Erie Canal Bicentennial Conference Schedule

Presented by the Oneida County History Council, Oneida County History Center, the Rome Historical Society and the Canal Society of New York State.

Friday, May 19, 2017 - Day

Lectures at the Oneida County History Center
1608 Genesee Street, Utica, NY 13502

8:00-9:00am – Sign in/late registration

Conference welcome by chair Dick Williams and opening remarks by community leaders

9:30-10:30am – Dr. Andrew WolfeEngineering the Erie Canal
The talk will focus on the engineering aspects of the canal, including the structures of the canal, the engineers who worked on the canal, and the engineering that made the canal possible.

10:30-11:30am – Craig Williams, Canal Society of NYSThe Erie Canal – the Early Years
Using seldom-seen manuscripts from the New York State Archives from the first days of the Clinton's Ditch, Williams will provide an illustrated overview of how the people of New York State learned to survey, design, construct and operate this unparalleled engineering achievement. Who took the first shovel and where? Once built, who was going to maintain it and how? New Yorkers were the first to undertake such a massive public works.

PLUS: Erie Canal history & Canal Society’s Saturday/Sunday schedule announcements

11:30am-1:00pm – Lunch break; participants are on their own, Utica restaurant guides will be provided

1:00-2:00pm – Tom Grasso, president emeritus of the Canal Society of New York State Erie Predecessors – Early Canals of Western Europe
The builders of the Erie Canal did not invent canal technology. Europe already had many decades of experience with the design and operation of canals. When they commenced the Erie Canal in 1817, the builders drew heavily on that knowledge and continued to do so well into the 20th century. Grasso will discuss these European antecedents, how they evolved and how they remain a defining characteristic of the European landscape.

2:00-3:00pm – Devin Lander, New York State Historian and Brad Utter, Senior Historian/Curator, Science and Technological History, New York State Museum Canal Warehouses, with specific focus on one that was in the Village of Mohawk, including a scale model of the windlass that was found in the attic of the building.

3:00-3:30pm – Christine O’Neil, Executive Director, Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum
The Erie Canal Today

3:30-4:00pm – Dana Krueger, DanaEvents
Introduction to the World Canal Conference and announcements

4:30-6:00pm – Conference Break with two options

  • 1) Tour of Utica Harbor
    105 North Genesee Street, Utica, NY
    Craig Williams will provide an informal tour of the New York State Canal Corporation's maintenance facility and more.
  • 2) Fort Schuyler Club Open House
    254 Genesee Street - built by Samuel Farwell, engineer on the Erie Canal, now a private city club with impressive historic interior. Tour by committee member Michelle Truett.

Friday, May 19, 2017 - Evening

Conference Dinner
Dinner at Aqua Vino
16 Harbor Lock Road E., Utica, NY
with entertainment by Cincinnati Creek

Information session
7:30 - 8:30pm
(for those not attending the dinner at Aqua Vino)
Saranac Room of the Hotel Utica
Join Canal Society volunteers for a review of the history of the Erie Canal in Oneida County and how it will be interpreted as part of Saturday's bus tour.

Saturday, May 20, 2017 - Day

Bus Tour
8:30am - 4:45pm
Guided bus tour of historic canal sites departing from the Hotel Utica promptly at 8:30am. Look for the Birnie school bus. Requests for special transportation needs can be noted on the registration form.

Please note that the Saturday itinerary may be adjusted and altered as necessary.

Meet the Builders of the Erie Canal, Part One
Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica
In a nearby section at Utica's famous Forest Hill Cemetery is the grave of Holmes Hutchinson (1796-1865). Hutchinson was an engineer on Clinton's Ditch. He is most important in canal history for his c. 1830 mapping of the new waterway, maps that continue to be used to this day. Once we meet Mr. Hutchinson, he'll introduce us to several canal coworkers buried nearby!

Life along the Towpath
The Asylum, Utica
On the grounds of the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center is "Old Main." New York State began work on this massive Greek Revival asylum in the spring of 1838, just as it was also launching the first enlargement of the Erie Canal. A quarter mile from the canal, the asylum was strikingly visible from the towpath. Like the canal, the asylum was another example of how state government addressed the needs of early 19th-century New York. Exterior tour only.

Life along the Towpath
The Oneida Institute
The Erie Canal sparked great social changes. One of the best examples is the 1827 Oneida Institute. The Institute was nationally known for its progressive education and, even more so, for its leadership in the abolition movement. African Americans were enrolled on an equal basis to white students. Though substantially rebuilt later in the century, the Institute reflected the social turmoil that resulted from the canal. Exterior tour only.

Canal Community
Walking Tour of Oriskany
The village of Oriskany is perhaps the only community to boast three 19th-century Erie Canals. We will explore the 1819 slackwater crossing, the 1823 rerouting and the still very extant 1851 Enlarged Erie Canal. We will also stop at the Oriskany Museum to view its excellent displays on local life in an important canal town.

Little Known Parts of the Erie Canal
The Oriskany Battlefield
Yes, this state historic site recognizes an earlier history. Today, we will highlight its monumental obelisk, built with stones from the 1842 Utica Weighlock.

Before the Erie Canal
The Lower Landing
The site offers the best remnants of the 1797 Rome Canal of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company. Just beyond is the historic lower landing on the Mohawk River where 18th-century soldiers and settlers marked one end of the Rome portage between the river and Wood Creek.

Little Known Parts of the Erie Canal
The Tunnel
The Erie Barge Canal was obviously designed to replace the Enlarged Erie Canal. Some communities, however, couldn't let go of the older 19th-century route. We're going to visit an example. For just a few years after the completion of the Barge Canal, navigation was still maintained on the Enlarged Erie south of Rome. To accommodate that travel, the Enlarged Erie was rerouted through a tunnel under the New York Central tracks.

An Immigrant Canal Community - Lunch!
The Erie Canal brought waves of immigrants to Upstate, many from New England, many from farther beyond. Rome and Utica still have vibrant immigrant communities. We are going to join Rome's Polish community at their historic 1930s hall for a lunch of traditional specialties. Icing on this cake is the hall's location along a still intact section of Clinton's Ditch.

July 4, 1817
Worthington Industries, Rome
With special thanks to Worthington Industries, we will visit the site of the ceremonial first digging for the Erie Canal. The site continues to be very important to the Upstate economy. Worthington acquired the historic Rome Strip Steel Company in 2015 and continues Rome's hallmark tradition of metal working. We will learn more on site!

Meet the Builders of the Erie Canal - Part Two
Rome Cemetery, Rome
Joshua Hathaway was among those taking the first shovels on July 4th. We will see this recognition carved on his gravestone at the Rome Cemetery. Within a short walk are many others who defined the Erie Canal in those initial years. We will hear their stories as well!

Little Known Parts of the Erie Canal
The Junction Lock
The hope was to continue navigation on the Enlarged Erie Canal from New London to DeWitt, NY even after the completion of the Erie Barge Canal. The c. 1915 junction lock at New London made that connection possible. Though built of 20th-century concrete, the lock still shows elements of 19th-century canal technology. The lock was later modified to become a drydock for canal maintenance.

Saturday, May 20, 2017 - Evening

The Canal Society of New York State Reception and Dinner
5:00 - 9:00pm
Hotel Utica
102 Lafayette Street, Utica, NY

Taking place in the Saranac Room. The Canal Society's banquet and program is open to all. Please see details and costs on the registration form. Following dinner, Phil Lord (New York State Museum, retired) will present an illustrated lecture on "Before the Erie Canal - The Western Inland Lock Navigation Company." Phil Lord is the authority on 18th-century navigation of the Mohawk River. His 2003 publication "The Navigators" is a remarkable source for a better understanding of this period and place (also available online at -

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Historic Canal Cruise
10:00am – noon
800 Mohawk Street, Herkimer, NY

Join us for a two-hour cruise on the Erie Barge Canal from Herkimer to Little Falls (and back)! Erie Canal Cruises arranged this specially scheduled cruise in honor of the Bicentennial of the Erie Canal. Canal Society volunteers, Tom Grasso (President Emeritus, Canal Society of NYS, Monroe Community College, retired) and Craig Williams (Senior Historian, New York State Museum, retired) will provide commentary as the cruise travels through more than 200 years of canal history.

The cruise leaves Herkimer promptly at 10:00am. Erie Canal Cruises is immediately off New York State Thruway's Herkimer Exit (Exit 30). Participants are responsible for travel to and from Herkimer.