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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 99: History of the New York State Barge Canal.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1437-1454 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

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1892, Barge Canal recommendation of state engineer Martin Schenck — 1900, report of the Greene canal commission, Barge Canal survey — 1903, passage of $101,000,000 Barge Canal Act — 1905, Work begun on Champlain canal section — Locks widened to 45 feet — Features of the Mohawk River canalization — Deeper Hudson and Mohawk River ship canal projects.

I have lately made a tour through the Lakes George and Champlain as far as Crown Point. Thence returning to Schenectady, I proceeded up the Mohawk River to Fort Schuyler and crossed over to Wood Creek, which empties into the Oneida Lake, and affords the water communication with Ontario. I then traversed the country to the eastern branch of the Susquehanna, and viewed the Lake Otsego, and the portage between that lake and the Mohawk River at Canajoharie. Prompted by these actual observations, I could not help taking a more extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States, from maps and the information of others, and could not but be struck by the immense extent and importance of it, and with the goodness of Providence, which has dealt its favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them. — From a letter to Count Chastelleaux written by General Washington, after his journey up the Mohawk River in 1783.

This present chapter describes the New York State Barge Canal, and is one of six chapters treating of transportation in the Mohawk Valley. Prior ones have covered Mohawk River traffic, highways, bridges, Erie Canal and railroad building. The seventh sketch regarding valley transportation methods will be the one describing the first aeroplane flight over the course of the Mohawk.

The Barge Canal is the greatest, most important waterway engineering work in all the world's history, in the engineering difficulties encountered, in the population concerned, in volume of available trade, and in future possibilities, in which the Barge Canal promises to far surpass any waterway or land trade route now or ever in existence, not excepting the Panama or the Suez Canal.

If Elkanah Watson was the "father" of the old improved Mohawk waterway in 1796 and Jesse Hawley was the "father" of the Erie Canal of 1825, because their writings and activities were the first powerful means of furthering these projects, then the honor of being the "parent" of the Barge Canal belongs to a Mohawk Valley man and a native of Montgomery County — Martin Schenck. He is entitled to this distinction for the same reason as Watson and Hawley are entitled to theirs. His was the first public and definite proposal for a canal of the Barge Canal type, made in his report of 1892, when Mr. Schenck was state engineer and surveyor. Martin Schenck was born at the old Schenck place near the mouth of Knauderack Creek, which runs through Schenck's Hollow, just west of the north side "Nose" in the town of Palatine.

In this place it is well to state that Watson and Hawley were but two of many men who had advocated a lakes-to-the-sea waterway (by way of the Mohawk Valley) from the earliest days of the colony. They take their distinction from the fact that they were the first to put their plans before the public in a practical, concrete form, just as Martin Schenck was the first to advocate publicly a Barge Canal of a definite type, allied to the present undertaking. Hawley, Geddes and Forman were all instrumental in the initial advancement of the Erie (or Grand) Canal project, probably in the order named. Clinton did not take hold until the plan had already assumed a definite form, but his political power was one of the main causes for the act authorizing the canal work, and he, to a certain extent, deserves the title of the "father of the Erie Canal." The whole question of the originator of the canal idea has been threshed out for a century. The fact of the matter is that there have been hundreds of influential New York State men who have aided the cause of state waterways from the days of the Inland Lock Navigation Company. No one man is entitled to the sole credit for an idea so long in the minds of many men, but the canal projectors mentioned have well-earned distinction on account of their public labors on behalf of our State waterway.

The Barge Canal Bulletin issued a special edition in August, 1909, on "The Evolution of the Barge Canal," which described the efforts of the friends of the canals in behalf of the improvement and efficiency of the state waterways, from the completion of the Erie in 1825 to the successful culmination of their efforts in securing the legislative enactment of the Barge Canal acts. The essay mentioned contains the following:

"The first official presentation, of what is practically and distinctively the form of the present thousand-ton Barge Canal, seems to have been contained in the annual report for 1892, of State Engineer and Surveyor Martin Schenck, who said: 'The practical canal of the future, connecting Lake Erie and the Hudson River, ought to be one capable of bearing barges 250 feet in length by 25 feet breadth of beam, of a draft not to exceed 10 feet, and of such a height that the great majority of bridges, that should span the canal, might be fixed structures instead of drawbridges. With the proposed canal (which could be built for a reasonable sum), bearing barges towed in fleets, each boat carrying 50,000 bushels of wheat, New York would be enabled to hold her commercial supremacy against all comers for many years to come.'"

While Mr. Schenck's plan was not immediately adopted yet it probably blazed the way for the Barge Canal, the initial legislative measures for the construction of which were adopted eleven years later in 1903. The legislature, of the same year in which Mr. Schenck wrote his message advocating a waterway of the Barge Canal type, provided for a constitutional convention, which, among its other duties was to consider amendments relative to canal improvement. The constitutional convention met in 1894 and among its amendments was one providing that the canals might be improved in such manner as the legislature should provide by law. This was carried at the election of 1894, and was generally considered as a public mandate to the legislature to undertake the improvement of the New York State canals. The amendment became operative January 1, 1895, and the legislature of that year passed an act authorizing the deepening of the Erie and Oswego canals to nine feet and the Champlain Canal to seven feet. The project was a failure, the appropriation of nine million dollars being insufficient for the work and charges of graft and swindling were rife at the time.

On March 8, 1899, Governor Roosevelt appointed a committee of citizens, headed by Gen. Francis V. Greene, who were to consider the whole state canal question and report on the same. The "Barge Canal Bulletin" says: "The date of this appointment marks the real beginning of the Barge Canal enterprise as we know it today." Early in 1900 this committee reported, after a thorough study of the entire problem. They emphatically recommended that the canals should not be abandoned (a policy which was advocated by many citizens of the time) but proposed the enlargement of the Erie, Champlain and Oswego Canals — the Erie to a size suitable for 1,000-ton barges and the Champlain and Oswego to a nine-foot depth-practically the same recommendations that Mr. Schenck had made eight years before. This would allow the use of boats on the Erie 250 feet long, 25 feet wide, drawing 10 feet of water. The locks were to be 310 feet long by 28 feet wide, with 11 feet of water on the sills. The route followed closely the line of the present Barge Canal construction. Upon submission of this report the legislature appropriated $200,000 for Barge Canal surveys and estimates. Data had been gathered shortly before, over much of the proposed route, by the United States Deep Waterway Survey and this was available and hastened the preliminary work. The report of the survey was submitted to the legislature, March 15, 1901. Conflicting interests deferred legislative action until 1903, when a bill appropriating $82,000,000 was introduced providing for the improvement of the Erie Canal, Oswego Canal and the Champlain Canal. The estimate of cost was later raised to $100,592,993 and the bill as revised was submitted to the people at the election of 1903 and was carried. This law, with its subsequent amendments, came to be known as the $101,000,000 Barge Canal Act of 1903, and under its provisions the Barge Canal is now under construction. Says the Barge Canal Bulletin:

"In brief, the act provided for the issuance of eighteen-year bonds for canal improvement to the amount of not exceeding $101,000,000, not more than $10,000,000 to be issued within two years after passage of the act. A general annual tax of twelve-thousandths of a mill was authorized for each million dollars in bonds outstanding in any fiscal year. The State Engineer and the Superintendent of Public Works were directed to begin improvements to the canals upon the basis of a channel 75 feet in width on the bottom, 12 feet of water and at least 1,128 square feet of water cross-section, except at aqueducts and through cities and villages, where the width might be reduced and the cross-section of water modified as deemed necessary by the State Engineer, with the approval of the Canal Board. In rivers and lakes the channel was to have a minimum bottom width of 200 feet, a minimum depth of 12 feet and at least 2,400 square feet of water cross-section. The locks were to be 328 feet long by 28 feet wide in the clear, and with 11 feet of water on the miter-sills.

"Routes to be followed and details of construction were fixed. In general the route of the Erie was by way of the Hudson River from Troy to Waterford; thence by a new channel to the Mohawk above Cohoes Falls, and up the canalized Mohawk to Rome, with a few diversions to the existing canal; thence down the valley of Wood Creek, across Oneida Lake, down Oneida River to Three River Point and up Seneca River to the mouth of Crusoe Creek; thence by a new route to the existing canal at Clyde, whence the line of the existing canal was to be followed generally to the Niagara River at Tonawanda, and by this river and Black Rock harbor to Lake Erie. All work was to be by contract, and provisions for the condemnation of necessary lands and for the sale of abandoned portions of the canal were made. An advisory Board of five expert civil engineers and a Special Deputy State Engineer were authorized. The criticisms of the various commissions, that were appointed to consider canal affairs after the 1895 improvement, were heeded in part by vesting most of the responsibility for the work in the State Engineer, giving him authority over the preparation of plans and the supervision of construction, including both engineering and inspection." It will be noted that the foregoing route utilizes the natural waterways of the Mohawk and Oswego River valleys (joined by the Wood Creek line) over two-thirds of the route. The Mohawk River section comprises a third of the Erie route of the Barge canal system.

"Since the passage of the act of 1903, a score or more amendatory provisions have been made, many of which refer to its financing or to matters of administrative detail. One only have we space to speak of here — the widening of the locks in 1905 to 45 feet. This could be done without greatly increasing the cost, and would permit the passage of lake boats carrying 2,600 tons. The advantages of this great increase in carrying capacity of barges of forty-three feet beam over those of twenty-seven feet, the fact that Canadian canals now possess locks forty-five feet in width by fourteen feet depth on miter-sills, and the further fact that more than three-fourths of the entire Barge Canal route is through canalized natural waterways of sufficient width to enable boats of this beam to pass each other, were cogent reasons why this change was made.

"It would be obvious that in an undertaking of this character and magnitude, a vast amount of preliminary work in the way of surveys, borings, soundings, studies, plans and maps would be required. This preliminary work was soon under way, but it was not until April, 1905, that actual construction was begun upon the Champlain division, quietly and without any of the ceremonies usual to such an occasion."

This, in brief, is the history of the inception of the Barge Canal idea, its consideration and public adoption and the commencement of work. It may be briefly summarized as follows: 1892, State Engineer and Surveyor Martin Schenck's annual message and report advocating a Barge Canal; 1899, March 8, Gov. Roosevelt appoints a committee to study canal problem; 1900; canal committee reports and recommends canal enlargement; 1900, New York legislature appropriates $200,000 for preliminary surveys; 1901, March 15, report of canal survey made to legislature; 1903, $101,000,000 Barge Canal Act of 1903, providing for the Barge Canal improvement of the Erie, Oswego and Champlain canals; 1905, beginning of Barge Canal construction on all three divisions; 1906, October 3, work begun on the Mohawk River section at Cranesville, Montgomery County; 1909, Improvement of Cayuga and Seneca Canals authorized; 1911, Barge Canal terminals authorized; 1918, Barge Canal completed.

The State Engineers in charge of this work, since its commencement, have been, 1903-04, Edward A. Bond; 1905-1906. Henry A. Van Alstyne; 1907-1908, Frederick Skene; 1909-1910, Frank M. Williams; 1911-1914, John A. Bensel; 1915-1922, Frank M. Williams; 1923-24, Dwight B. La Du; 1925-1926 Roy G. Finch.

Barge Canal movable dams and locks, in the Mohawk River, are located at Scotia, Rotterdam, Cranesville, Amsterdam, Tribes Hill, Yosts, Canajoharie, Fort Plain, Mindenville.

Each of these dams is capable of use as a highway bridge. The Rotterdam dam is the only one so used, at the present (1925) writing.

Along the Mohawk River section, Barge Canal terminals are located at Schenectady, Amsterdam, Fonda, Canajoharie, Fort Plain, St. Johnsville, Little Falls, Herkimer, Ilion, Utica and Rome.

The following is here reprinted from a pamphlet entitled "The New York State Barge Canal" by State Engineer J. A. Bensel, published in 1912. Some of these facts are included in the chapter on the Erie Canal. It was written prior to the completion of the Barge Canal but it covers and describes the waterway as it stands today.

To understand the canal enlargement which New York state is now engaged in, a brief glance at the history of canal-building in the state is needed. The first work of interior waterway improvement was performed by two private companies, chartered in 1792. By the end of the eighteenth century they had completed most of their works. About 1808 agitation for state-built canals was begun. In 1817 the work of construction was commenced, the main branch being completed in 1825. Within the next decade several lateral canals were built. This period was closely followed by the first enlargement of three of the chief canals — a work protracted through many years and not completed till 1862. Then followed some two decades of little activity, during the latter part of which several of the lateral branches were abandoned. In 1884 the period of later improvements was begun by a series of lock-lengthenings, which continued for about ten years. The last decade and a half has witnessed the undertakings of two enlargements, the latter of which is the work now in progress — the Barge Canal.

During the history of its canals New York State has opened 1,050 miles of navigable waterways, including a hundred miles of interior lake navigation. In addition there are nearly 500 miles of lake and river navigation along the Canadian and Vermont borders, and 150 miles on the Hudson River. Some 350 miles of these canals have been officially abandoned, while about 50 miles more have fallen into disuse. The work of improvement now going on, known as Barge Canal construction, consists of the enlargement of four of the existing canals, large portions of the channels, however, being relocated. On one of these canals this is the second enlargement since its original building, on two this is the third enlargement, while on the other branch it is the fourth.

The four canals being improved are: (1) The Erie, or main canal, which stretches across the state from east to west, joining the Hudson River and Lake Erie; (2) the Champlain, which runs northerly from the eastern terminus of the Erie and enters the head of Lake Champlain; (3) the Oswego, which starts north, midway on the line of the Erie, and reaches Lake Ontario; (4) the Cayuga and Seneca, which leaves the Erie a little to the west of the Oswego junction and extends south, first to Cayuga Lake and then to Seneca Lake.

The original Erie Canal was begun in 1817 and finished in 1825. It had a bottom width of 28 feet, a width at water-surface of 40 feet and 4 feet depth of water. The first enlargement was made between 1836 and 1862. At that time the section of waterway was 70 feet at waterline, 52 1/2 or 56 feet at bottom, according to slope of sides, and 7 feet deep. The second enlargement was begun in 1896, when a depth of 9 feet was attempted, but this work was completed only at disconnected localities.

The original Champlain Canal, begun in 1817 and finished in 1823, had widths of 26 and 40 feet, respectively, at bottom and water-surface, and 4 feet depth. In 1860 widths of 35 and 50 feet, respectively, at bottom and water-line, and a depth of 5 feet were authorized. In 1870 increased widths of 44 and 58 feet, respectively, and a depth of 7 feet were ordered by the legislature. This improvement, however, was not completed. The enlargement of 1896-8 called for a depth of 7 feet, but this work also was not completed.

The original Oswego Canal, which was begun in 1825 and finished in 1828, had the same dimensions as the original Champlain, namely, 26 and 40 by 4 feet. The first enlargement was started in 1852 and completed in 1862, and gave a channel of the same size as the Erie at that time — 52 1/2 and 70 by 7 feet. The second enlargement, that of 1896-8, was also similar to that of the Erie, a depth of 9 feet being attempted, but the work was never wholly completed.

The original prism of the Cayuga and Seneca Canal, which was constructed between 1826 and 1828, was the same in size as the Erie, 28 and 40 by 4 feet. The first enlargement, accomplished from 1854 to 1862, was also similar to that of the Erie — 52 1/2 and 70 by 7 feet. This branch did not share with the other three in the enlargement of 1896-8.

The dimensions of the present enlargement or Barge Canal improvement, are the same for all four branches of the system. Briefly it may be stated that the law requires a channel at least 75 feet wide at the bottom and having 12 feet of water. In rivers and lakes the width is 200 feet, and 72 per cent of the length of the whole system is in river or lake channel. The locks are 328 feet long between gates, 45 feet wide, and have 12 feet of water over the sills.

These few pages cannot give any detailed account of route or of structures. The description might be extended indefinitely for there is much of interest to be found throughout the 440 miles of construction and the 350 miles of intervening lakes or adjoining rivers.

In general it may be stated that the Barge Canal project is largely a river canalization scheme. Previous state canals have been chiefly independent, or artificial channels, built in several instances on cross-country locations. Now, however, the route returns to the natural watercourses. The bed or the valley of the Mohawk is utilized from the Hudson to the old portage near Rome. Then Wood Creek, Oneida Lake, and Oneida, Seneca and Clyde Rivers are used, carrying the channel to the western part of the state, where the streams run north and the alignment of the old channel is retained for the new canal. The other branches of the Barge Canal occupy natural streams throughout most of their lengths.

The accompanying statistical tabulation gives some of the leading facts concerning the Barge canal:

Erie branch, length of canal, not including Hudson and Niagara River termini, 323.2 miles. Erie branch, number of locks, 35. Oneida Lake, not included in above mileage, no improvement needed, about 19 miles. Spurs to Erie branch (Syracuse and Rochester harbors), 10.26 miles. Champlain branch, length of canal, 61.5 miles. Champlain branch, number of locks, 11. Oswego branch, canal, 22.8 miles. Oswego branch, number of locks, 7. Cayuga and Seneca branch, length of canal (including spurs at heads of lakes), approximate 27.3 miles. Cayuga and Seneca branch, number of locks, 4. Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, portions needing no improvement and not included in above mileage, 65 miles. Width of channel, land line, earth section, bottom, minimum, 75 feet. Width of channel, land line, earth section, water-surface, 123 to 171 feet. Width of channel, land line, rock section, bottom, minimum, 94 feet. Width of channel, river line, bottom, generally, 200 feet. Depth of channel, land line and minimum river line, 12 feet. Locks, length between gates, 328 feet. Locks, available length, 310 feet. Locks, width of chamber, 45 feet. Locks, depth of water on sills, 12 feet. Dams, new, 28. Dams, old, with new crests, 6. Dams, old, used without change, 5. Bridges, 199. Boats, capacity, utilizing full lock width, about 3,000 tons. Boats, capacity, built for two to pass in most restricted channel and for two, traveling tandem, to be locked at one lockage, about 1,500 tons. Authorization of work (Erie, Champlain and Oswego Canals), chapter 147, laws of 1903. Authorization of work (Cayuga and Seneca Canal), chapter 391, laws of 1909. Appropriation (Erie, Champlain and Oswego Canals), $101,000,000. Appropriation (Cayuga and Seneca Canal), $7,000,000. Construction work begun (Champlain Canal), April 24, 1905. Construction work begun (Erie Canal), June 7, 1905. Excavation, preliminary (1903) estimate, not including work for dams, bridges, highway, railway, and stream changes and other small items (Erie, Champlain and Oswego Canals), 132,225,800 cubic yards. Excavation contract plans (Erie, Champlain and Oswego Canals), approximate, 105,000,000 cubic yards. Excavation, contract plans (Cayuga and Seneca canal), approximate, 9,100,000 cubic yards. Concrete, preliminary (1903) estimate (Erie, Champlain and Oswego Canals), 3,243,100 cubic yards. Concrete, contract plans (Erie, Champlain and Oswego Canals), approximate, 2,600,000 cubic yards. Concrete, contract plans (Cayuga and Seneca canal), approximate, 150,000 cubic yards.

The following are interesting comparisons between the Barge Canal and, the Panama Canal:

Barge Canal — 540 miles long; total lockage lift, 1,050 feet; dams, 39; locks, 57 lift, 2 guard and 9 smaller locks; number of structures, between 350 and 400; cost, $127,800,000; built by state with a population of 9,000,000; excavation, estimated total, 114,100,000 cubic yards; concrete, estimated total, 2,750,000 cubic yards; work begun, April 24, 1905.

Panama canal — 50 miles long; total lockage lift, 170 feet; dams, 4; locks, 6 pairs; number of structures, 12 locks, 1 spillway and 4 dams; cost $375,000,000; built by United States with a population of 90,000,000; excavation, estimated total, 203,710,000 cubic yards; concrete, estimated total, 5,000,000 cubic yards; work begun by Americans, May 4, 1904.

The following interesting facts regarding the Mohawk River section of the Barge Canal are from the Buffalo "Live Wire" of 1913:

The total length of the Delta dam is 1,100 feet, the length of the spillway being 300 feet. The maximum height of masonry above rock is 100 feet, and the approximate height of overfall (pool to crest) 70 feet. The masonry material used in this dam totaled 90,000 cubic yards. The contract price for the entire work, including alterations was $940,840. Details of construction included canal relocation for nearly two miles; a flight of lift locks, three lifts of 20.6 feet each; one lift lock with a lift of 12.1 feet, and a reinforced concrete aqueduct, trunk, about 208 feet long.

Other figures generating new ideas concerning the bigness of the Delta dam include statements to the effect that the area of watershed served by this dam totals 137 square miles. The capacity of the reservoirs at crest level is 2,750,000,000 cubic feet. The maximum depth at crest level is 70 feet, while the average depth at crest level is 23 feet. In the construction of this dam the village of Delta was wiped out and 295 buildings were removed; ten miles of highways were submerged and seven locks and one aqueduct were destroyed. The maximum flood of the Delta dam is more than 8,000,000 cubic feet per second, while the maximum regulated flood is 2,600 cubic feet per second.

The Hinckley dam is located a few miles distant from Trenton Falls. It is much larger than the Delta dam and its construction gives to the state a lake nine miles in length or one-third again as big as the one at Delta. [The Delta dam is on the upper Mohawk River, about five miles north of Rome. The Hinckley reservoir at Hinckley, on the West Canada Creek, about twenty-five miles north of Herkimer. Other reservoirs of this type are contemplated in the Mohawk Valley — probably on the Schoharie or East Canada Creeks. The Hinckley reservoir is located both in Oneida and Herkimer counties.]

In quantity of material used in the construction of these two tremendous dams there are surprisingly large figures, as indicated above. Take the masonry material alone. It totals upwards of 200,000 cubic yards, which if loaded into ordinary dump wagons, would present a picture something like this: By the time the first team reached either the Delta or Hinckley dams, the last wagon would be just starting out of Charleston, South Carolina. Or, if the procession were starting from the west, the last wagon would be at Springfield, Illinois, when the first wagon was dumped.

One does not have to be an engineer, an architect, nor yet a builder to appreciate the many striking features of this portion of the canal work. It is fraught with romance at almost every point. It is tinged with history all along the valley of the Mohawk. The old and the new intermingle, and there is always something to study according to the manner in which one's mind inclines.

Considering merely the work itself, four striking features of engineering accomplishment stand out prominently from the mass of detail involved in the building of this section of the canal. These features include lock and dam construction, the principle of movable dams, the canalizing of the Mohawk River, and land cuts.

Starting at the Hudson River end of the section, the first piece of lock and dam construction encountered is the lift from the Hudson River level to the level of the Mohawk, a distance of 184 feet, or 14 feet more than the entire lift in the entire Panama canal. This 184-foot lift is overcome by a series of five locks which replace 16 small locks that are required to make the same lift on the old canal. A great saving in time of lockage has been made here, for it is possible for barges to go through the new locks in about one hour and 35 minutes, as against 8 hours required to lift through the 16 old locks.

At the beginning of the Barge Canal's eastern course in the Mohawk River two immense dams have been constructed. The first of these is known as the Crescent dam and the second as the Vischer's Ferry dam. The Crescent dam is the more impressive of the two and is constructed in the form of a half circle intersected on one end by a large island.

Some idea of the size of Crescent dam may be obtained when it is stated that the total length of the structure is 1,922 feet, with a radius of 700 feet. The height of crest above top of apron is 39 feet. The width on the base is 42 feet and one-half inch. The width on top is 11 feet, 5 inches. The rise of the pool is about 27 feet, and the width of the apron 40 feet. The total amount of concrete used in the construction of the dam was 54,360 cubic yards, and the contract price for the work was $466,438.78. The dam forms a lake which varies in depth from 15 to 45 feet, and has a width of from one-half mile to two miles, extending as far up stream as Vischer's Ferry dam, about 10 1/2 miles distant.

A fine power house has been built at this dam which furnishes electric power for the five locks known as the Waterford Flight, the most distant of these locks being fully two miles from the dam. Eight thousand horse-power is here produced by the State plant.

The Vischer's Ferry dam forms a lake varying in depth from 12 to 36 feet, and having a varying width of from one-half to one and a quarter miles. The lake is about 11 miles long.

The contract price for the Vischer's Ferry dam was $518,149.65. The total length of the dam is nearly 2,000 feet. The width of the base is about 40 1/2 feet, and the width on top nearly 11 1/2 feet. The height of the crest above top of apron is 36 feet, and the total width of the apron is 38 feet. A total of 57,750 cubic yards of concrete was used in this dam. Eight thousand horse-power is also produced at the Vischer's Ferry dam.

From Schenectady westward there are eight movable dams which are of a type of construction that forms various pools to Little Falls. These movable dams are raised out of the river in winter and leave the stream in its natural state, so that the dam does not interfere in any way with the floods. One of the largest of these dams may be seen at Amsterdam. It is 750 feet long and consists of three spans, each of them 250 feet long. This structure alone cost $800,000.

Some of the most impressive work along the entire canal system may be seen at Little Falls. The cut made here is a veritable monster of rock excavation, the rock being igneous in character and unusually hard. This excavation, however, does not represent the principal difficulty in the work here encountered. The problem rather hinges on the fact that the West Shore and New York Central Railroads, the canal itself and the Mohawk River all come together at this point in a narrow gorge, the situation being further complicated by the presence of mills and other industrial plants in the gorge. Two old Erie Canal locks operated here were covered with water and not even pulled out, because when the waters were let in there was ample depth over them. The new water level is 20 feet above that of the old Erie Canal water surface.

The highest lift lock in the world at the time of its construction, was built at Little Falls. It has a total lift of 40 1/2 feet, which is nearly one-fourth of the entire lift of the entire Panama Canal. [A lock with a slightly higher lift has since been built in Europe. The Little Falls Big Lock remains the highest lift lock in the Western Hemisphere.]

The total cost of the work at Little Falls, including lock construction, was $950,000.

Having mastered marshes and quicksand and built the prism of the canal across gorges and along lines highly elevated above the surrounding country, the problem confronting State Engineer John A. Bensel at Scotia, New York, seemed simple at first. It appeared to be a mere detail, although a large one, of the general task of canalizing the Mohawk River, and on the surface apparently all that was called for was the construction of a lock and dam. When test pits were sunk, it revealed an entirely different state of affairs, for it was found necessary to sink caissons in order to reach a solid foundation. This work, which is always dangerous, was rendered more so by the fact that some of the caissons had to be sunk 82 feet below the surface of the river. A short time before the chamber members inspected the work, two men lost their lives in one of the caissons. [The entire Schenectady basin seems to consist of very unstable materials to a very considerable depth, which is probably due to the great amount of material washed into Lake Albany by the great Iromohawk River of post-glacial times.]

The construction work involved in the building of the eight movable locks and dams built incidental to the canalizing of the Mohawk included foundations of varied character, some on rock, others in hardpan and lighter material, making it necessary, where the lighter material was encountered, to enclose the entire structure with sheet piling.

At Rocky Rift Feeder, Crescent and Herkimer, three guard gates have been built in order to confine the floods in the Mohawk River. These gates are the highest on the entire Barge Canal system, their height being 24 feet. Sometimes the building of a lock involves other tasks of considerable magnitude. This was the case at Sterling Creek, where it was necessary to build a railroad bridge of very heavy type for the main line of the New York Central incidental to the work of building the lock.

In the canalizing of the Mohawk River from Crescent dam to Schenectady, a very small amount of excavation was required, inasmuch as the two large dams forming the two lakes already referred to gave sufficient depth for navigation. In the canalizing work various kinds of material were encountered, such as fine sand, hardpan and rock. Where the rock was encountered it was very difficult to carry on the work, due to the numerous floods for which the Mohawk River is noted.

The fine sand also presented serious problems, because it was always necessary to maintain channels, an exceedingly difficult task in soil of such character.

From the Hudson River to the Mohawk at Waterford, the canal prism is constructed in a new location. This stretch includes the five locks known as the Waterford Flight, already referred to as a lift which, in itself, is 14 feet higher than the total lift of the entire Panama canal. This exceptionally high lift was necessary in order that the canal might pass around Cohoes falls and the dam at Cohoes. In the vicinity of the Rocky Rift Feeder, another line was necessary for the purpose of overcoming the slope in the Mohawk River and the Rocky Rift Feeder dam, which stores water for the maintenance of the canal.

At Little Falls the new construction follows the same lines as those of the old canal. This is a land line constructed for the purpose of passing around the falls at Little Falls.

From Herkimer east another land line is provided for, the object being to overcome the slope in the Mohawk River.

The Barge Canal follows a land line cut for 25 miles from Frankfort west to Rome, this channel lying to the north of the Mohawk which follows a winding course westward of Frankfort Village.

The eastern summit level lock is located between Whitesboro and Oriskany. It runs about fifteen miles westward to New London.

In the original Barge Canal plans the old Erie Canal from Mohawk westward to Rome, a distance of 29 miles, was to be retained for "terminal" purposes, but rather, it is probable, for the purpose of affording a convenient water supply for manufacturers located along its banks. This unused canal became such a nuisance to the towns along its banks that relief was afforded by a vote of the people, which carried a proposition that the canal and canal lands be sold. This was accordingly done and the canal channel is gradually being filled in where it runs through the towns in the section mentioned. In 1924, Utica voted to retain its canal lands for street purposes. Schenectady has filled in the Erie Canal bed and constructed a parked highway in its bed, called the Erie Boulevard.

The Barge Canal tonnage, by years, since its opening in 1918, has been as follows: 1918, 1,159,270; 1919, 1,238,844; 1920, 1,421,434; 1921, 1,457,802; 1922, 2,260,763; 1923, 2,572,635.

In 1925 Governor Smith, in his annual message, advised the formation of a committee to investigate the whole subject of the operation and management of the Barge Canal; inasmuch as the tonnage of boats using the waterway amounted to only one-tenth of the canal's capacity. Such a committee was formed. In the same year, a court decision rendered the verdict that the New York Central Railroad must accept freight shipments bound to and from Barge Canal terminals. The decision was rendered with reference to the Buffalo Canal terminal but applies with equal force to all canal terminals throughout New York State, including the important ones in the Mohawk Valley.

The agitation for a Deeper Hudson Waterway, with a 27-foot channel from New York to Albany, promises to produce results, inasmuch as the Rivers and Harbors bill, containing this provision, had passed the House of Representatives in January, 1925 (at the time of this writing) and favorable action was expected in the Senate.

This deeper Hudson channel would bring ocean transportation up to the mouth of the Mohawk and to the eastern outlet of the Erie branch of the Barge Canal and within fifteen miles of Schenectady in the Mohawk Valley and within 95 miles of Utica. This ocean channel to Albany is bound to come about in time and with it will come a fuller use of the Barge Canal, with a main improved course, or ship canal, from the Hudson (either at Waterford or below Albany) to and through the Mohawk Valley to Oswego on Lake Ontario. Two thirds (100 miles) of such a ship canal (160 miles long) would lie in the Mohawk Valley.

Whether or not a ship canal is advisable through the Mohawk Valley, the Editor of this work cannot say. He has heard one of the best posted Barge Canal engineers say that a ship canal through the Mohawk Valley, from the Hudson to Lake Ontario is possible but not practicable. Possibly Father Time will find a solution which will make such an undertaking practicable.

The Standard Oil Company maintains a fleet of large and finely built oil barges on the Barge Canal. "Socony" uses the canal to the utmost, sending all its oil shipments over this waterway during the navigation season. It maintains oil stations on the canal at Schenectady, Amsterdam, Fonda, Fort Plain, Little Falls and Utica. There are several other lines now in operation and the canal traffic has doubled from 1918, the year of its opening, until 1925, the year of this writing. Canal traffic, however, is but one-tenth that of the capacity of the canal.

The largest boats plying the Barge Canal are those of a fleet now building, which run from Duluth, at the head of the Great Lakes, to New York City. Up to 1925, two of these boats had been constructed — The Twin Ports and Twin Cities. The Twin Ports was the first of the fleet to make the 1,000 mile waterway trip in 1923, from Duluth to New York. It is 268 feet long, 42 feet wide, carrying a maximum cargo of 2,600 tons and is propelled by gasoline engines.

Prior to 1924, there was considerable complaint on the part of Barge Canal shippers that the canal filled in at certain points and full loading could not be had. In 1924 a full maximum 12-foot channel was maintained throughout the canal, and the increasing traffic over the waterway is plainly in evidence.

During 1922, at the time of the coal strike, a great amount of coal was shipped by canal, at a time when the railroads were able to move but small amounts. If the canal has value in an emergency, such as war or strikes, it should be doubly useful in time of peace.

Considering the tremendous development of transportation traffic through the Mohawk Valley, it would seem as though some future coordination of rail and waterway transportation would eventually come about. If the traffic movement, through this Gateway to the West, is not handled scientifically and all our transportation resources developed to the utmost, the time may come when our water, rail and highway routes may prove inadequate to the transportation demands of the tremendous volume of east-west traffic which does and will pour through our Valley. In that case this traffic will, to a certain extent, find some other outlet.

Before Barge Canal work began the Mohawk's banks were beautiful with trees — largely elms and willows. As the canalization destroyed much of this it should now be restored, both for beauty and utility — the protection and holding of the river's banks. This reforestation is now in progress by the office of the State Engineer and Surveyor, a certain species of willow being used, as best adapted to hold the canal banks.

The project for deepening the Hudson River, from New York to Albany, so that a 27-foot waterway would be available between the two ports, has given new life to ship canal projects through the Mohawk Valley, at the time of this writing, in 1925. These ship canal plans generally consider a ship canal channel leaving the Hudson below Albany and following the valley of the Normanskill to South Schenectady, thence along the present Mohawk River Barge Canal route to Rome, and Oneida Lake, to Three Rivers and thence on the present line on the Oswego River Barge Canal to Oswego. Westward traffic is planned to follow Lake Ontario to near Niagara River, where a land line canal is projected around Niagara Falls to Buffalo. Martin F. Bowen, of Buffalo, presented plans for a ship canal following this route in a 1925 issue of "American Shipping". Mr. Bowen's project contemplated a canal financed and operated by a private corporation. Its estimated cost was $500,000,000, and ten years was estimated as the time required for its completion. As projected, it would carry the largest lake craft to the Atlantic.

* * * * *

Martin Schenck, who, as State Engineer, in his report of 1892, first publicly proposed the Barge Canal, was born on the Schenck farm at Schenck's Hollow, in the town of Palatine, near the Nose, where the Montgomery County home is now located. The first Schenck (Peter) came to Long Island, in New York State, in 1650, from Holland. A descendant, Ralph Schenck, moved to Johnstown during the Revolution. He was an active patriot and soldier, serving at Monmouth and Cowpens, among other fields, and held the rank of lieutenant. His son William bought the Jelles Fonda place from John DeWandelaer at the mouth of the Kanagara or Knauderack, which later became known as Schenck's and Schenck's Hollow. Major Jelles Fonda had here a store and a mill and a fine, brick house (said to have been one of the best in the valley), all of which property was burned by Johnson in his first raid in 1780. William Schenck here had a grist mill, saw mill, fulling mill, plaster mill, cider mill, blacksmith shop and cooper shop in the early nineteenth century, making it a place of considerable importance. Here about or before 1830, he built a fine brick house, which is now the main building of the Montgomery County Home, the farm having been acquired by the county about 1900. The Schenck place is one of the most noted of the historic farms and dwellings along the Mohawk, being a large, well kept place, situated amidst beautiful surroundings. It, however, has the unenviable reputation of being located on the banks of a stream, which is one of the few haunts of rattlesnakes in the valley.

Benjamin Schenck, son of William Schenck, was the father of Martin Schenck, who was born at the Schenck place in 1848. He studied civil engineering at Union College and became engaged in railroad and general engineering and contracting work. In 1874 he was elected to the assembly from Montgomery County. He was later an engineer employed in West Shore railroad construction and in 1883 became connected with the canal department. In 1892 Martin Schenck was elected State Engineer and Surveyor and served as such until 1894.

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