National preservation organization shares concern about fate of canal tugboat

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 October 2018 at 8:30 am

File photo by Tom Rivers: The Urger was in Holley on Oct. 6, 2015 for a visit by fourth-graders.

A national preservation organization is shining the spotlight on a 117-year-old tugboat that could be removed from the canal waters and become a dry-dock exhibit at a Thruway rest area in Montgomery County.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation highlighted the Urger in its Fall issue, and deemed the boat “threatened.”

“More than 100,000 schoolchildren have boarded the Urger, and it is considered the unofficial ambassador of the canal system,” National Trust stats in its magazine, Preservation.

The Erie Canal was opened in 1825, nearly 200 years ago. A century ago marked the completion of the Barge Canal, when the Erie was widened.

The Urger visits canal communities and serves as a teaching tug. It is especially popular with fourth-graders who are learning New York State history, and how the Erie Canal turned New York into the Empire State.

“The Preservation League of New York State has expressed concern for the Urger’s fate because it believes turning the tug into a dry-land exhibit will likely require removing parts of its historic fabric and boring holes into its hull,” National Trust said. “The vessel will be dry-socked this winter, and PLNYS hopes the New York Power Authority and NYC Canal Corporation will reconsider their plan to remove it permanently from its historic context.”

Fourth-graders from School No. 2 in Rochester visit the Urger in October 2015. The boat is an ambassador for the state’s canal system.

​The  New York State Canal System has been designated a National Historic Landmark due to its span, scope, and historic integrity, the Preservation League said.

“The historic vessels related to the NYS Canal System are a significant component of the system’s integrity,” the League said. “The National Historic Landmark designation recognizes the importance of the canal fleet and canal vessels to the New York State Canal System.”

Launched in 1901, the Urger entered canal service in 1921. ​For more than sixty years she moved barges, dredges, and derrick boats on the Erie and Champlain canals. Retired from heavy work around 1984, she returned to active service in 1991 as an ambassador for New York’s Canal System, calling at ports from New York City to the Canadian border and west to Lake Erie. She was the traveling centerpiece for countless canal festivals and events across the state and hosted over 100,000 students on school field trips during a 25-year period. Listed on the National Register since 2001, she is one of the oldest operable tugboats in the country.

The Preservation League has an online petition for people to send to support keeping the Urger as an active canal vessel. For more information, click here.

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