Fairport and Spencerport

by Art Cohn

Fairport was a wonderful stop on many levels; we had a great outpouring of folks visiting the boat, two ice cream shops in close proximity, and it was the first community we visited where the original alignment of the old and new Erie Canal was the same. The community literally developed on both sides of the historic canal. In exploring the community’s canal history, we learned that the modern Box Factory complex where we moored was situated on the site of the DeLand Chemical Company, destroyed by fire in the late nineteenth century. We also learned from our host, Scott Winner, that the Fairport Village Partnership had recently worked with the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to erect a number of outdoor interpretive signs in the downtown. One of these signs was on the canal just across from where the Lois was secured to the dock and the Deland Company had been. A picture can be worth ten thousand words. One of the things we say to our visitors in each community is “…if you went back to the 1860s, canal boats like the Lois McClure would be tied up at these walls.”

A canal boat at the DeLand Chemical Factory
A canal boat at the DeLand Company (photo courtesy of Scott Winner)

The photograph from the Fairport interpretive panel illustrates our observation and helps connect the Lois McClure to the town’s history. Here we see an Erie Canal boat, so designated because it has a cabin at both ends, a rear cabin for the family that operates the boat, and a forward cabin for the horses or mules that tow the boat on the canal. A careful look at the photograph also reveals a “Derrick,” invented by Mr. J. Y. Parce of Fairport, patented (#24912) in 1859, and eventually built for the DeLand Company. We have not yet determined whether this heavily laden canal boat is loading or unloading.

A line of eager visitors awaiting to board at Spencerport
A line of eager visitors awaiting to board at Spencerport (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

We then traveled west to Spencerport, where we’ve had an incredible reception from over 1000 enthusiastic visitors. We arrived on Monday afternoon and were greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd, who formed lines waiting to get on board. I have finally experienced what it feels like to be a “rock star for history.” We saw many kids, who despite being just a day away from starting school, had an interest in history that was truly gratifying. In the park and gazebo next to the boat, music and dancers, artists, and food vendors made it feel like a festival. Mayor Joyce Lobene made us feel very welcome indeed. One of the visitors in Spencerport on Tuesday was Town Historian, Carol Coburn, and I enquired if she had any images of canal boats here during the towpath era. Before the day was out, Carol had made copies of a number of wonderful photographs, including the photo below. It is another great example of canal boats like the Lois McClure in a community we are visiting today. It appears to be a posed photograph, with canal families and crews on deck for the camera. The boats appear to be without cargo and it looks like the canal is closed for some reason, perhaps a break in the towpath ahead. Carol is doing some research to help us better understand the story.

Canal boats in Spencerport
Canal boats in Spencerport (photo courtesy of Carol Coburn)

Today it is on to Middleport…37 miles…no locks. But.. 11 lift bridges. We have dubbed this day, “the day of the lift bridge.”

Art Cohn
Executive Director

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