Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Columns

May 4, 2013

CANAL DISCOVERIES: Hydraulic power attracted business

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Shortly before the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the NYS Legislature passed an act authorizing the Canal Commissioners to sell the rights to surplus water from the Erie Canal, wherever practical. They had hoped this secondary source of income would help to offset the initial construction costs, as well as upkeep and maintenance for the canal. 

Little did they realize the magnitude of the power they were beginning to harness. The canal plan called for using water from Lake Erie to fill the Lockport locks and to fill and maintain the Genesee section of the canal, from Lockport heading 100 miles east to Rochester. In order to do so, water would have to be diverted around the Lockport locks through a raceway created for that purpose.

A few days before the official opening of the canal, water was finally added to the Lockport locks and the deep cut running west to Pendleton. At that time, water flowed into the manmade raceway and the citizenry realized the magnitude of the power at hand.

This was the beginning of a great waterpower story that was responsible for immense growth of commerce and industry for Lockport and Niagara County. The story of the hydraulic power in Lockport was always filled with controversy. From the beginning to the end, over one hundred years apart, there were battles over who was the legal owner to the waterpower.

It should be noted that even though the hydraulic raceway ceased to be used for power in the 1900’s, the raceway is now being successfully re-used again, this time for tourism purposes, by the Lockport Caves and Underground Boat Ride. This story of re-birth is becoming common all along the Erie Canal today.

Living today as we do, secluded from the remembrances of the Great Industrial Age of Lockport during the 19th century, we cannot fathom the magnitude of commerce that was to take place around the locks and canal. First came the milling industries, with Lyman Spalding, the original landowner, building a seven-story mill. Other mills were built by Jabez Pomeroy, William Bass, Otis Hathaway, N.H. Wolf, Thornton & Chester, Mr. Thompson, Edward Bissell, C.G. Jones, WP. Daniels, Douglas & Jackson and the Franklin Mills. Actually, there were scores of milling businesses associated with early Lockport.

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