This webpage is a reformatting of one I did in the 1990s, compiled from data collected by The Durham Project at the New York State Museum and adapted from two previous publications by the author: "Canal Project 4E-15A", a Cultural Resource Survey Report for the New York State Department of Transportation (1/26/83) and "The German Flatts Canal of 1798" in "The Erie Canal, Western Herkimer County", a field guide for the Canal Society of New York State (4/4/91).
Phil Lord 9/2012
The German Flatts Canal, completed in 1798, was not one of the earliest works of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company (1792-1820), but in many ways it was one of the most significant. The last of the Mohawk Valley canals built by the WILNC (seal of that company above), the German Flatts Canal post-dated the 1795 canal with wooden locks at Little Falls and the 1797 canal with brick locks at Rome.
It also post-dated the channel improvements on Wood Creek, west of Rome, completed in 1793, but pre-dated the construction of four wooden locks on that creek in 1803 by almost five years.
More significantly, the building of the locks at German Flatts also pre-dated the 1803 re-building in stone of the locks at Little Falls and Rome. Being originally built of stone in 1798, the German Flatts locks became the oldest unmodified canal locks in New York State.
The 1.1 mile long German Flatts Canal, with its low dam, guard lock and twelve foot lift lock, was cut across virgin Mohawk Valley floodplain to avoid two rather impressive rapids in the river - namely Wolf Rift and Orendorf's Rift, the latter sometimes known as "Knock 'em Stiff Rift" (see below).
These rapids, being in fact shoals instead of rushing torrents of water as the name implies, are first mentioned in the context of navigation improvement in the 1792 report of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company after a survey of the Mohawk river from Schenectady to the head of navigation at Rome:
"On one half mile, good water, to a strong sharp rapid, formerly called Orendorff's rift, falls a foot in about eighty yards, two feet water, a fine gravel bottom ... on one mile in good water, then arrived at the Wolf Rift, extending about one half mile, bottom fine gravel, shallow, and the channel crooked, occasioned by banks of gravel in the river..."
In suggesting improvements, the 1792 survey states:
"From the falls [Little Falls] to Fort Schuyler [Rome] the only impediments of any amount are occasioned by the two rapids called Orendorf's, and Wolf's rapids, these are sharp and extended, and the river here forms a circuit, which lengthens its course beyond a straight line...It is believed that merely a cut through the chord of this circuit of about a mile, in easy digging and of little depth, would effectually surmount these obstacles."
At first the presence of two rapids in a river of 91 rapids in the 1790s seems an insufficient reason to create so major a work as one of only three locked canals built by the WILNC, particularly as the other two canals surmounted such monumental obstacles as the Little Falls Carry and the Oneida Carry at Rome - major blockages to navigation for centuries.
Apparently Orendorf's, cited as having a two foot depth of water in September of 1792, when the water was seasonally low, was not the primary obstacle. It was the Wolf Rift, immediately upstream, that posed the problem, being broader and, therefore, significantly more shallow. A gauge of how critical Wolf Rift was in maintaining open navigation is indicated in a June 1793 letter urgently requesting the WILNC contractor to "clear the Wolf's Riffs as soon as possible" so that the timber and logs being harvested at German Flatts to the west of Wolf Rift could be floated down to Little Falls for the building of the wooden locks there.
But it was not until 1795, after the arrival of the WILNC engineer William Weston from England, that a concrete plan for the improvement of the Mohawk navigation at these rapids was proposed:
"...we ascend in good water Orendorff's rift, a very strong rapid; the river being contracted into a narrow, deep channel; half a mile above this is the wolf rift, a wide and shallow rapid... The best manner of improving this part will be to cut a canal from fort herkemer, to the deep water, below Orendorff's rift - the ground is very favorable, being free from rock, and with a gradual and gentle descent...- the length will be ninety two chains; and the fall of the lock at the east end ten feet, supposing the fall of the upper gate level with the surface of the water above the Wolf rift.
"To obtain the requisite depth of water in the Canal, I propose to throw a dam across the river, to raise it three feet - this will save that depth of extra digging the whole length of the canal, and will also improve the navigation of the two small rapids above Aldridges. The dam, guard, and river locks may be built with stone, to be obtained on the south side of the Mohawk, at the Little Falls - the land carriage will not exceed one mile, and it may then be conveyed in boats to the desired spot - the quality is well adapted for these or any other works, where strength and duration are required - the stones rising in lamina, of different thickness - the beds perfectly parallel, and the dimensions as large as may be required."
All the specific engineering details are expressed in this report, so careful reading reveals everything we need to know to understand the finished canal. With this report, the "German Flatts Canal" was born, at least conceptually.
It is interesting, and archeologically significant, that Weston intended to build the dam and locks of stone, to be drawn from Little Falls.
He cites a local source for laminated rock lying in parallel beds with variable thickness ("the stones rising in lamina, of different thickness"), which is similar to the limestone inter-bedded with friable shales seen in the rock cuts on the Thruway near Little Falls [above, part of the Dolgeville member of the Trenton group]. One could with ease quarry this stone, and, due to the layers of varying thickness, obtain a quantity of flat, strong building material easily laid up in level courses with a minimum of trim.
By this time the wooden locks at Little Falls had been in operation for three years and perhaps already showing signs of deterioration. The brick locks at Rome had just been completed (1797) and perhaps it was this recent success that prompted Weston to change his mind and suggest in June of that year that the locks at German Flatts be made out of brick also.
By mid-October, 1797, work was already well under way at German Flatts. Thirty laborers were busy cutting the canal, with the expectation of completing it that season, with the exception of the lock pits at either end. It was then it became clear that Weston's original idea of using stone was the only option:
"As no clay can be found here, proper for bricks, Mr. Weston has concluded to build the Lock & Guard Lock with stone."
In preparation for this construction in the next season (1798), the contractor would employ oxen and horses to "bring them onto the ground by sledges during the winter - our own people will also burn the lime & the teams will draw that also -."
By February of 1798, after the exertions of the first construction season at German Flatts, and before commencement of the final work, the Company issued its status report of all its undertakings, including this one:
"At the German Flats a canal has been commenced for the purpose of avoiding two bad rapids, known commonly by the names of Wolf's and Orendorff's rifts; the cutting is nearly completed, and the whole will be so far advanced as to admit the passage of boats in a few months. At the west end a guard lock will be placed, similar in form, and for the same purpose as that at the Little Falls, before described." [The Little Falls canal is described as "commencing in a natural basin, whose position secures the guard lock, which is placed at the extremity of the canal, from any injuries which might be apprehended to arise from ice or driftwood in times of freshets." The German Flatts guard lock is situated similarly.] "At the east end the boats will pass through another lock of twelve feet fall into very good water which continues to the canal at the Falls, a distance of nearly five miles. Above the guard lock, and at the head of Wolf rift, a dam will be thrown across the Mohawk, so as to raise the water thereof three feet..."
By mid-March, all the building materials were on-site for the completion of the locks.
"The stone for both locks are all delivered on the ground - the last kiln of lime is now fired & will soon be ready for carting or sleighing as the case may be. The men have commenced digging the canal, that is the pieces that were laid out last fall by Mr. Weston. These pieces will soon be finished...."
No further reference is made to a dam "built with stone." The lack of remnants shown on early canal maps or evident in the field archeologically suggests this dam was timber construction in the end.
But here a new wrinkle was introduced, one which may have persisted even through the Erie Canal era. The cutting of this canal, as did the Erie to some extent, and most recently the Barge Canal, created an island out of a broad area of rich Mohawk Valley floodplain. This potentially rich agricultural land no doubt was a point of interest for the inland landowners in the Fort Herkimer environs, and access to the valley floor north of this newly created canal was apparently a hotly debated issue.
Just prior to the completion of the canal trough in March 1798, the contractor was quick to point out: "It will be necessary that the bridges across the canal should be put up immediately. I shall engage the carpenters to do this work before Mr. Weston arrives. It will be very necessary that this work be not delayed, as it will render the owners of the land altogether unmanageable."
Less than two weeks later, a rather radical plan was proposed to the Company as a solution both to the landowner problem and the high cost of providing the required number of bridges:
"As the expense of bridges across the Canal will be extensive... it would be much for the interest of the Company if all the land [from the] outside of the towing path on the south of the canal and the river was purchased from the proprietors as in that case one bridge would suffice for the accomodation of the person who might rent or purchase the land between the river and the canal..."
A week later, at their mid-April meeting in 1798, the WILNC Board requested that an estimate be obtained from Weston for the completion of the works at German Flatts. Is this evidence that the Company was getting "cold feet" and beginning to doubt the project?
But work continued, and by the end of April Weston reported thirty men employed in sinking the "Guard Lockpit" which would be ready for piling in about a week. By early June, Weston reported satisfactory progress, but did point out "the late incessant rains have much impeded our operations."
On October 9th of 1798, nearing the close of the construction season, Weston reported the final phases of the creation of the German Flatts Canal:
"The works at this place being far advanced towards completion... The masonry of the locks was finished on Saturday last, and the carpenters are now employed in hanging the gates, if the weather should be fine. I hope to open the canal for the passage of boats the latter end of this or early in the next month. I was sanguine in the expectation of finishing the dam across the Mohawk this week, but I am afraid the present rain will interrupt us in our work. Nearly five sixths of the dam is completed, and the river running over it, the rise of water has effectually amended the navigation from Fort Herkimer to the Canada Creek branch of the Mohawk, which you must remember was nearly as bad as Wolf rift."
Apparently problems with the adjacent landowners persisted, as Weston urged: "the sooner these arbitrators appear on the ground the better..." Even months after the opening of the canal, the suggestion of local animosity is found in a letter of recommendation from the WILNC Treasurer to the President, Philip Schuyler, recommending a Mr. Fox "who is a principal proprietor of the ground through which our canal is cut at the German Flatts..." to be appointed a "lock keeper". Apparently Weston had "appointed a Mr. John Livingston a Scotch man to take charge of the locks at the G. Flatts," but agrees, "...perhaps it would be well to have Mr. Fox as lockkeeper - it would probably be the means of reconciling the Germans to our interest."
Once in operation, the German Flatts Canal served functionally and economically as an adjunct of the much older Little Falls Canal to the east. In fact more than one traveler mistook the two as one continuous artificial waterway.
When the question of establishing tolls on the new canal came up early in 1799, the Company decided to instead increase the tolls collected at Little Falls by 50% "in consequence of the great improvement made in the river by the canal and Locks at the German Flatts."
Once completed, the German Flatts Canal, and particularly the area around the guard lock (west end, near Erie Canal Lock 41), became a focal point for commerce and development. The proximity of the guard lock to the hamlet of Fort Herkimer, already a minor focus of settlement and a favored stopping point for river boat traffic, and the easy access to the lock from the river road (now Route 5S) made the site an attractive one. As early as March 1799 the Company was discussing "how far it may be to the advantage of the company to build a stone mill at German Flatts, the size it would be proper to build such a mill its costs and probable rent it would procure."
Undoubtedly there was a lock keeper's house at the guard lock and perhaps one at the lift lock as well. The earliest Erie Canal maps (above, 1834) show several buildings near Lock 41 (old Lock 6), at least one of which appears oriented to the old 1798 Guard Lock alignment. Herkimer County histories suggest that Fort Herkimer, located on the south side of the river and then accessible by land from the German Flatts Canal guard lock area, became an important trade center briefly during the turn of the 18th to 19th century, largely due to the store established at the guard lock of the German Flatts Canal. This brief fluorescence dimmed, however, with the completion of the Mohawk Turnpike (c. 1800), which diverted the majority of commercial traffic to the north side of the river and competed, apparently with some success, with the navigation system created by the WILNC.
By late 1802, it became evident that the two other locked canals built by the WILNC on the Mohawk were in desperate need of repair. The timbers of the Little Falls Canal were rotting away and the mortar of the brick locks at Rome was crumbling. But at that same moment, Schuyler reported: "The two locks at the German Flatts are both in perfect good order."
The successful building and operation of New York's first stone locks at German Flatts became a standard both of design and, apparently, productivity. In the summer of 1803, when the work to replace the Little Falls locks with ones of stone was underway, stone cutters who "worked at the locks at German flats" were being sought at a premium, and the rate of production of the masons who "built the Locks at the German Flatts" was being held up as the standard by which to gauge the productivity of the workers at the newest stone locks. Apparently this standard was far from reachable as in August of 1803 the Company Secretary complained one stone lock at Little Falls would cost as much as both the locks at German Flatts, which were completed in only 824 mason/days and 869 laborer/days together.
The German Flatts Canal, as seen above on this 1803 map, stands today as one of the most exciting and promising areas of archeological evidence of this era of inland navigation experimentation. We can see the dam (left) that closed off the eastward flowing Mohawk at the shallows on Wolf Rift (flow is left to right) and forced it into and through the new canal. The western lock is a guard lock, not a lift lock, which means it merely controlled the flow of water into the canal and the passage of boats. The canal itself runs close to the river to avoid a massive wetland to the south, and turns a northerly dogleg to reconnect with the river just east of the second rift. A lift lock was needed because by the time the canal returned to the Mohawk, the river bed was a few feet lower in elevation.
Unlike the Little Falls Canal (1795) and the Rome Canal (1797), both situated in high impact urban areas where visible remains have essentially been eradicated from the landscape, the German Flatts Canal, being the only one of the three in a rural environment, exhibits more visible and intact canal prism than any other of the works of the Company.
To understand what has survived, and why, it is necessary to trace what happened to the 1798 German Flatts Canal once it was completed. It operated sucessfully until about 1820, when the construction of the Erie Canal, approaching from the west, required the west end of the WILNC canal property.
Unlike the German Flatts Canal (yellow above), which was part of a system that used the natural Mohawk as part of its passageway, the Erie Canal (red above) was built entirely on dry land - it ran alongside, but never within, the river. Approaching from the west, on the south side of the old Mohawk channel, the Erie Canal overran part of the extreme western end of the old canal, followed it for a few hundred yards, then cut southward, leaving the eastern half of it untouched. The maps commissioned in the 1830s to record the original Erie Canal alignment ("Clinton's Ditch") clearly show how the new construction spared more than 50% of the old canal and its associated property. (See below).
(See a large scale photomosaic of the 1834 original Erie Canal map showing the old German Flatts Canal of 1798, labelled "Herkimer Canal" by clicking the above map.)
Then, in the early 20th century, the Barge Canal was constructed through the area. Although this canal used parts of the Mohawk River, like its 1798 predecessor, it ran on a straighter alignment outside the river in this particular location, roughly following the Erie channel. But it cut off the northward bend in the 1820s Erie Canal and left it as a crescent-shapped depression immediately adjacent to the new canal. It was this construction that foreced the relocation of the Mohawk River to the west and away from Wolf Rift and created what has come to be known as "Plantation Island".
East of the remains of the Erie Canal prism and locks (see later on in this webpage for details about these 19th century archeological remains) continuous earthworks from the 1790s are still seen, defining a canal that was to be 24 feet wide on the bottom, 32 feet at the top and 2 1/2 feet deep. An unusual component of this canal is the raising in 1798 of a substantial guard bank along the river side of the canal east of its mid-point, to prevent the powerful spring surges of water, ice and driftwood on the Mohawk from entering the canal from the north.
Looking east along the German Flatts Canal, the bed free of trees and the canal profile in red.During the State Museum's surveys, starting in 1982 and running well into the 1990s, all of Plantation Island, the Erie Canal remains, and the entire archeological remains of the 1798 structure were mapped and the guard lock was partially excavated to confirm its survival. Portions of that map are included in this presentation, along with field photos that help give an impression of the condition of the surviving canal features.
The most obvious surviving canal trough consists of a long section of the mainline alignment, and the eastern dog-leg that attached that canal to the river at the lift lock. For the most part, this section of canal has remained undisturbed since it was abandoned around the year 1820. It has stood on public lands and thus has been protected from development and vandalism.
Field Photo A
Looking east down the bed of the old canal.Field Photo B
An area where an intersecting brook has inflitrated old canal bed.Field Photo C
Looking east along bed of canal east of intrusive wetland area.Field Photo D
Looking east along canal bed south of guardbank, seen at left.
Having examined and mapped the surviving 1798 canal trough, including an intact segment of the eastern dogleg, attention was turned to the stone lift lock which had been erected at the eastern terminus of the canal.
Since virtually all of the 1798 German Flatts Canal not built over by the later Erie Canal had survived relatively intact, at least east of the old Erie Lock 41, the survey crew had high hopes of finding archeological remains of the lift lock, which was known to be a masonry structure at least ten feet in height.
The fact that it was clearly mapped on the Holmes Hutchinson Erie Canal Map of 1834 (above) suggested it had not been dismantled by that construction, and the fact that it stood isolated on an artificial island meant it was somewhat immune to development impact.
However, we had found one bit of disappointing evidence even before going into the field. Rufus Grider, an artist who spent much of his time recording historic sites in the Mohawk Valley in the 1890s, had already visited the lock site. In a painting done of the site in 1897 (above), he captures a view of the area as it looked 100 years after the canal was in operation, and 100 years before we came to examine the same spot. The caption for this image reads:
"Site of the INLAND NAVIGATION Cos Lock at GERMAN FLATTS as it appears in 1897, the stones have been removed & the plough has nearly levelled the soil. The large elm on the right, now bruised & battered by ice flows, probably existed when boats passed through that lock. Sketched in May 1897 by Rufus A. Grider. The direction is looking N. Eastward, down & across the Mohawk."
During the survey of 1982, we found virtually the same spot where Grider had stood and recorded virtually the same scene (above). There was no evidence of the lock, of any depression where the lock chamber would have stood, nor even any continuation of the earthen bermes that we had traced almost to the brink of the river.
After some examination of historic aerial photographs, maps of the canal, and other data, we concluded that the lock site had been overrun by the meandering river, which had alternately filled and cut through the site, perhaps removing all the archeological remains of it. While the possibility that it survives deeply buried in the area remains, it would be a substantial undertaking to professionally investigate that, as the water table is very high in this location.
In the meantime, it remains preserved, if indeed it does exist, on legally protected state lands.
Although the lift lock has long since been washed away or deeply buried by the action of the river, the guard lock at the west end of the canal has been archeologically re-discovered. It preserves for carefully controlled scientific study in the future the remains of the oldest intact canal lock in New York State.
During the 1982 environmental impact study for NYSDOT, the State Museum team examined the area at the west end of the 1798 alignment intensively. We did not expect to find any evidence of the guard lock because of our experience at the comparatively undisturbed lift lock site at the east end of the canal, where nothing remained.
In addition, the area around the guard lock had been heavily impacted by Erie Canal construction (1820s-1850s) and recent dredging (c 1950s). DOT had used the sub-grade area enclosed by the old Erie Canal berme and the modern Barge Canal berme as a dredging disposal basin and had cut a lagoon drain (above) through the Erie Canal and along the old 1798 Guard Lock alignment.
Because the linear depression that ran on the line of the 1798 canal trough was also apparently part of this 1950s lagoon drain, it was not believed that archeological investigations here would be productive. The linear depression was believed to be from the 1950s ditch, not the 1790s canal. Since this area was outside the assigned study area, no excavations were planned during 1982.
It was several years later, in 1988-89, that John Page of the Utica Office of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, while patrolling the DEC wildlife property to the east, noticed a line of exposed masonry in the general location of the guard lock and reported it to the State Museum. Although it seemed too insubstaintial to be a lock wall, being only about a foot wide, it was on the correct alignment and so archeological investigation was scheduled.
Field Photo A
This is a view of old Wolf Rift looking northwest., now a water-filled depression.Field Photo B
Looking along the extreme westerly end of the German Flatts Canal bed, looking west toward the river.Field Photos C & D
These views show the field conditions in the area occupied by the buildings of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company in the 1790s.
Field Photo F
A detail of the 1834 Homles Hutchinson map of the Erie Canal, showing the WILNC property and some of the buildings that existed at that time.
The exposed line of stonework, discovered by DEC in 1988, that led to the State Museum's discovery and excavation of the guard lock of the 1798 canal.
Over the course of the next several years, preliminary excavations by the State Museum revealed most of the intact south wall of the 1798 guard lock (below). This lock had a chamber estimated from documntary sources to be "an area of seventy-four feet by twelve in the clear."
The guard lock excavations revealed intact masonry in one chamber wall extending over 70 feet in length and over 6 feet below ground. While this lock wall does not match the expected design for typical locks of the original Erie Canal, it does appear to have a gate recess at the east (inland) end of the chamber. Interestingly, one of the English canals where the masonry structure most resembles the German Flatts guard lock being exposed archeologically is the Oxford Canal, worked on by William Weston in 1786-90, just before he came to America to design locks, among them the ones at German Flatts.
Through a lead provided us by Charles Hadfield, British canal historian, a notebook of William Weston's, believed to contain some American lock drawings, was located at the British Institution of Civil Engineers. Nine pages were provided relevant to lock construction, of which only four pertained to American canal works.
Miraculously, the three locks described on these four pages are the 1797 Mohawk River Lock at Rome, the "Guard Lock at the German Flats, 1798" and "Lock at Flats - 12 foot lift."'
While no drawings accompany these accounts, the detailed listings of materials actually used during construction provide an avenue of architectural reconstruction unprecedented for works of this era.
The roster of timberwork used at the guard lock suggests a truly transitional technology, where the masonry was only one component of the total construction, to be integrated into a substantial timber sub- and super-structure that appears to rival wooden locks of the period. While it is impossible to determine precisely the application of these raw materials in the final lock construction, these data can be carefully integrated with archeological investigation to reveal, at the end, a comprehensive 3-dimensional image of this experimental engineering.
The masonry in this lock is made up of relatively small, flat limestone slabs of variable thickness, some as thin as an inch, and rarely over 5 inches thick. (The exposed 1798 lock wall is seen to right of the excavator, above.) This reflects the source at Little Falls, south of the river, and similarity to the laminated strata in the Thruway rock cuts previously mentioned. Ample mortar is used to bind this stones together, giving the resulting wall an appearance not unlike a typical early 19th century house foundation. Certainly it bears little similarity to the first locks on the Erie, where very large well shaped and trimmed limestone blocks were used. Nor is it very much similar to the larger, well formed blocks evident in early drawings and photographs of the 1803 rebuilt locks at Little Falls.
But no matter how crude, this chamber wall, hopefully to be matched by its mate during future excavations which thus far have been hindered by deep spoil banks, represents the oldest intact canal lock in New York State. Although there were earlier locks built by the WILNC, namely those built at Little Falls in 1795 and at Rome in 1797, in all cases these were torn down and rebuilt in stone in 1803. This lock at German Flatts, originally built of stone in 1798, has stood unmodified to this day, the earliest surviving evidence of the evolution of canal lock engineering in New York, and perhaps in much of the Northeast.
Following are some views of the excavation at the guard lock site:
The exposed stonework as it was first found in the late 1980s (looking west).
The exposed stonework during preliminary excavation and mapping (looking east).
The excavation of the lock gate recess at the east end of the lock.
The completed excavation unit at the lock gate recess, showing the corner of the recess.
In the excavation picture above, you can clearly make out the imprint of missing capstones in the mortar (see ridges of mortar along left edge and upper right corner of course of stone in foreground). These stones, which were probably much larger and more finished than the wall stone, were probably recycled for use in the Erie Canal in the 1820s, or robbed for use in local building foundations, perhaps for the Erie-vintage structures built at this location.
In addition to preserving substantial surface and archeological remains of the 1798 German Flatts Canal, this artifical island of state-owned property provides dramatic and historic remains of the later Erie Canal. The remains of Erie Canal Lock 41, and the associated trough running eastward from that lock, representing the terminal phase of that canal circa 1890, present one of the most interesting features of the island. Even though partially buried by dredging fill material in the mid-20th century, these ruins still provide a dramatic visual experience.
In its day, the area at Lock 41 might have looked just like this late 19th century view of an identical lock elsewhere on the Erie Canal. Following are field views of the surviving visible features of Lock 41.
Field Photo A
Field Photo B
Field Photo C
Field Photo D
Field Photo E
Field Photo F
Through the use of documentary research, we were able to accurately reconstruct the sequence of building at Lock 41, below, which resulted in the structure now seen on the island.
This is the earliest known image of Lock 6 (later Lock 41) at
German Flatts. It shows a single chamber with a bypass for overflow water.
This is from the Holmes Hutchinson map series of the original Erie Canal, and shows the single chamber lock as well as the old property of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company (The German Flatts Canal - 1798).
This map shows a suggestion of an new lock replacing an earlier and narrower lock to the north. The narrow lock appears to be the one shown in the 1830s, and also mapped in some detail on an 1830s plan found in the Canal Museum in Syracuse (below).
This map shows the doubling of the lock chambers to provide passage for a single boat in either direction, or two boats in one direction.
This is merely another version of the double chamber design seen on the 1860 map (above).
This is the plan for the lengthening of the southern chamber of the double lock to allow tandem barges to pass through this chamber without being disconnected. This plan is also shown in a set of contract plans from 1891 (A- below), and the final configuration of this lock is confirmed on the 1921 Barge Canal Map of this area (B- below).
In addition to the dramatic ruins of Lock 41, there are many well preserved canal features east of that site along the bed of the Erie Canal before it is cut off by the later Barge Canal.
Field Photos A&B
A pile of un-used canal construction stone was found at the margins of the Erie Canal tow path. The age of this material is not known.
Field Photo C
Although largely filled with dredging spoil in this area, the stone edging of the bed of the Erie Canal is still exposed.
Field Photo D
The bed of the Erie Canal in this area is broad and well defined, even though some filling has occurred here.
Field Photo E
At this location a farm bridge, one of two in this section, crosssed the canal. The remains of the northern stone abutment are well preserved. Remains of the second bridge, though lacking visible stonework, are found along the canal to the east.
Field Photo F
The southern bridge abutment was raised with a poured concrete sill near the end of the canal to allow taller boats to pass under this elevated end of the bridge.Map View G
This circa 1860 map of the bridge at this location shows this bridge and abutments as they appeared then.
Field Photo H
Looking eastward along the tow path of the Erie Canal; canal bed to right.
Field Photo A
Camera is facing eastward along the line of the 1798 canal, where it first diverges from the Erie Canal bed, the outside of the Erie berme at right.
Field Photos B&C
Looking east along the north berme of the Erie Canal.
Looking west along the south berme of the Erie Canal.
Field Photo D
Looking north at the ramp to the second Erie Canal bridge (masonry removed) from Barge Canal berme.
Maps of the second farm bridge area (above):
Map c. 1832
Map c. 1850
Map c. 1860
Map c. 1870
The view above was taken in 1982 at the exact point where the surviving 1798 German Flatts Canal diverges from the Erie Canal. While there are virtually no surface clues here that this earlier canal runs eastward from this point, if you have a map of the original alignment of the Erie Canal and know to look for the alignment of the German Flatts canal at the elbow of the Erie (above, left), you will locate it within a hundred yards of this point.
It represents an opportunity to enjoy and discover history within a landscape preserved by the State of New York for over 200 years.
Today there are several organizations and numerous people focused on making Plantation Island a heritage area with enhanced public access and cultural site interpretation. If you have found this subject of interest, perhaps you will join them in that effort?
NOTE: Any collecting, excavation, and all other types of archeological activity on state lands requires a Section 233 State Lands Permit from the NYS Museum/State Education Department.
Comments and question about this topic or this webpage can be directed to Phil Lord at firstname.lastname@example.org
more comprehensive overview of the inland naviagtion of which the
German Flatts Canal was a part, go to http://www.living-in-the-past.com/waterways.html