In May, on my way back from Buffalo, NY, I discovered the PORT BYRON OLD ERIE CANAL HERITAGE PARK while cheating and traveling a few exits on the New York Thruway. As you know I have enjoyed learning about the Erie Canal for some time, and I was welcomed and educated for hours by Craig Williams of the Canal Society of New York State. I “vote with my dollars” when I appreciate the work of a museum or group – I became a member. The beginning of October I received notice of the society’s 2019 Fall Field Trip – The Erie Canal: Fayetteville and the Southern Reservoirs – 1-3 November. I immediately signed up, and booked my room at The Craftsman Inn in Fayetteville, NY.

Learning was to begin at 8AM on Friday morning, so I headed west on Thursday, 31 October – making stops of course. I enjoy the drive across Vermont and through New York to the Hudson River in Troy, but then cheated a tad taking the Thruway, stopping first at the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center in Fultonville alongside Erie Canal Lock 13.

Hey, I was at Lock 13 (on the canal itself – at night) just weeks before on 13 September. The canal is now closed, and the gates on the moveable dams are open.

I want to share these information panels that you can click on to enlarge and read

There were bad rains later that night, and I understand the visitor center was flooded out.

Exiting the dreaded slab, I picked up New York 5 in Utica to follow the canal route west, stopping first at Canastota, hoping to see the canal museum there. Well, my second pass through with it closed, but here is the canal in the center of the village.

and then driving west down a dirt road to a dead end in a field – but the canal continued west.

I passed through Canastota and Chittenango five years ago in October 2014, on my way back from a Roycroft adventure in East Aurora. This time my timing was good, and I got to visit the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum. A nicely done restored and reconstructed facility with three dry docks, the old store recreated, barns, recreated canal boat. and an information building. Here is an artist’s view of the historic facility.

it was raining, but here are views of the locks – one gate lock, and two drop gates. Once abandoned, they became dumps, and much trash (including two junk Model T Fords) were removed during restoration.

In the background below you can see the store reconstructed on the original foundation

Under the shed below is the reconstructed canal boat used to educate youngsters.

inside the store one wall is a recreated county store, but the rest is an education facility, including this diorama with a circus that traveled the Erie Canal entertaining towns along the way.

outside the store, in the canal, is an old sunken canal boat. The outline is easily seen, and can be seen in this image with the growth breaking through the water.

and a close-up of the boat volunteers built.

It was then on to check into the Inn, and get ready for a busy schedule. You can click on this link to view the three day’s itinerary.

Friday, 1 November, began with a Tour of the Stickley furniture manufacturing plant and the Stickley Museum. What does this have to do with canals? The society president, Dan Wiles, is the great-grandson of Gustav Stickley, and in the late 19th century the factory was driven by water from a “power canal.” Now outside of Fayetteville proper, the new Stickley factory and company is an American success story. Great products, amazing equipment and techniques (no photography allowed), and fantastic management as evidenced by our introduction to many employers with 30 to 43 years with the company. The factory tour was followed by an impressive tour by the archivist of the Stickley Museum (owned by the firm) in the old factory. Much of the old factory has been given to the town for its library – an amazing facility. On the Arts and Crafts Homes & Revival website there is a nice review of the museum.

There were five brothers in the furniture business, but surviving is the business of L. & J.G. Stickley, which was in this facility – now the museum and library. (remember you can open my “galleries” for larger views)

Back to Dan Wiles, and his grandfather Gustav Stickley, who manufactured furniture from 1898 to 1915. Dan told us about this piece – a replica of a sideboard, originally made in 1902 for Gustav’s home in Syracuse. Christie’s auction house approached Dan’s father in the late 1980s asking him to consign his Stickley furniture to promote an upcoming arts and crafts auction. Dan and his brother remember playing inside this massive piece as youngsters. Dan’s Dad acquiesced. This sideboard ended up bringing more than what the family thought all of their pieces would bring – the auction total being $1.9 million in 1988. Setting a new recored for an A&C piece, the sideboard was purchased by Barbra Streisand for $362,000. A collector, but also an investor, she sold the piece at auction in 1999 for $540,000 to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Dan related that at the auction preview party his Dad placed a drink down on a table being auctioned. Christie’s people came running to remove the drink saying, “you can’t do that sir.” “Yes I can,” Dan’s Dad replied, “this is my table for another 24 hours.” The Wiles family recently sold the family’s Mid-Lakes Navigation. One of my first trips after loosing Cathy in 2008 was to travel on one of their canal cruises from Waterford, NY, (Lock 2) to Brewerton – on the west side of Oneida Lake. It was a wonderful experience that they stopped doing years ago, focusing now on canal boat rentals – yes, “on the list”

Also on display are three pieces that were owned by Streisand.

Industries in many New England towns and elsewhere were constructed along water routes built to provide water power to the mills. The Limestone Creek, with a significant drop in elevation, goes around the town of Fayetteville. In the 1840s the Ledyard Canal (alternately called the Ledyard Dyke) was built, not for navigation, but to provide water to power the mills. The dyke passed the original Stickley factory providing power to the sawmill.

For further study, I encourage you to click on this link for the Field Trip Guide we were given. On page 30 is an 1860s map on which you may follow the power canal at right angles through the town – the compressed PDF displays quickly.

I always try to figure out and understand why a town is where it is, or a company, particularly when the reason is no longer evident. It is the inquisitive research. But, I am saddened to think that most people driving down a street in Fayetteville may not even give a second thought to the water they pass over – where it comes from, and is going to, and what purpose it may have served.

And next to the local school is this bucolic pond. How many people know that this was a reservoir for the power canal?

The reservoir was actually designed with the islands and served as a park even back then. On our walk along parts of the Ledyard Dyke we passed the home of Leopold Stickley.

There was some time Friday for me to explore on my own. Grover Cleveland (our 22nd and 24th president) lived in Fayetteville as a boy. And, for Trivia Night –  he was the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office – 1885–1889 and 1893–1897). His home is in the upper village, just off NY 5; and, is the image below.

Grover Cleveland’s home – Fayetteville, NY

The Erie Canal was north of the town, but a feeder canal had been dug between Limestone Creek and the canal to provide both water to the canal, and access for Fayetteville. Working for a merchant in town, young Grover before school would talk to boats on the feeder canal asking for space to ship his boss’ products. He worked from this green building in lower Fayetteville, the commercial district of town.

An impressive collection of homes and architectural beauties are on the main and side streets, including this Greek Revival belonging to Matilda Joslyn Gage, a 19th-century women’s suffragist, and activist. She lived here from 1854-1898.

but, back to important facts for you — she told her son-in-law (from neighboring Chittenango, NY) “Write down those stories you tell your sons!”  Two years after her death, that son-in-law, L. Frank Baum, published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the first in his Oz series.

Saturday came quickly for an all day bus tour. Like me, you may have thought a canal is a canal, and has water and locks. There is much more to the infrastructure I learned — and the important ingredient – WATER – must be available. To the north is Rome, New York, where ground was broken for the original Clinton’s Ditch. It is a summit. Thus water flows downhill east and west. The water in the canals must be replenished. I never thought about that, and this adventure was an eye-opener to that need. Reservoirs were created along with the canal to supply the never ending need for water. Today we explored Cazenovia Lake and DeRuyter Reservoir. Again, I invite you to read the guidebook to learn more.

Before heading to the reservoirs, our first stop was the feeder canal which heads off from Limestone Creek in the village, heading to the northeast.

walking along the way are these ruins of Lime Kilns. Many varieties of limestone are found in the area (often above salt – and I discovered the Salt Museum in Syracuse when I visited there in 2014). Burning limestone changes it for a number of uses, one being hydraulic cement – cement that dries and hardens underwater.

The original canal – Clinton’s Ditch – followed banks or escarpments, thus only one major berm need be constructed. With the success of the canal, and the subsequent enlargement for larger boats, many sharp turns were eliminated with larger diggings away from the natural paths. About two miles down the feeder, Clinton’s Ditch and the Enlarged Canal merged, both having to cross with an aqueduct over the creek.

and there were remains of a cross-over bridge – one side standing, and the other side has fallen into the water.

after the hike back to the bus, we next drove along the shore of Cazenovia Lake to a small road leading to the very small outlet to see the 1860s gothic-revival gatehouse.

It was then lunch at the Empire Farm Brewery in Casenovia – highly recommended. We first were offered a tour – amazing – all ingredient products are from NY state, and all byproducts reused. We saw some white oak barrels they are experimenting with. At the Stickley factory we learned the biggest competitors they have for white oak are barrel makers.

After lunch we visited DeRuyter Reservoir, built in the 1860s to divert water into the Limestone Creek valley. There have been problems with the dam, and the lake has been drained so the dam could be repaired, thus circumventing a possible Johnstown, Pennsylvania scenario. Water from here too supplied the Rome Summit

Repairs to the DeRuyter Reservoir Dam.

Repairs should be complete for the 2020 summer season for the lake residents.

and, two miles from the dam, the other end of the lake

Saturday night was a great dinner followed by an illustrated talk by Art Cohn, Director Emeritus of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. He is a diver, and has discovered many sunken wrecks in Lake Champlain, and in the Finger Lakes. Besides his very important historical discoveries, Art is responsible for the laws for the preservation of submerged cultural resources.

Art made a few key points I wish to share:
1- where history happens, stuff is left behind
2- perception of values in society changes – e.g. canal waterfronts now seen as recreational possibilities
3- outcomes are important
4- finding underwater wrecks is the easy part – hardest is what comes next

Wrecks found are left in place – it is the law. But with today’s scientific equipment, the wrecks can be amazingly documented and studied. To the point where accurate reconstructions can be made.

Sunday, after gaining an extra hour of rest falling back in time, was to be a walking tour of Green Lakes State Park. The original canal is just north of these glacially created lakes. I got there at the appointed time, but once I realized it was going to be a tour by a natural scientist, I opted out – you see, I think it time to buy my second “new hip.” But I had a plan for getting home — The Cherry Valley Turnpike, US 20. I wanted to see the town of Casenovia. But Craig mentioned to me the town of Kirkville – created with the canal, but now essentially nothing. Again, why is a town where it is? Fun to know.

Heading to Green Lakes State Park I drove along the old canal

and stopped at one wayside park (all so well done and used) where this fascinating sign is – you can click and enlarge for easier reading.


Kirkville, New York, is just a few houses now. One panel in the park showed the canal side location of the hotel and store that sadly were both taken down in the 1970s


Waze then helped me find a different route back to explore Cazenovia and pick up US 20 – originally built as The Cherry Valley Turnpike. This is an architecturally beautiful town.

I have been on US 20 before, but not this far west – a really nice ride. I saw a building which had a sign, “Canal House Antiques.” Canal? U-Turn. I chat with the owner, and he said, “yes, the Chenango Canal is right over there.” I had missed the sign – I know, hard to believe. I was in Bouckville, NY. Ends up that Bouckville is the Brimfield of New York, and possibly draws more vendors and visitors than Brimfield. Yes, I stopped and shopped my way east for awhile. Below is a mill on the canal.


I cannot believe I have been home not quite a week. This trip was a great four days of investigating an area of New York I was not familiar with, and learning new aspects of the Erie Canal. There is so much to do – I encourage you to discover New York State.

1 – Remember to vote with your dollars – join an organization that you believe does good work. There are over 400 members of the Canal Society of New York State supporting in some way. There were about 40 people at this field trip
2 – Gather information on central New York state – and explore


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  1. Chris says:

    Very interesting, Ray. Especially the section on Stickley furniture, which I love! Aren’t you lucky to live near the first canal built in the U.S.?

  2. Carolyn says:

    Again, fascinating facts, informative narrative, great photos. Almost as good as being there.

  3. Betty says:

    For some reason Stickley furniture seems very familiar to me, I just don’t know why. Perhaps Scott and I visited there or did you ever write about it?
    As you mentioned in your post, many people live and pass by waterways without knowing their history. As I was reading your post, I thought of what those waterways would look like if they were left in their natural, undisturbed state. Yes, commerce and growth would not have happened but what would the land and habitation look like if canals were never built? (No comment needed, just thoughts running through my head; food for thought.)

  4. Tim O. says:

    Ray, thanks for this walk through my home town! I grew up in the Leopold Stickley house and walked to school along the Ledyard system through town. Perhaps you saw the waterfall (man made) that was part of the power system for the old mills? I remember when the Stickley factory was still active and that photo alongside the creek would have had open shop doors with piles of sawdust, lumber, and craftsman building furniture. It’s now the Fayetteville Free Library, a nice re-purposing of the buildings, and stewards of the history. My father also worked with the community toward a parks designation and some restoration of the Ledyard system. He, too, appreciated the history of our towns. Cheers!

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