In 1820, approximately 90 miles of the new Erie Canal were ready to be traveled. Newly constructed canal boats began running between Rome and Montezuma, making Montezuma and Cayuga County an exciting western jumping point even before the Canal officially opened in 1825. Thus, began the long canal history in Cayuga County. Alongside these historic canals flows the present-day re-routed New York State Barge Canal System as part of the Seneca River.
Today, many remains of the old Erie await your study in each one of these unique communities connected by the earlier canal waterway that flowed through each town and village. From Lock 51 near the eastern border of Cayuga County to the Montezuma Heritage Park on the shores of the Seneca River, jump onboard in your 21st Century car to tour the sites traveling west from the borderline between Onondaga and Cayuga County to the shores of Seneca River. Experience and learn firsthand about the early canals in our small rural upstate New York communities that helped make the Canal System an engineering marvel of the world!
Starting at the borderline between Weedsport and the Village of Jordan in Onondaga County beside Route 31 is the remains of Lock 51 on the towpath trail now part of the Erie Canalway Recreational Trail. Going west on Route 31 outside the center of the village is a small park, named for the Centerport Aqueduct that opened in 1855. It originally carried the Erie Canal over a confluence of North Brook and Cold Springs Brook. It was named “Centre Port” Aqueduct because it was located almost in the exact middle of Section 7 of the Erie Canal.
In Port Byron the village prospered in the Erie Canal era, and early canal remains can be found in and around the village and town. East of the village, the enlarged canal can be seen at Schasel Park. The towpath walking trail runs between Port Byron and Weedsport as part of the crossway along the New York State Recreational Canalway Trail. Port Byron was one of the very few villages where the route of the canal was changed during the enlargement of the canal in the 1850’s. As such, vestiges of both canals can be found inside the village. It is soon to be the home of the Canal Society of New York. The Erie Canal Heritage Park will be located at the site of former Lock 52 to offer visitors a glimpse into authentic life on the Erie Canal in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. The former lock, an 1865 Erie House tavern, blacksmith shop and mule barn will be accessible for travelers to stop along the NYS Thruway travelers and visit the site. It will include a newly constructed Visitor Center, walking trails, refreshments and other amenities.
Visit: Montezuma Historical Society
Following the journey westward on Route 31 from Port Byron along side today’s superhighway, the NYS Thruway, the old canal passed through the mucklands, a place where generations of muck land farmers grew onions and potatoes. Both the original and Enlarged Erie crossed the highway midway between Port Byron and Montezuma on its route westward. Here the Erie flowed right through the center of the hamlet of Montezuma where it joined the Cayuga-Seneca Canal in1828. Today within the Montezuma Heritage Park visitors can go from past to present to learn the dynamic story of four separate canals that evolved into today’s Canal System. Our journey in Cayuga County ends at the site of the magnificent Richmond Aqueduct that carried the Enlarged Erie Canal waters into Seneca County on westward to its destination in Buffalo.
Our Cayuga County communities are fortunate to have an authority on early Cayuga County canals living in the Village of Port Byron. Mike Riley offers a yearly historic walking tour every August for Canal Splash in Montezuma Heritage Park, and is a member of our Park Design Team. He has written seven guidebooks for the Canal Society of New York tours, and serves as the co-Editor of their journal, Bottoming Out.
Download Free E-Book
Mike is author of Twelve and a Half Miles; The Erie Canal in Cayuga County, and has generously offered to share his e-book version with us. Click on these link to access the sections. Section One. Section Two. Section Three.
You can often find Mike out enjoying a walk with his wife, Mary and dog, Lizzie, exploring old Canal sites. Once back from his travels, read about his adventures on his blog at: http://canalsplash.blogspot.com
He is also a frequent contributor to: http://newyorkhistoryblog.org/author/mriley/