Black River Canal

From Jefferson County NY Wiki

Black River Canal System[edit | edit source]

Photo of Old Black River Canal Lock Park
Photo of Old Black River Canal Lock Park, more photos at this link.

The Black River Canal was industrial to the growth of the upstate region, due to the large amount of commerce and supplies it brought to and from the region. This canal was created to connect the Erie Canal to the Black River and runs for about 35 miles in total, eventually connecting Carthage and Rome, NY.

In a canal system locks are used to raise and lower boats from one level to the next, using gates on either end of each lock. In the Black River Canal System there were 109 locks to overcome the 693 foot height between the beginning and ending points, including through the treacherous Lansing Kill Gorge. Water was supplied from the Forestport feeder and dam, near Boonville; as well as two smaller feeders. Later other rivers and waterways in the area were tapped. In addition to the locks themselves the system also consisted of toll booths, bridges, aqueducts, culverts, waste-weirs, and spillways.

The construction on the canal was started in 1837 and completed in 1855, and done mostly by Irish immigrants using native limestone. Some of the construction (as well as using the canal system) could be dangerous due to local materials and the dangerous gorge that part of the canal system was built through.

The boats that were used on the canal were the same size as used on the Erie Canal System; 70 tons and 90 feet long with an interior width of 15 feet. Most of the locks themselves would be used to raise a boat 10 feet, but some varied between raising a boat 12 feet or only 4 feet.

On Route 46, south of Boonville , the canal’s Five Combines can still be found.

The tolls to New York State never made up for the price the state paid to construct and maintain the system, but the canal brought much localized commerce and expansion to the North Country itself.

By the early 1900's the usage of the canal had begun to drop off dramatically, due to a number of reasons. Much of what was being transported on the canal were logs and wood from the area, and eventually a marked decrease in logging was felt due to the clearing of local forests taking it's toll. Also, inadequate funding caused frequent breakdowns and low water in the system. Thirdly, the building of railroads in the region provided much faster transport, and could move perishable goods to their destinations much quicker.

A slight increase of usage came with the building of the barge canal system on the Mohawk River, as large amounts of limestone and sand were needed to be transported. But the system soon closed after this, between 1922 and 1926 after being instrumental in doing it's part in helping to open the North Country.

There is a Canal Museum in Boonville, a trail system built along the old canal towpaths, and a park off Route 12 outside of Boonville.

Current pictures of some of the locks of the Black River Canal System (external link, about halfway down the page)

Boonville Black River Canal Trail (external link)

Current photos from the trail system built along the former canal (external link)

Whitford's History of New York Canals, Chapter IX, The Black River CanalSuperscript text (external link)