Erie Canal Lock 29, Palmyra, New York

Lock 29

Lock 29

During our wanderings around the Finger Lakes, we stopped at the Erie Canal Lock 29 near Palmyra where Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints [The Mormons], was born.

It was a fortuitous choice.  We were able to see a lock in operation.  Nearby was an abandoned aqueduct that took the canal over Mud Creek before the canal was improved.  And in a park next to the canal was the Aldrich Change Bridge which was originally near Rochester.  A “change bridge” allowed mules towing a barge to cross the canal to reverse their direction.

Erie Canal Lock #29

Erie Canal Lock #29

The Appalachians aren’t a particularly high mountain range, but they presented a significant challenge to commerce and migration from the United States East Coast to the Northwest Territory (what is now Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois ) in the 18th century.  Canals were proposed through New York as early as 1768, but no action was taken.

Proposed in 1808 and completed in 1825, the Erie Canal made it possible to travel by water from New York City to Lake Erie, Buffalo and beyond.  Eighteen aqueducts carried the canal over streams and rivers.  Eighty-three locks raised and lowered boats from sea level to five hundred and sixty-eight feet.

The gates are opened by massive geas.

The gates are opened by massive geas.

Most canals in this country were barely complete when the first railroads began to be built, and many (like the Chesapeake and Ohio near Washington, D.C.) were abandoned.  But the Erie Canal was expanded and deepened to carry more and heavier traffic in 1836 and again in 1862. In 1903, it was expanded even further, and the number of locks was reduced to seventy-two.  The new “Erie Barge Canal,” completed in 1918, was 338 miles long.  But other canals linked Lake Champlain, Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake and Lake Ontario (via Oswego) to the system expanding commerce even further.  The entire system today includes 524 miles of canal.

As we saw on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in 2014, even today barges are the most efficient method to transport heavy loads — as long as there is a water route.  Today, the Erie Canal system is operated by The New York State Canal System, a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority, but it is too small for modern barges and is primarily used for recreation not commercial transportation.

Aldrich Change Bridge

Aldrich Change Bridge

Modern Lock 29 moves boats sixteen feet between elevations of 446 feet upstream and 430 feet downstream.  Lock 30 is three miles further west.  Lock 29B is 9.7 miles to the east.

We chatted with the lock master.  It is open from  May to November.  He uses CB channel 13 to talk to the people on the boats locking through.  But then he calls on a landline to give the lock master at the next lock on their route a heads-up that they are on their way.

Stopping in Seneca Falls, we chatted with a couple who had rented a boat, were exploring some of the canals, and had stopped to do their laundry.  It sounded like fun — who knows, maybe we’ll try that someday.

Old Aquaduct over Mud Creek.

Old aqueduct over Mud Creek.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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3 Responses to Erie Canal Lock 29, Palmyra, New York

  1. “I had an old mule and her name was Sal,” is running around in my head. Right now I am reading “The Oregon Trail” that includes a fascination view of mules, but back to the Erie Canal. I was surprised to learn that sections of it are still usable. The section I saw was only long enough to provide a short excursion. I did rent a narrow boat in northern England and take it on a week trip, however. It was a great adventure. –Curt

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    • ralietravels says:

      William Least Heat Moon, who published “Blue Highways” in 1982 also wrote “River Horse” in 2013 in which he details taking his boat from New York to Astoria, portaging at points (reading the book was the inspiration for our 2012 drive along the Ohio and Miss.). He took the Erie Canal the entire length, and I believe it is still all open.

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      • I’m a great fan of William Least Heat Moon. I went back to see if I wrote a blog on the Canal, but it was before I started blogging. I was doing genealogical research at the time and some of my ancestors had worked on the Canal. Looking at it now on the map it certainly seems to go all of the way through. –Curt

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