LOCKPORT – The Buffalo Maritime Center will build a 42-foot replica Erie Canal boat for demonstration use at Lockport’s canal locks next year.
The City of Lockport announced Thursday that the $30,000 construction of a “Durham boat,” a type of vessel used to haul cargo on New York State’s inland waterways 200 years ago, will be paid for in full through a grant the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp. received from Yahoo.
The Internet company, which has a call center in the Town of Lockport, included the project on a list of Lockport-area community grantsit announced last year.
To attract more tourists, the city has been seeking a permanent demonstration boat for use at the Flight of Five, as the set of original 19th century canal locks are known.
After a century of use only as a spillway beside the larger steel locks installed in 1914, two of the five old locks have been restored to working order at a cost of more than $2 million in federal money. This is their second full tourist season of use, although the first with demonstration vessels available.
The restored locks are Locks 69 and 70, the middle lock and the second one from the top of the stair-like Flight of Five. A boat shows how the locks really worked, moving up and down from one lock to another as a crew of volunteers operates the rebuilt wooden balance beams that open and close the five-ton wooden lock gates. The demonstrations are held Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
The Heritage District Corp., a city-controlled not-for-profit agency, will be the owner of the newly built boat, according to its president, David R. Kinyon.
He said there’s a chance the Durham boat might not be ready in time for the opening of the canal next spring, so the two 25-foot bateaux, lent to the city by Buffalo Maritime for this season may remain in Lockport, at least for a while. A bateau is a smaller type of cargo craft.
“Will our Flight of Five fleet consist of owned and loaned boats? We’re not sure about that,” Kinyon said.
A Durham boat was “a precursor to canal-specific boats,” said Brian M. Smith, city director of development and planning. It will be built at Buffalo Maritime’s shop in Buffalo, but volunteer assistance is being sought. Anyone interested should call Smith at 439-6688.
“These craft were so important to the development of Western and Eastern New York, and they were significant in the early growth of New York City as the mercantile powerhouse it became,” Buffalo Maritime Executive Director Roger Allen said, “The Durham boat also played an important role in opening up the American heartland, carrying both goods and people to build the new United States.”
The Yahoo grant totaled $42,000. Smith said the funds will also be used to make and install permanent interpretive signs at the locks, explaining the site to visitors.
There is no charge for the locks demonstrations, and since no one is taking attendance, it’s not certain how many visitors have come to the locks this year. The city Visitor Center, a block from the locks, disclosed Thursday that about 5,500 people have signed its guest book since Jan. 1, but there is no requirement for visitors to do that.
More than $1.3 million in state grant funding is available for the reconstruction of a third lock in the Flight of Five. Smith said Bergmann Associates, a Rochester engineering firm, will submit next week to the state Canal Corp. its plans for Lock 68, the second one from the bottom of the Flight of Five, in hopes that the third lock will be returned to working order next year.
Smith said there’s a possibility the work might have to occur during the 2017 tourist season, which would curtail the locks demonstration.