Many of the early industries in Lockport took their power from the Eighteen Mile Creek. However, in dry weather the creek would dwindle to such low water that it tended to be unreliable.
An act of the Legislature that was passed April 20, 1825, authorized the sale of the surplus water on the Erie Canal locks. However, before the locks were built it was thought the amount of water would be so affected by the operation of the locks that it would be irregular and therefore unreliable.
Darius Comstock owned the land around the locks and the canal basin, but he also believed the surplus water from the locks would be unreliable, so just before the canal was completed he sold to Lyman A. Spalding all the land on the southeastern side of the canal as far down as the railroad bridge. When the canal was opened and the water for the first time passed around the locks in the race prepared for it, and discharged into the canal basin, it was realized that its value was far greater than had been anticipated.
Spalding immediately began removing the earth preparatory to laying the foundation of a flour mill, and the first use of the water in the race was to wash down the earth into the canal basin.
During the winter of 1825-26, Lyman A. Spalding built a sawmill east of the locks and constructed a conduit of timber, extending from the canal race to his sawmill.
About that same time, Jabez Pomeroy and William Bass erected a building near the Spalding flouring mill to be used for carding wool and dressing cloth. These buildings were both in operation in the summer of 1826, and were the first in which machinery was propelled by the water taken from the canal.
Lyman A. Spalding's flour mill in the canal basin, which began operating in 1827, also used the surplus water from the canal for power. Spalding reasoned that, since he owned the land on both sides of the canal, the surplus water coming from the locks should be his to use.
However, his thinking was not the same as that of the canal commissioners, and on Jan. 25, 1826, the canal commissioners conveyed to William Kennedy of Lockport and Junius Hatch of New York City the lease for the surplus water for their high bid of $200 per year.
However, the lease conferred the right to the use of the water as it fell from one level to the other, but without land or right of way. Lyman Spalding owned the land on both sides of the canal through which the water must pass.
By 1829, William Kennedy had died and his partner, Junius Hatch, sold the lease for the surplus water to the Albany Land Company. The Albany Land Company bought from the Holland Land Company, for 50 cents an acre, all the land which the Holland Land Company had not sold -- 300,000 acres of land in Niagara, Orleans, and the northern part of Erie and Genesee counties. This included the land in Lower Town, the land below the locks, and they were determined that this would be the business center of Lockport.
Lot Clark, a Lockport lawyer, was the clerk for the Albany Land Company, and he erected a law office on the corner of Market and Adam streets to handle the legal affairs. This building burned in 1835 and a new brick building was erected. This building was later used by Washington Hunt as a law office, and it is now on the Niagara County Historical Society grounds on Niagara Street. Washington Hunt had been a law student in the office of Lot Clark and he and his father-in-law, Henry Walbridge, would later purchase the buildings and land owned by the Albany Land Company.
The Albany Land Company also secured a charter in 1829 for the Lockport Bank, with a building on the corner of Market and Chapel streets. For nine years they blocked the granting of a charter to a bank in Upper Town. The efforts of the Albany Land Company were aided by the fact that one member of the Albany Land Company, Henry Seymour, was a canal commissioner, and an order was granted by the canal commissioners putting the Albany Land Company in sole control of the canal and locks. A work party immediately began to cut a ditch along the side of the canal, but a group of Upper Town citizens, incensed at these proceedings, gathered and drove the workers away.
When the canal closed in the winter of 1829, the water was turned out of the race and through the locks by order of the commissioners, and this stopped the mills. When the canal opened in the spring of 1830, this excess water through the locks was a great inconvenience to the boatmen and lock-tenders and caused considerable damage to the locks.
The Albany Land Company finally purchased the land from Spalding at an inflated price and that ended the controversy. The land and the water power were now in the hands of one company and it was to their interest to use the water whenever it was required.
In 1856, Washington Hunt and William Marcy came into possession of the water power, and on Dec. 1 the Lockport Hydraulic Company was organized. Washington Hunt was president, Charles A. Morse was secretary, and George W. Rogers was treasurer. In 1857 the enlargement of the canal was completed and the raceway was enlarged to supply the increased demand for water power for the manufacturing establishments.
In 1864-65, the Hydraulic Company constructed, at a large expenditure, a tunnel through solid rock on the north side of the canal to the Holly Manufacturing Company buildings, a distance of 1,000 feet, to furnish that company with power and to supply the city water works.
CLARENCE "DUTCH" ADAMS has been active in the Niagara County Historical Society since retiring from the Lockport school system in 1980.
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