Exploring Utica

lcmm Museum

Our World Canals Tour continues through the city of Utica with today (Monday) being a day off after two days of hosting people from the area. One of the things I like to do on my “day-off” is get the lay of the maritime landscape and today, with the help of Utica City Planner Dana Crisino, who has been so helpful in working the logistics for our visit here, I enjoyed a fascinating tour of Utica Harbor and identified where the original Erie Canal traveled through the heart of the city.

Utica Harbor, currently the subject of an environmental cleanup, is home to the NYS Canal Corporation’s machine shop (1933) and storage building (1913) and accessible through their own just restored lock. We were met by Dan Cornmire, the canal section superintendent, who graciously showed us around his facilities and showed us many photos of the harbor in use.  He also explained the workings of his facility. The area is currently the subject of much discussion and analysis about what should happen there next and I couldn’t help get excited about Utica Harbor’s potential to bring boaters into the central part of the city already served by an established group of restaurants and hotels.

The freshly refurbished Utica Harbor Lock

The freshly refurbished Utica Harbor Lock (photo: Art Cohn)

From Utica Harbor, our next stop was to the Oneida County Historical Society museum where I was greatly assisted by Director Brian Howard and knowledgeable volunteers in my quest to visualize the maps and photographic images which would identify the path of the old Erie Canal through town. I was not disappointed. The Society’s canal presentation included two wonderful folk models of Erie canal boats, so identified because they had stables in their bows. The 1878 birds eye view of Utica showed perfectly the curved arc of the Erie Canal as well has the north-south location of the Chenango Canal which operated from 1836 to 1877.  In the research library we were able to locate maps of the old Erie canal which confirmed that Erie lock 46 had been within the city limits. A collection of photographs already researched and selected for the web site presented a great collection of canal photographs and postcards from the greater Utica area.

After our visit to the museum, Dana and I drove down to Oriskany Street and were now clearly able to visualize that this had once been the location of the old Erie Canal and this was confirmed by the still grand surrounding 19th century architecture. The relative locations of the Mohawk River, the present Erie Barge Canal, the Utica wetlands and Utica Harbor geographically now made sense.

I want to thank Mayor David Roefaro and Dana Crisino for all their help and support while we were here and especially thank Canal Corporation director Carmella Mantello and her staff for their continued indispensable logistical support of this journey.

Art Cohn
Executive Director