Old Erie Canal Park

We invite you to get out of your car and take a walk through history!

The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park has three main components; the 1854 Enlarged Erie Canal Lock 52, the 1894 Erie House Tavern, and the 2016 Visitor's Center. Each site has it's own history, which we will detail a bit later in this page. But first, let's get the important information out of the way.
The Park is open to the public from May 1 till October 31. It is open every day between 9am and 6pm. The Park is accessible from the NYS Thruway (Route 90) and NYS Route 31. Because of Federal highway regulations, each parking lot has a separate entrance, but once you enter the Visitors Center, you are in the Park. There is no fee to visit the Park. The Park is dog friendly throughout and a water bowl and biscuits await at the Erie House. This is not a restaurant stop. Aside from a couple vending machines, there are no food sales. We leave that to the service areas and diners in the village. We do have picnic tables and you are welcome to bring your own food.

The Visitor's Center

In the Visitor's Center you will find bathrooms, canal exhibits including a 1893 lock model built for the World's Fair which was in Chicago, a gift shop, and knowledgeable people who can answer all your canal questions.  If you have time to take a short walk, you can stroll through the lock and think about boats carried 200 tons of goods between the Great Lakes and New York City. You can then stroll up to the Erie House and visit the refurbished tavern, blacksmith shop, and mule barn. Each building has exhibits and the Erie House is staffed so that you can get more answers to your canal questions and learn about life in the small "port" villages that lined the Erie Canal. For some, a visit lasts 10 minutes, and for others, they have spend over an hour.

Enlarged Lock 52

Enlarged Lock 52 was one of 72 locks built along the Erie Canal designed to help the canal overcome the changes in elevation along the 350 mile route between the Hudson River and the Great lakes. The lock was built in 1854 and replaced the first lock, Lock 60. With the various improvements to the canal during the enlargement process, the number of miles was shorten from 363 to 350, and the number of locks was reduced from 83 to 72.

Most locks along the canal lifted boats up to the west as the landscape climbed from sea level at Albany to 550' above sea level at Buffalo on Lake Erie. There were five locks that stepped down to the west, those being Locks 47, 48, and 49 to the east of Syracuse, and Locks 51 and 52. For a number of reasons that we won't get into here, this caused many difficulties and if you are really interested, you can find out more here.

 

The Erie House

The Erie House was built in 1894 by Peter and Salvador VanDitto, who were Italian immigrants by way of Rochester, NY. The tavern had a bar on the main floor and rooms to rent on the second floor. Nearby was a small blacksmith shop and mule barn. The tavern business operated up till 1907 when the Town went dry and Peter moved his bar business to Montezuma, the town to the west. His wife and two daughters stayed in the tavern and used it as their home. The last VanDetto died in 1993 and the house and outbuildings were purchased with the idea of turning it into a museum.

Erie House 1900

The Old Erie Canal Heritage Park

The idea for a park on this location dates back to when the NYS Thruway was being constructed. The new superhighway would be replacing the older cross state routes of Route 31 and Route 20. The businessmen of the village realized that this new highway would take away much of the traffic that once passed right through the village. So they proposed that a new Erie Canal Park be built on the Thruway right next to the old lock. That was in the late 1950's. Aside from some newspaper articles and letters, nothing ever became of the idea.

In 1994, after the last VanDetto sister died, the Erie House was then available and the idea of a park was once again reborn. The Canal Society of New York State purchased the Erie House and worked with Governor Cuomo, the NYS Thruway Authority, and the NYS Canal Corporation to design, fund, and see that the Park was built so that the history of New York's canals might reach a larger audience. The Park was opened in the fall of 2016.

Directions

If you are traveling east on the New York State Thruway, we are located at mile 309, a mile east of the Port Byron Service Plaza. There is no access from the west bound lanes. We do have a community side entrance located on Route 31 on the west side of Port Byron. If you are coming from the Thruway, leave the highway at Exit 40 and head south toward Weedsport / Auburn. Just as you enter Weedsport at the traffic signal, head west (right) along Route 31 towards Port Byron. (about 4 miles). Follow Rt 31 through Port Byron and the Park is found on the right just as you leave the village.

Nearby Canal Parks and Sites to See

Once you are done with your tour of the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park, you might wish to visit some other nearby canal sites and take a walk through the village of Port Byron and Weedsport. Here are a few sources to help you find your way. Both villages have grocery stores and nice little restaurants.

This map will show you all the historical and canal sites between Lock 50 near Syracuse and Lock 53 in Wayne County. The sites are clickable and have links to the various sources of information.

The blog "Cayuga County County Tours" will give you detailed information about many of the fun to find sites between Montezuma and Jordan.

If you wish to take a walk around the canal village of Port Byron, this walking tour download will help you find those historical must see sites. Another source is this interactive map showing those must see places.

The remains of the Montezuma Aqueduct are only 4 miles to the west of Port Byron and should be on your list. These remains are part of the 186 acre Montezuma Heritage Park which has many great canal sites.

A bit to the east you will find the Camillus Erie Canal Park, which is open to the public everyday. The Park does have boat rides along a mile section of rewatered Erie Canal on Sunday afternoons May till October.