On July 4, 1817 construction began on what detractors called “Clinton’s Big Ditch”, the Erie Canal. After 8 years and 363 miles (584 kn) of back-breaking sun-up to sun-down work by hired men, women and children the canal opened for business over its complete length on October 26, 1825. One hundred ninety-six years after that first shovelful of dirt was turned the Erie Canal remains a fixture across the New York. It is the longest canal in the nation that does not receive any help from the U.S. Federal Government. It is a continuing and historic tribute to the people of New York State. Although the canal is no longer a driving force in U.S. expansion and economic might it continues to see the state as a major tourist attraction and site for recreational boat for travelers from around the world taking in the Down East Circle Route or Great Circle Route.
Winters in New York State west of Chenango River have always been cold and snowy causing barge traffic to dramatically slow or stop. On a 60 mile stretch west of the City of Rochester winter means it is time to shut down. This is the Lake Ontario Plain, a portion of the canal which in places can resemble the Mississippi River at New Orléans. Boats travel at the 2nd or 3rd story level of adjacent buildings. Should the canal give way serious flooding will occur. The risk increases during the winter months when pressure caused by expanding ice and thaw take place. In addition to the levees at Lockport, NY the original Flight of Five locks and now Locks 34 & 35 are also at risk of damage due to this natural process.
To control this process Stop Gates are positioned in critical locations to prevent flooding and damage. Pictured below is a gate in Pendleton, NY. Incoming water from the Niagara River, located 15 miles to the west (on your right), is severely restricted. You can see the difference in elevation between the right side of the lowered gate and the left. If you want you get an overhead view using Google Earth by tracking to 43ﾟ06’57.23″W by 78° 44’11.98″W
The photographs below show the drained area at Erie Canal Locks #34 – #35 and general vicinity at Lockport, NY (Click to Enlarge)