David Stockton started documenting historic sites in the City of Lockport when he started getting the sinking feeling that his city was about to lose some of its most important ones.
It was 1973 when Stockton, just a fan of history then, started down a journey that would lead to him becoming a local historian, someone who uses photographs to mark what "used to be" in the community he loves.
His first round of photos came in response to the concept known as Urban Renewal, a concept many Niagara Falls residents are unfortunately familiar with as well.
From Stockton's view, the federal effort to reshape urban areas caused a lot more harm than good in Lockport, taking away part of the city's history and character.
"It was a good, old American city," Stockton said. "They did damage that they can never really correct. It's a shame. You can't put it back once they did it."
The sense of loss drives Stockton's continued interest in preserving Lockport's past today.
Like me, he envisions a brighter future for the long-neglected Adam Street Bridge, an historic Erie Canal lift bridge, which has been languishing in an upright position since 2011.
As Stockton notes, Lockport is home to one of three "twin" bridges along the historic Erie Canal. The other two — located in Brockport and Albion — are fully operational. Of the three communities, Lockport is the only one to have one of its twin bridges out of service.
The Adam Street Bridge and its partner, the Exchange Street bridge, are among 16 canal lift bridges, which Stockton believes should all be part of what state officials frequently discuss a "renewed" or "enhanced" Erie Canal experience.
There's certainly cost to be considered. Rehabbing the bridge or full reconstruction would cost millions. There are structural and mechanical issues to deal with and, as Stockton notes, the bridge is currently out of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Failing a full-blown restoration, Stockton believes there's still an opportunity to make the bridge more attractive and clean it up a bit.
Left in an up position and non-operational, the bridge is just not a good look for residents, visitors, the canal system or the city.
"You don't want to have one of your front teeth knocked out, which is the equivalent of what that is," he said.
Stockton's at a loss to understand why more people — especially at the state level — wouldn't support full restoration, noting that when both the Adam Street Bridge and the Exchange Street Bridge worked in tandem, they made for more of a real "experience" along the canal. He fondly recalls the days when a watchman moved from bridge to bridge and a bell clanged to let everyone know the bridge was heading into lift mode.
"That's priceless," Stockton said. "That's like Norman Rockwell stuff."
The Erie Canal was once 'THE" most vibrant commercial waterway in all of America.
Those days are long gone, leaving only recreational and historic opportunities behind.
It is still a pathway for boaters and sightseers. The investment in the Flight of Five project in Lockport is an example of the importance in investing in history.
As Stockton notes, the New York State Department of Transportation, recently approved $50 million for repairs at 15 trusses and lift bridges in Monroe, Orleans and Wayne counties.
If the state can find money for bridge work in those places, why not here?
It's a good question.
As he has with other elements of Lockport's past, Stockton says he'll keep advocating for preserving the community's history, and for upgrades at the Adam Street Bridge.
"We lost the history of our downtown and I don't think we're going to get that back, but I'm still going to fight for what we've got," Stockton said.
As Urban Renewal should have taught everyone living in places like Lockport and Niagara Falls, it almost always makes more sense to cultivate and nurture bridges to the past.
Contact Regional News Director Mark Scheer at 282-2311, 2250.