Original canal loop, only section west of Rochester, is easy to miss in Holley

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 October 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers
HOLLEY – A small sign on a tree in a ditch in Holley notes that this was part of the original Erie Canal loop that meandered to the Public Square area of Holley.

The state veered the canal from a relatively straight line in 1823 due to the high banks and engineering challenge in dealing with Sandy Creek.

This map in the Holley Post Office shows how the Erie Canal used to loop about 2,000 feet towards the Public Square.

There was an unusually deep ravine formed by the east branch of Sandy Creek, which presented a difficult engineering problem for builders of the original Erie Canal in the early 1820s, according to display on the north side of the canal by the Holley lift bridge. The State Canal Corp. put up that display about “The Holley Loop.”

This historical marker is next to the railroad depot used by the Murray-Holley Historical Society near Save-A-Lot. The original canal went near the depot and Public Square and some stone and remnants are still visible in the community.

Rather than try to build the canal on the ravine, engineers opted to take a sharp turn near the current lift bridge and cross over a relatively narrow section of the creek.

“The sharp curve required boaters to slow down, which made a promising location for canal-oriented businesses,” according to the state display. “The Village of Holley grew at this bend in the canal.”

The village created a canal park about 15 years ago and the path follows close to where the canal loop passed through nearly 200 years ago.

The canal was widened throughout the 363-mile-long system from 1905 to 1918 and much of the original canal was replaced by the wider and deeper canal.

But in Holley, some of the original remained because it wasn’t touched as part of the Barge Canal widening in the early 1900s.

Another map, this one displayed in the office of Dr. Dan Schiavone, shows the Holley Loop. It linked back to the canal just west of Bennetts Corners Road.

The state in 1854-61, decided the original loop needed to be straightened out in Holley to create a shorter, more navigable waterway. A new section of the canal was built over a very high and long embankment.

“Because state law did not allow canal sections to be abandoned in villages or cities, the old loop was still used for several decades to serve local businesses,” according to the state display about the Holley Loop. “Canal traffic no longer stopped in the village, however, and eventually the loop was drained and eliminated. Traces of the original canal can still be seen east of the Public Square.”

This culvert from the old canal can be seen from Route 31, a few houses east of Glenside Automotive.

I wrote about trying to find the original canal in Holley last week while on a nature walk on the Holley trail system off the canal.

I couldn’t find any signs pointing to the old canal, and wasn’t sure if I was seeing any remnants from the original canal.

Three people offered to show it to me on Tuesday. I was joined by Holley dentist Dan Schiavone, Erin Anheier from the Clarendon Historical Society, and Mark Scarborough, who lives on Bennetts Corners Road where the former trolley passed by his home until the trolly closed in the 1930s.

This trail runs from off Route 31, west of Bennetts Corners Road to the canal. The canal once ran along side this path. However, Mark Scarborough said this was a companion to the original canal, which is more to the left with lots of stone and other remnants from the original.

Scarborough says invasive plants, including Wild Rose, have proliferated in the old canal bed.

Holley’s trail system doesn’t have any wayfinding signs that would point to the original canal. The only sign is the small one nailed to a tree.

So, I wonder if the old canal bed is a big deal, or maybe a really big deal? Should it be cleared out and perhaps made into a walking trail that could be explored? Would people come check out the only original canal bed west of Rochester on the canal system?

I would encourage the village and canal to at least have signs pointing to the canal bed, and interpretive panels that talk about the “Holley Loop” and this bit of Holley and canal history. There could be interpretive panels on the trail near the canal and also in the Public Square. That wouldn’t cost too much. (The state information display is on the north side of the canal away from the gazebo and the canal park. I doubt many people look at it.)

The village created this trail system in 2000 and used sandstone to line one side. The stone isn’t from the original canal project, but the path follows close to the Holley Loop.

Holley named the canal trail in honor of Andrew Cuomo, who was the HUD secretary at the time and directed some federal funds to the village for the project.

The historical marker is close to the start of the trail.