Visitors tour Old Erie Canal Heritage Park
The Canal Society of New York State recently completed its quest to create a canal history destination alongside the New York State Thruway. On September 8, 2016, the public was finally granted access to this unique feature of New York State’s canal system: a cluster of renovated structures, including the Erie House Tavern and Hotel, a mule barn and a blacksmith shop, all associated with the remnants of enlarged Erie Canal Lock 52. The centerpiece and, indeed, the crown jewel of this site is the newly completed Visitor’s Center that features historical artifacts and interactive display materials.
The New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation opened the park to the public for what was initially a limited season ending on Sunday, October 30. This can be thought of as a trial run or a “soft opening” to test operating procedures and root out any problems which might be noted. The park will re-open to visitors in the Spring of 2017, though an official opening date has not yet been announced.
To operate the Visitor’s Center and the park during this limited opening, the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation selected the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council. The Canal Society of New York State was asked to provide volunteers to conduct guided tours of the park’s historic structures. It is unknown at this time whether these arrangements will continue with the re-opening in Spring 2017.
The historic significance of this site was recognized at least as far back as the late 1950s when the Joint Legislative Committee on Preservation and Restoration of Historic Sites judged the Lock 52 site to be of great potential and contemplated acquisition of the Erie House. However, action to secure and restore the site had to await the involvement of private non-profit groups.
First, the non-profit State Council on Waterways (SCOW) purchased the property and arranged for an archaeological survey of the site in 1995. Unfortunately, SCOW’s resources were inadequate to move the project forward, and the Canal Society of New York State was able to acquire the property from SCOW shortly afterwards. The Society made significant progress in stabilizing the site, largely with funds provided to the Society from the estate of Emily Madden, an early Canal Society member.
For a number of years, the Canal Society struggled to complete the project, plagued by limited resources. Ultimately, the New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation partnered with the Canal Society to bring the project to a successful conclusion.