Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

May 4, 2013

CANAL DISCOVERIES: Hydraulic power attracted business

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

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.

Heavier industry also followed: The Holly Company of Birdsall Holly (steam heat and fire equipment), International Pump, the Richmond Mfg. Co. (flour milling machinery), Lockport Pulp Co. (paper mill), Niagara Paper, Westerman & Co. (iron goods), United Indurated Fiber (containers), Cowles Aluminum & Electric Smelting, William Cocker Saw Co., Trevor & Penfield Tackle Blocks, Tarbox & Co., Boston & Lockport Block, Western Block (block and tackle), Neil Bros. & Brooks (straw wrapping paper), Lockport Paper Co., Traders Paper Co., United Box Board, American District Steam, Niagara Preserving Co. (cannery), Erie Preserving Co., Niagara Stave Co., Lockport Glass Works, A.J. Mansfield Glass, Oliver Bed Factory, Lockport Cotton Batting, Niagara Cotton Batting, New York Cotton Batting, Gardner Foundry, Hall Iron Works, Drew Foundry, Bramley Bros. Foundry, McKim Furniture, Dumville Shirt Co, Sillesky Shirt Co., Tothill Shirt Co., Field Force Pump Co. (fruit tree sprayers), Empire Mfg.(cotton hose and surgical supplies), Merritt Mfg. (wood working equipment), E.H. Feree (aluminum goods), Niagara Textile (cloth goods), Evans & Liddle Brooms, Bronson Carriages, Lockport Basket Works, Norman & Evans (derricks, dredges and merry-go-rounds), Turner & Graham Wooden Boxes, Morgan Bros. Boats, A.S. Finn Boats, H.F. Cady Boats, and Merchants Gargling Oil.

This list just presents the tip of the iceberg for manufacturing and industry around the canal at Lockport. These industries all owed their existence to the Erie Canal. The list of merchants that sold retail products, such as grocers and dry goods, etc., would far surpass this list, several times over. Also not included in this list are services and professionals, doctors, lawyers, and countless others. Not only here in Lockport; this same scenario played out in every new city and town springing up along the entire length of the Erie Canal.




Doug Farley is the director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center. His column appears every Saturday. The Erie Canal Discovery Center is a great place to start your Erie Canal adventure and is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Join us today for a free, public event at 11 a.m. for the Key to the Lock Awards and Erie Canal Song Contest winner's performance.