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Historic recognition sought for Barge Canal

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 June 2014 at 12:00 am

Lift bridges, guard gates, waste weirs would get elevated historical status

Photos by Tom Rivers – The Eagle Harbor lift bridge is one of seven in Orleans County and one of 17 that remain from the canal’s widening from 1905 to 1918.

The Erie Canal gets a lot of attention from preservationists and heritage-minded New Yorkers. But the Barge Canal, which opened in 1918 as an enlarged and deeper Erie Canal, may soon get some recognition.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor wants the Barge Canal to be recognized on the state and national registers of historic places. The New York State Board for Historic Preservation is scheduled to vote on the Barge Canal application on June 12.

“We want to elevate its importance,” said Jean Mackay, director of communications and outreach for the Corridor. “This would be another layer of recognition.”

The guard gates on the canal are 55 feet wide. This photo shows the gates in Albion, just east of the Gaines Basin Road bridge. These gates were built in 1913.

Congress in 2000 declared the canal as a National Heritage Corridor, one of 49 such areas in the country.

When the 363-mile-long waterway opened in 1825, it transformed Upstate New York into an economic powerhouse, raising the fortunes of canal towns such as Medina, Albion and Holley.

When railroads started to threaten the canal in the mid- to late-1800s, state officials moved to widen and deepen the canal. In 1918, after 13 years of construction, the Barge Canal was born, and many of the structures from that upgrade – lift bridges, single-truss bridges, guard gates, terminals and waste weirs – remain along the system today.

“There are a tremendous number of really interesting and historical sites along the canal corridor,” Mackay said.

This waste weir was constructed in 1910. It is used to drain water from the canal. The waste weir is located off State Street behind Community Action, west of Brown Street in Albion.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor’s application is 267 pages long. It identifies 566 contributing structures along the canal that add to the historic significance of the barge system.

In Orleans County, the contributing structures include:

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; Allens Bridge Road Bridge built in 1909; and Presbyterian Road Bridge from 1909.

The Allens Bridge Road canal bridge was built in 1909 and is nearly 200 feet long.

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.

In this photo from Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin, crews work on the retaining walls at the Canal Basin in Medina on April 3, 1914.