The Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum
On the State and National Register of Historic Places, Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum is a remnant of the rich history of the Erie Canal. Located on and within the Old Erie Canal Historic Park and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the site sits at the intersection of the Historic Enlarged Erie Canal and the c. 1822 Chittenango Canal. Constructed in 1855, the interpreted site preserved and rebuilt a rare 3-bay dry dock. 19th century craftsmen used the site’s three large, independently functioning bays to build and repair canal boats, maintaining and expanding this vital economic artery until the opening of the Barge Canal in 1918. Using archaeological techniques and historical information, scholars and enthusiasts preserved and recreated the site’s rich history. The interpreted site includes the original dry docks and sluiceway, a canal-side store, a sawmill, boat shop, blacksmith shop, mule stable, a walk-on canal boat exhibit, sunken canal boat remains, a nature trail to a full-width aqueduct, picnic areas, access to the Erie Canalway Trail and a modern visitor center. The museum owns and studies an adjacent 27 acre property encompassing a portion of Clinton’s Ditch, an early dry dock complex and an abandoned portion of the Chittenango Lateral canal.
Founded in 1985 by local citizens concerned with preserving heritage, the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum is a wonderful source for historians as well as the public. Workshops, events and archaeological investigations explore the site’s history and contribute to its on-going evolution. The museum hosts fall and spring school education programs allowing students to get hands on experience of archeological techniques and tools of the canal era. The CLCBM library and archives contain a variety of books, photographs, ephemera and other artifacts, both specifically related to the Chittenango site and to the broader social, technological and economic history of the Erie Canal.
“FOR OVER THIRTY YEARS NOW I HAD BEEN INTERESTED IN HOW BOATS THAT ONCE NAVIGATED THE OLD ERIE CANAL HAVE BEEN BUILT. IT ALL BEGAN WHEN I DISCOVERED THE REMAINS OF A BOAT AT KIRKVILLE IN 1957.” -Robert E. Hager, 1987
This collection of Dr. Hager’s drawings include construction plans of canal boats used on the Erie Canal throughout the 19th century. These drawings were based on his extensive research on boat building techniques. Some diagrams, such as those of the “Lady Carrington II,” were used to build scale models of boats for institutions across New York State. The drawings were made on mylar and paper depicting various perspectives of boat exteriors, interiors, and hull construction. These images serve as a small sample of the prolific research and documentation produced by Dr. Hager all of which is preserved in the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum library and archives.
The Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum Digital Photographic Collection is a small portion of the entire photographic collection (approximately 1300 images), owned by the CLCBM. The collection represents a historical overview of Chittenango Landing and the surrounding areas that had significant importance to the canal boat industry in the middle section of the Erie Canal. Among some of the most valuable photographs are images of boats, dry docks and boatyards, workmen, views of Chittenango Pottery and Cannery. Some of the original images in this collection were used during the recreation activities at the Chittenango dry dock complex.
In 1871, facing a decline in canal traffic and revenue due to the growth of railways, the government of New York State offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who could find a replacement for animal power on the Erie Canal. Potential solutions needed to be able to move a boat laden with 200 tons of freight, at a rate for no less than 3 miles per hour, without unduly damaging the canal or its structures. Such a device or apparatus needed to be simple and durable, and be readily adaptable to the some 7,000 vessels then operating on the canal.
Hundreds of letters poured in to the committee created to oversee the contest. From all over the country, both professional engineers and amateur inventors submitted their designs for consideration. They ranged from simple modifications of existing steamship technology and designs, to new, radical, and often ill-conceived approaches, all of varying degrees of practicality and plausibility. These letters represent a just a small sample of those designs submitted. They highlight many of the more novel solutions which were presented to the committee. In addition to written descriptions of steamship propulsion methods, some letters in this collection include diagrams illustrating proposed designs.
By 1873, the steam power committee had selected those designs which it felt were viable, and from which working boats had been constructed. On October 16, these craft we brought to Syracuse, from which they would race from to Rome, stop for the night, and continue onward to Utica – with detailed measurements of speed and coal use taken along the way. The vessels there assembled were the William Baxter, the Port Byron, the Charles C. Pope, the Central City, and the William Newman – all craft which cleaved fairly close to either the screw or paddle wheel designs common on the steamships of the age, instead of the more fanciful designs which some had proposed. Competition was fierce, and although the Baxter ultimately made the trip with the fastest time, no ship, in the eyes of the commissioners, adhered to all of the criteria set down in 1871, and thus no prize was awarded.
Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum Library holds materials relating to the Great Steamboat Race – including additional letters similar to those in this collection, as well as plans and drawings of the boats which competed, newspapers articles describing the contest, and various pieces of legislation and government reports pertaining to these events.