The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission has announced the recipient of the 2013 Erie Canalway Heritage Award of Excellence: Enlarged Erie Lock 60 and Gallup’s Change Bridge #39 in Macedon, Monroe County. Honorable Mentions were awarded to Bushnell’s Basin Boat Dock and Canal Amenity Center in the Town of Perinton and the Trail of Hope in Lyons.
The Heritage Award honors significant places of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and recognizes excellence in advancing the goals of the Erie Canalway Preservation and Management Plan. A five-person independent jury selected award recipients based on a written application and site visit, which included meetings with officials at each site, as well as community leaders, municipal representatives, and other stakeholders. Read more →
The Friends of Schoharie Crossing are sponsoring a talk entitled “The History of the Barge Canal” on Tuesday, May 28 at 6:30pm. It will be presented by Craig Williams, historian at the New York State Museum in Albany at the Enders House, located adjacent to the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site Visitor Center, at 129 Schoharie Street, Fort Hunter, NY.
Closing in on its 100th anniversary, the modern day Barge Canal is not so modern anymore but back in the nineteen teens it was full of invention and innovation in much the same way the earlier canal had been in 1825. Williams will explain the Barge Canal’s construction, usage throughout the 20th century and its transition into the tourism business. Read more →
Parks &- Trails New York (PTNY) and the Canalway Trails Association New York (CTANY) have released their third annual report, Closing the Gaps: A Progress Report on the Erie Canalway Trail 2012. “Since PTNY and CTANY launched their “Closing the Gaps Campaign” in 2010 in conjunction with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, interest in completing the Erie Canalway Trail among citizens, community leaders, and local, state and federal government officials has reached an all-time high,” the groups said in a press release announcing the annual report.
The report notes efforts in 2012 to close the remaining 84 miles of gaps in the 361-mile trail that extends from Buffalo to Albany: Read more →
Four recent developments remind us of the opportunities to tie history to other initiatives here in New York. Doing that successfully will continue to require leadership, persistence, and imagination.
*New York pride…-and history? The New York State Economic Development Corporation is running ads in business journals to attract businesses to the state. The ads link to the Development Corporation’s Web Site. The ads say, among other things: Read more →
The first 20 years of Keeseville’s Thomas William Symons’ work as an engineer were incredibly successful. A list of his achievements reads like a career review, but he was just getting started. After a second stint in the Northwest, he returned to the east in 1895, charged with planning and designing the river and harbor works at Buffalo. He was named engineer of the 10th Lighthouse District, which included Lakes Erie and Ontario, encompassing all the waterways and lighthouses from Detroit, Michigan, to Ogdensburg, New York.
Among his remarkable projects was “a very exposed, elaborate lighthouse and fog signal” on Lake Erie, near Toledo. Grandest of all, however, was one of Thomas Symons’ signature accomplishments: planning and constructing the world’s longest breakwater (over four miles long). Built along the shores of Buffalo, it was a project that earned him considerable attention. Further improvements he brought to the city enhanced his reputation there. Another major project talked about for years came to the forefront in the late 1890s—the possibility of a ship canal spanning New York State. The 54th Congress in 1897 commissioned a report, but the results disappointed the powerful committee chairman when Symons’ detailed analysis named a barge canal, not a ship canal, as the best option.
In 1898, New York’s new governor, Teddy Roosevelt, assigned Thomas to personally investigate and report on the state’s waterways, with emphasis on the feasibility of a barge canal to ensure it was the correct option. A concern on the federal level was national security, which was better served by Symons’ plan to run the canal across the state rather than through the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, up Lake Champlain, and down the Hudson to New York City.
Thomas’ route across New York kept the structure entirely with America’s borders. (This and many other projects were requested by the War Department, which explains the security factor.) His additional work for Roosevelt reached the same conclusion, and after extended arguments in Congress, $100 million was appropriated for canal improvements. The decision was affirmation of Thomas’ judgment and the great respect in Congress for his engineering capabilities.
In 1902, the senate noted “the conspicuous services of Major Thomas W. Symons regarding the canal problems in New York,” and that he had “aided materially in its solution.” A senate resolution cited “his able, broad-minded, and public-spirited labors on behalf of the state.”
During the canal discussions, his life had taken an unusual turn. Teddy Roosevelt had won the presidency in 1902, and in early 1903, the decision was made to replace his top military aide. Keeseville’s Thomas Symons was going to the White House.
It was sad news for Buffalo, Thomas’ home for the past eight years. At a sendoff banquet, the praise for him was effusive. Among the acknowledgments was that his work in Buffalo’s harbor had brought millions of dollars of investments and widespread employment to the city. From a business and social perspective, one speaker professed the community’s “unbounded love, affection, and admiration.” The comments were followed by an extended ovation.
For a man of Symons’ stature, some of the new duties in Washington seemed a bit out of place. Officially, he was the officer in charge of Public Buildings and Grounds of the District of Columbia, a position for which he was obviously well suited. (And, the job was accompanied by a pay raise to the level of Colonel of Engineers.)
However, Thomas was also the president’s number one military aide, making him the Master of Ceremonies for all White House functions. Every appearance by Teddy Roosevelt was planned, coordinated, and executed by Symons, his close personal friend. Depending on whom the guests were, Thomas selected the decor, music, food, and entertainment.
He became the public face of all White House events. In reception lines, it was his duty to be at the president’s side. No matter what their stature, he greeted each guest as the line progressed, and in turn introduced each guest to Roosevelt. Everyone had to go through Roosevelt’s right-hand man before meeting the president (though he actually stood to the president’s left).
He also played a vital diplomatic role by mingling with the guests, ensuring all were seated and handled according to their importance, and allowing the President and First Lady to feel as secure as if they had planned each event themselves.
He was also the paymaster general of the White House, seeing to it that all funds appropriated for expenses were spent properly. The media regularly noted that in Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Symons was the most conspicuous person except for the president himself.
With so many responsibilities, the job of top aide to the president seemed impossibly busy, which is why Roosevelt expanded the staff from one to nine aides, all of them placed under the charge of Symons, who could then delegate much of his authority.
The only sense of controversy to arise during Thomas’ career was related to the development of New York’s barge canal, and it had nothing to do with him personally. He was the designer of the proposed system, and many felt it was critical that he stay involved in the project. But the new duties in Washington kept him very busy. Because Congress approved additional engineering employees to work under Symons, some felt it was wrong to allow Thomas to spend some of his time working on the canal project, away from his regular job.
Symons even agreed to forego the higher pay he received from the White House position in order to help with the canal. There was considerable resistance, but Roosevelt himself stepped forward, telling Congress that as governor, he had hired Thomas Symons to closely examine New York’s waterways. Thus, there was no man better suited for overseeing the $100 million expenditure.
The legislators relented, and by authority of a special act of Congress, Symons was allowed to work on the creation of New York’s barge canal system. After Roosevelt’s first term, Thomas left the White House and focused his efforts on the canal work.
In 1908, when the Chief Engineer of the Army Corps was retiring, Symons, by then a full colonel, was among the top candidates for the job. His strongest advocate was President Roosevelt, but after 37 years of service, Thomas submitted his name to the retirement list.
He remained active in the work on New York’s canals, which he monitored closely, and despite suggestions of excessive costs, the project came in well below the original estimates. He also served on the Pennsylvania Canal Commission and continued working and advising on other engineering projects.
His role in the building of America is undeniable, from New York to Washington State- the border with Mexico- the Mississippi River- Washington, D.C.- and so many other places. The world’s longest breakwater (at Buffalo) and New York’s barge canal system stand out as his major career accomplishments. And Roosevelt’s first administration took him to the highest echelons of world power for four years. He shared the p
resident’s gratitude and friendship.
Thomas Symons, trusted aide, the man Teddy Roosevelt called the “Father of Barge Canals,” died in 1920 at the age of 71. In 1943, a Liberty ship built in Portland, Oregon was named the SS Thomas W. Symons in his honor.
Photos: Colonel Thomas Williams Symons, civil engineer- a portion of the breakwater in Buffalo harbor.
Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor recently received an $8,000 grant from the National Park Foundation that will enable 1,472 students from 27 schools in eight school districts across New York State to participate in educational field trips along the Erie Canal this fall.
“We have tremendous canal historic sites from Buffalo to Albany, but the cost of bringing students to them has become prohibitive for many districts. This grant removes that barrier so that students can experience firsthand the innovation and impact of the Erie Canal,” said Beth Sciumeca, Executive Director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. In addition to Ticket To Ride funding, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor secured an additional $5,000 from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) to enhance the field trip program. These funds are being used to enlist the assistance of the Albany Institute of History & Art, which is developing a web-based curriculum guide and conducting teacher training and post-visit evaluations.
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is one of 35 national parks and heritage areas to receive a grant from the National Park Foundation, the national charitable partner of America’s National Parks. With support from Disney, the Ticket To Ride program provides financial resources for transportation and in-park educational programming that make field trips to national parks and heritage areas possible for schools across the country.
Looking for funding? This competitive grant program makes awards ranging from $2,000 to $7,000 and is aimed at funding projects that serve to advance the goals and strategies of the Erie Canalway Preservation and Management Plan.
Proposals related to historic preservation, conservation, recreation, interpretation, tourism, and community development will be considered. Eligible organizations and requested projects must be based within Corridor boundaries and include nonprofits, municipalities, and federally recognized Native American tribes.
The Path though History project does not operate on a tabula rasa. When Henry Hudson arrived, there were no signs to guide him. Today there are more signs then one can count. For Path through History the challenge is not to create ex nihilo but to create order out of chaos. Read more →
More than two dozen boats are expected to participate in this year’s Tugboat Roundup in Waterford. The Roundup, cancelled last year due to damage caused by the storms Irene and Lee, is organized by the town of Waterford and runs from Friday, September 7 through Sunday, September 9.
Working tug boats from along the Hudson River including Kingston, Albany and Troy, from the Canal System, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River are expected to converge in Waterford in time for Friday afternoon’s parade. The parade starts at the Port of Albany at 2:45 on Friday with boats arriving in Waterford as early as 5pm. Live music will be performed throughout the event with at least nine different groups booked to play on board one of the tugs, the Grand Erie, docked in front of the Visitor’s Center along the canal at the foot of Tugboat Alley in the village.
Boat tours will be offered on both the Hudson River and the Waterford locks and kids activities will include face-painting, clown performances, puppet theaters, a bouncy-bounce, pony rides. and more throughout the weekend.
On Sunday, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) will be dedicating the Waterford flight of locks as a significant engineering achievement in America. This dedication will take place on Sunday.
Entries are being accepted through Friday, September 7, 2012 for the 7th annual Erie Canalway Photo Contest. Winning photos will be displayed in the 2013 Erie Canalway calendar, which will be available free of charge in December.
Amateur and professional photographers are invited to submit prints and digital images in four contest categories: Bridges, Buildings and Locks- For the Fun of It- On the Water- and the Nature of the Canal.
The contest captures and shares the beauty, history, people, and distinctive character of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, which is comprised of the Erie, Oswego, Cayuga/Seneca, and Champlain Canals, and their historic alignments, and surrounding communities.
You can download official contest rules and an entry form online.
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor spans 524 miles across the full expanse of upstate New York, encompassing the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals and their historic alignments, as well as more than 230 canal communities. Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission, in partnership with the National Park Service, collaborates with government agencies, communities and organizations to protect and promote the canal corridor for all to use and enjoy.
Photo: 2011 First Place Photo Winner “The Locks at Lockport” by Stephen Bye.
Tugboats will Roundup the weekend after Labor Day in Waterford after taking last year off due the effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
The Tugboat Roundup is an annual event in Waterford, celebrating the maritime heritage of upstate and interior New York at the confluence of the Hudson River and New York State Canal system. The Roundup begins on Friday, September 7 and concludes on Sunday afternoon, September 9.
More than 30 tugboats, workboats, barges and other craft are expected along the Waterford wall at the entrance to the Erie Canal. The festival takes place in front of the Visitor’s Center at the foot of Tugboat Alley and kicks off with the Tugboat Parade on Friday afternoon which starts at the Port of Albany, coming into Waterford in late afternoon. The Mohawk-Hudson chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers will be recognizing the Waterford Flight of Locks as a significant American Engineering achievement on Sunday at noon during the Roundup. The flight is a two-mile long series of five locks, critical to the success of the “modern” Erie Canal when it was built in the Nineteen Teens (it opened in 1917). Boats are raised from Hudson River level more than 180 feet into the Mohawk River above Cohoes.
Additional land displays include local crafters, artists, food tents, historical displays and local organizations. The American Red Cross, continuing in their efforts to help the region recover from last year’s storms, will have a tent at the festival for more information and donations. Local fire departments, always at the ready, will also have information areas.
Live music with local musicians will take place throughout the weekend, kicked off on Friday afternoon with canal and river balladeer George Ward and including other local bands such as “All Nite Long,” “Yesterday’s News,” “Flood Road,” Nixie Dixie Cats,” “Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers,” “Lawson,” “Scott Stockman with Big Blue Sun,” and wrapping up with the “Boys of Wexford” on Sunday afternoon.
Fireworks will take place on Saturday evening at 8:00.
More information on the event, and the complete schedule can be found online. Check out video just released by the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce: http://youtu.be/69rO-PkJwfA
The Tugboat Roundup is organized by the Town of Waterford with the support of sponsors.
Photo: The 2008 Tugboat Round-Up, Courtesy Duncan Hayes, NPS (Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor).