Lockport bronze statues pay tribute to lock tenders

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 August 2020 at 12:00 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

LOCKPORT – Lockport last month installed three bronze statues that are a tribute to lock tenders. The three are the first of a 14-piece monument based off a photograph from 1897. That image depicts a dozen lock tenders, a young girl and a photographer.

The bronze statues recognize the following lock tenders: Michael Hennessey, in back, who worked as a lock tender for 16 years. He and his wife, Caroline, had eight children and lived at Ontario Street; Edward “Tom” O’Hara, front left, who had three children with his wife, Camille. They lived on West Avenue; Martin Noonan, of North Adam Street, who did not marry. His brother, Michael Noonan, became a priest and was pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Lockport.

The Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp. commissioned Susan Geissler, a sculptor from Youngstown, to create the bronze figures. She has been commissioned to do five more with a goal of them being installed next spring.

David Kinyon, president of the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp., was given tours of the site on Saturday. He said the statues have helped people make a personal connection with the lock tenders who were so vital in operating the locks in Lockport. He sees many people getting their photographs taken with the statues. Children are encouraged to interact with the bronze figures.

The five new statues coming next spring will include the photographer, Frank B. Clench, and four more of the tenders.

The group is pushing to have the entire 14-piece monument by 2025, which will be the bicentennial of the Erie Canal’s opening.

These 12 Lockport Lock Tenders plus a young girl were photographed in 1897 by Frank B. Clench. The tenders were part of a 20-person workforce at the locks in 1897.

The lock tenders were picked in the 1890s from the eight wards in the City of Lockport. The ones in the photo are local residents who worked in the same spot on the steps where the bronze figures are located.

“It was difficult backbreaking work, with very few making it a career,” according to an interpretive panel at the site. “Those that did were tough as nails indeed.”

The lock tenders worked 12-hour days and were responsible for opening and closing the locks so boats could pass through safely. They also worked on maintenance at the site.

The Erie Traveler is a replica of a 19th century Erie Canal cargo boat. It was launched in Lockport in 2017. The Erie Traveler is 42 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was built by staff and volunteers of the Buffalo Maritime Center. The Locks Heritage District Corporation using the veseel for demonstrations at the canal in Lockport.

The Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp. also is working to complete the Flight of Five restoration project. The three middle locks – Locks 68, 69 and 70 – have been rehabilitated with work needed to have make the two end ones functional.

Kinyon said the projects are part of an effort to make Lockport an attraction of national significance.

For more on the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp., click here.

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