (The Oak Orchard Creek span is the only true aqueduct on the Barge Canal system. The structure consists of a concrete arch over Oak Orchard Creek at the head of Medina Falls with concrete walls on either side of the channel.)

Medina Terminal, a 24- by 70-foot frame freight house constructed in 1916; Eagle Street/Glenwood Avenue Bridge, constructed 1914; Prospect Avenue/ Route 63 Lift Bridge, built in 1914; Marshall Road Bridge from 1909; and a Guard Gate near Middleport, from 1913.