Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum Keeps History Alive

Sep 21, 2017

A replica boat built by volunteers to 10 years to build.
Credit John Smith/WAER News

Visionaries are credited with discovering in 1985 what would become the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum.  The roughly six acre site was overgrown with brush and trash.  Three-bay dry docks were restored.  The rebuilt versions are the only ones that exist on the Erie Canal.

“Chittenango Lateral Canal that once went into the Village of Chittenango.  We have Chittenango Creek on the perimeter of the site that feeds the canal and also drains the dry dock bays.”

That’s Executive Director Chis O’Neil.  An estimated 480 boats were built on the site for about 60 years.

“So, this is a full size walk-on canal boat.  This boat is actually on the site where they originally built boats and then, they would have launched the boats into this lateral canal, right here.”

Intern and tour guide Derrick Pratt says a team of 30 men constructed the boats and resulted in eight cargo boats produced annually.

Blacksmith Mike Allen
Credit John Smith/WAER News

“It usually took them about one month to build a boat.  Over the winter they would pre-fabricate most of the boards and beams.”

That also created the need for a Blacksmith.  Mike Allen holds live demonstrations for visitors in the Blacksmith shop.

“I’ve recently seen some research that said that in a 96 foot boat there was 5,800 pounds of metal.  There were over 2,000 spikes and nails.  But, various straps and hinges that went into building one of those boats.”

Chittenango Landing was also a stop for boat repair work or to stock up on supplies and at the General Store. Jean is a volunteer who greets them.

The restored dry docks.
Credit John Smith/WAER News

“It brings people back to realize how important the Erie Canal was.  I think most people today don’t think about it and certainly not the young people because they don’t even know what a canal boat is.”

However, with interest in the Canal from young adults such as Pratt in passing along the history, younger generations are bound to hear about it.

“We’re on the expansion of the (Erie) canal.  The original canal is obviously celebrating its 200th anniversary.  It was completed in 1825… started digging in 1825 though.  That was about a quarter of a mile north of here.  But, when they expanded the canal because it was so successful, the moved it south down to here.  In 1855 is when they dug out the Chittenango portion and we were open from then until the 1920’s as a functioning boat repair site.”

Pratt helped to organize a Summer Send-off Celebration tonight, on this last day of Summer 2017.

There’s also a Tour of the Towpath this weekend as a pre-kick-off to the World Canals Conference in Syracuse.  There are two off-road bicycling events a two day or a one day trek.  One is the Old Erie Canal and spans 36 miles – the distance of the canal between Rome and DeWitt.  Others may want to continue bicycling to Syracuse’s Inner Harbor.   O’Neil says she is excited that Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum will get new visitors this weekend and during the conference.

“We’re going to have field trips that come out to the site and we’re excited to show them not only the history but, also some of our current efforts.”

For more information on the Bike Ride click here. Chittenango Landing’s Summer Send-off is tonight from 6 to 8 P.M.  For more information click here.

(L-R) Museum Director, Chris O'Neil, Volunteer Jean and Intern Derrick Pratt standing outside the General Store.
Credit John Smith/WAER News