Wood Creek and the Navigation
During the closing years of that era of inland navigation, ended by the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Wood Creek continued to be a difficult navigation and Oak Orchard continued to be a landmark for navigators. One mid-October trip up from Sylvan Beach to Canada Creek, even after a heavy rain and with an extra boatman, took 15 hours!
One writer relates their experience in the area:
"In the year 1804, (last year) I again went by Wood Creek to the lakes, and returned by the same route: I found the navigation much in the same situation, and rather worse. On my descending I met two batteaux with five hands each, and half a load on board (being 21 barrels salt) at the Oak Orchard about 11 o'clock in the morning; I asked them as common, how is the water? They answered, Bad enough. I then asked the boatman or captain, How long passage from Jackson's? to which he replied two days and a half. By inquiring of our boatmen how they had the water from Gilbert's to the Oak Orchard, and being told but so, so; I heard them say, we shall not see Gilbert's before tomorrow night."22
One of the more widely reported incidents at Oak Orchard happened to the father of the Erie Canal and future Governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton, while making passage down Wood Creek in the summer of 1810. He was investigating various routes for the canal that would later be dubbed "Clinton's Ditch":
"We rose early in the morning [at Gilbert's Tavern at the Canada Creek junction], and breakfasted at the Oak-Orchard, six miles from Gilbert's on the south side of the river. The ground was miry, and in stepping into the boat, my foot slipped, and I was partly immersed in the creek. The captain assisted me in getting out. The dampness of the weather, and the sun being hardly risen, induced me, for greater precaution, to change my clothes. This trifling incident was afterwards magnified by the papers into a serious affair."23
Even at this late date, the conditions here were little improved over a generation before:
"At Oak-Orchard the first rapid commences; as the creek was extremely low, we requested the locks [at Rome] to be left open above, two or three hours before we started. This furnished us with a flood of water, and accelerated our descent. We found, however, that we went faster than the water, and had frequently to wait. The creek was almost the whole distance choked with logs, and crooked beyond belief."24
After the opening of the Erie Canal, boat traffic on Wood Creek fell away to virtually nothing. People and cargoes that had once funneled through the tortuous Wood Creek route daily now went aboard large, mule-drawn canal boats that glided along effortlessly on the smooth, slack-water channel between Albany and Buffalo.