Dry Docks

Empire Dry Dock and home of W. J. Wheeler

– from Paul Russell’s collection.

During the months that the Erie Canal was frozen in (December through March) life in our communities was busy.  Carpenters and craftsman would be feverishly repairing or building new wooden canal boats and barges during the short daylight hours for the coming navigation season.  Along the canal route between Cohoes and Schenectady there were more than 20 dry docks where these activities would be centered.  You can find some of the remnants of these dry docks at Crescent, Clutes (the eastern end of the Vischer Ferry Preserve), and one on either side of Ferry Drive in the Village of Vischer Ferry.  There is also one on the south side of the wide waters along the Cohoes Crescent Road.  This wide waters now forms a marsh and wet lands between the Crescent Dam and the Colonie Landfill.

Apple Blossom Festival

The Mohawk Towpath Byway in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Shenendehowa and Riverview Orchards will host a day of family fun at 660 Riverveiw Road, Rexford on Saturday, May 9. There will be nature hikes, cooking demonstrations with local ingredients, local food, a working model of a canal lock, hay rides, childrens games that were a part of our heritage, giant bubble blowing, ice cream eating contest, and much more.  
The Apple Blossom Festival starts at 9 AM and wraps up at 4 PM. 
The event is free and food will be available at reasonable prices.

“Archealogical” Find

Refrigerator on Molly Stark BywayThis image is of a refrigerator door some 76 miles east of us on the Molly Stark Byway in Brattleboro, Vermont. If you look closely you will see a clipping, almost
10 years old, of an article by Glenn Griffith and a color photo of the Sept 22, 2005 presentation at Union Station, Washington DC.

Who says that the Byway story is not getting out there?

By the way, it’s my mother’s refrigerator and the image is by cousin, Marcia Hamilton.

Byway Origins

New York State Transportation Law Article 349-bb defines a “scenic byway” as a transportation route and adjacent area of particular scenic, historic, recreational, cultural or archeological characteristics which is managed to protect such characteristics and to encourage economic development through tourism and recreation. This is the story of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.

“Richard White-Smith proposed a byway as early as 1994, when I first started on the planning process for what became the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor,” says Karen Ingelke. White-Smith became a member of the MVHC Commission.

In May 1998 the New York State Department of Transportation called for proposals for new scenic byways. Richard identified and proposed the eastern end of MVH Corridor, specifically Schenectady to Cohoes and Waterford, as a good candidate. Karen Ingelke, the Commission’s Executive Director, suggested the “Mohawk Towpath Trail Scenic Byway” as the name, “Mohawk” to tie it with the River and the Native American influence and “Towpath” to tie in the Erie Canal and that portion of the history when draft animals provided the transportation power. Isabel Prescott, another member of the MVHCC at the time, recalls Richard White-Smith’s enthusiasm for a scenic Byway through the “…agricultural landscape linking the areas if innovation and industry at both ends.” Isabel adds that Karen Ingelke and Richard White-Smith were early advocates and the source of the vision of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.

The Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission obtained an FHWA Byway Grant to draft a corridor management plan for a byway.

Both Henrietta O’Grady and I sat on the Saratoga County Heritage Trails Committee. She represented the Town of Halfmoon and I represented the Town of Clifton Park. One of the key features of a county wide system of interlinked trails included heavily cycled Riverview Road and the Towpath Trail in the Vischer Ferry Preserve. These bicycle and pedestrian routes overlapped the proposed byway and it’s corridor. My curiosity was peeked by announcement of a public meeting to discuss the byway proposal at the Vischer Ferry Fire House on March 2, 1999. I recall that the major discussion revolved around standardization of signs: way-finding, interpretation, and recreational access signs associated with byway branding. Following the meeting I drafted and Henrietta O’Grady edited a letter of support. That letter firmly placed both Henny and I as members of the early advocacy committee.

“MVHC hosted a bus tour of the byway that included OPRHP folks, some MVHC commissioners, and interested parties along the proposed trail. There was great enthusiasm among the travelers to move forward on a corridor management plan for the byway. Barbara Henderson was the MVHCC staff person assigned to the byway project.  Isabel Prescott and Chris Callaghan were very involved during the planning period,” adds Karen Ingelke.

Barbara Henderson commuted all the way from Oswego to attend monthly advocacy committee meetings.  Her tenacity, attention to detail, and ability to inspire volunteers to contribute details, work together for a common goal, and share over political boundaries assured the project’s success.

By late 2001 Barbara had guided the advocacy committee to complete a Corridor Management Plan which was presented to the N Y S Department of Transportation.  The State Byway Advisory Committee, chaired by David H. Fasser accepted the plan and recommended that the Mohawk Towpath Byway become one of a network of New York State Scenic Byways.  Working with the area’s state legislative representatives, the advocacy committee assisted in preparing legislation, sponsored by Senator Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, which passed both houses of the State Legislature. The bill was signed into law by Governor George Pataki on July 22, 2003.

For her accomplishment Barbara Henderson was named “Mother of the Byway” by the newly constituted Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition, Inc.

Byway Humor

Life on the waterfront is tough.  One is exposed to all kinds of weather and life in the transportation industry is no more attractive today than it was a hundred years ago.  The romance of life on the canal is embellished by selective memory.

Tugboat Museum

Tugboat Frances Tericoma nudges the Pennsylvania Railroad Barge toward the guard gate above lock 6.  September 2008.

The Tugboat Frances Tericoma was tied up with its sister vessel historic Pennsylvania Railroad Barge at the Terminal Dock in Halfmoon during the summer of 2008.  Captain Steve Trueman had a vision of restoring the barge to a state that it could be a floating exhibit along the Mohawk Towpath Byway. It would be a living museum of the commerce and life on the Erie Canal from wartime (WW1) through the 1960’s.

The only sanitary facilities on the floating venue was a small, cramped head* on the tug which discharged to a holding tank below deck.  During operation as a tug even as late as the 1960s the holding tank… if there was one, was emptied legally in open water between ports-of-call.  The alternative in 2008 was a restroom in the nearby convenience store.  It became obvious after a month that the holding tank was too small for the vessel parked as a “permanent” display.  During an attempt to install a larger holding tank a spark from a welder’s torch ignited some methane and exploded the tank and contents over the below deck engine room.  No one was hurt, but the heroic effort to clean up the mess for the Byway’s mid July Board meeting as an unexpected quest of Captain Steve… a story for another day.

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* Picture an primitive version of the tourist class restroom on a commuter jet, but the small shaving mirror was hung in the galley behind the pilot house.

The Cohoes Crescent Road

– Kevin Franklin, Town of Colonie Historian

The 1842 Erie Canal is in the foreground with the towpath now the Cohoes Crescent Road between the canal and the Mohawk River. - photo from the Fonda Family Collection.

The 1842 Erie Canal is in the foreground with the towpath, now the Cohoes Crescent Road, between the canal and the Mohawk River. – photo from the Fonda Family Collection.

Originally, Cohoes Crescent Road may have been a foot path beside the south bank of the Mohawk River between the Hudson River and points west and used for centuries by Native Americans. The Native Americans knew places where the river was shallow and safe enough most times of the year to cross sides by fording through only a couple feet of water. Eventually early Europeans settled along both banks of the Mohawk River above the Cohoes Falls and used these same fording points as well.

Canal and towpath between Cohoes and Crescent

After the enlarged Erie Canal was completed in 1842 it was discovered that three mules could pull two barges more efficiently than two mules pulling one barge. Here the practice was documented on this stretch of the Erie Canal. From the Charles Holle Collection.

When the original Erie Canal was completed in 1825, a series of sixteen locks were needed between the Erie Canal basin at Albany and the canal aqueduct spanning the Mohawk River at Crescent in order to rise above the height and natural barrier of the Cohoes Falls. Known as the “Terrible Sixteen’s” as it took an entire day for a boat to pass through them all. Once above the falls, the Erie Canal wound its way along the southern bank of the Mohawk to the Crescent aqueduct where it crossed into what is now Saratoga County slightly east of where State Rt. 9 crosses today. The canal here was formed and protected by an earthen berm separating and protecting the canal bed from the waters and winter ice of the adjoining Mohawk River.

Towpath becomes Cohoes Crescent Road

Early travelers used the Erie Canal Towpath to travel between Cohoes and Crescent.
From the Charles Holle Collection.

This berm doubled as the towpath between the lock at the top of the falls to the aqueduct structure at Crescent which also supported a wagon bridge connecting both sides of the Mohawk. Being slightly longer than two miles in length, the berm eventually became known as the Cohoes Crescent Road. Early stages used this route to travel between Cohoes and points north in Saratoga County.

The Erie Canal here was abandoned by the State of New York with the construction of the new, New York State Barge Canal System of the early 20th Century. Large concrete dams were built here at Crescent raising the level of the river and obliterating the old river fords. The new Barge Canal locks at Waterford replaced the series of locks at Cohoes. The Mohawk River itself was now used by motorized canal boats. The road was eventually abandoned to the Town of Colonie. It became part of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway in 2003.

Round Table

The Mohawk Towpath Byway participated in a very productive Tourism Roundtable Summit hosted by the Cohoes Local Development Corporation and the City of Cohoes on Friday, January 23 at the newly refurbished Cohoes Visitor Center. Cohoes Tourism RoundtableThis group shot was to memorialize the occasion and provide an opportunity for Mark Castiglione of the Hudson River Valley Greenway to present a check to the City to help with the revitalization of the Cohoes Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center now has a large open area in the center for meetings such as this. There are plans for additional movable exhibits that will stimulate local history and heritage curiosity.