Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 20, 2013

CANAL DISCOVERIES: Recollections from an early settler

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The owners of the first log home near what is now the Lockport locks was acknowledged to be Dr. Isaac Smith and his wife, Edna Deane Smith. The couple operated an infirmary out of their cabin. Anyone who was hurt as a result of work on the Erie Canal would most likely have been taken to the Smith home. Mrs. Smith, a Quaker, affectionately known as Aunt Edna, served as a nurse for her husband.

Aunt Edna retold her life experiences in the form of several stories that she either wrote herself or transcribed to others. Her recollections form a vivid picture of what life was really like in early Lockport. We are certainly thankful for her careful attention to detail while providing this wonderful historical information. The following is one such recollection from Aunt Edna:

“My husband, Dr. Smith, came on to Lockport in April 1821, bought a lot, and contracted for a log house to be put up and finished by the first of July. Everything progressed favorably, when he left for the East to bring on his family. 

“On our arrival at the appointed time, weary with a journey in wagons, we were confronted by a sorry outlook. The logs were up in the shape of a house to be sure, and a temporary roof on, made of oak staves lashed onto the rafters with withes, but there were no doors or windows, no partitions, a small fireplace with the back of a chimney on the lower floor, from the ceiling it had four sides up to the roof.

“Altogether, it had a very dreary air to one accustomed to the common comforts of life. However, there was nothing to be done, but to move in our household goods. We put up a bed, and when night came on, fastened blankets up to the places where windows should have been, and in due time went to bed.

“That night a terrific storm of wind and rain came on, accompanied by thunder and lightening … down came the wet blankets, flapping and fluttering into the room. The wind blew so hard we could have no light burning, which added to the general horror. The next morning a man was dispatched to Niagara Falls for window sash, doors, etc.

“The floor was made of rough boards, not fastened down … they warped until they were not unlike a cradle in shape; as one can not write a noise, it would be difficult to give an idea of the clatter made when we moved about. When this state of things became unendurable, we turned them (the boards) over, until they warped the other way. This process was repeated about twice a week.

“In the midst of it all, three men were blown up and seriously injured by a blast, and they were brought to us to be nursed and taken care of. We had no place for them but a low loft ... where two were put, the other on a cot in our common room. 

“A ladder was the only means of access to the chambers, and up that we climbed with all the appliances necessary to the sick and wounded. No servants were to be had. We could, however, get our washing done out in the country and there were several bakers for the men on the canal, where we could buy bread which was a great relief under the circumstances.

“The hearth was mended and upon it, many a winter evening before a blazing fire, stood dishes of apples, dough-nuts, mince pies, and pitchers of cider, warming for the delectation of guests gathered from the village – a social circle, that for good feeling, wit and fun, is seldom surpassed.

“We had youth, health and hope of better times to animate us, and so much neighborly kindness and good feeling as rendered all our inconveniences endurable…I can look back to no part of my life in which was more real enjoyment than the first few years of our settlement in Lockport.”

Doug Farley is director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center. Join them every Saturday through August when they head up the free children's activities for Lockport Community Market. For more information check out lockportcommunitymarket.com.