New York State’s Path Through History Highlights Transportation Destinations, From the Erie Canal to Montauk Lighthouse

The Otisco, one of Mid-Lakes Navigation’s specially designed canalboats, journeys on the Erie Canal © 2012 Karen Rubin/

Two years ago, we took a houseboat on the Erie Canal to discover -by bike and boat – this fascinating and scenic destination, that brought us to charming towns that had helped turn America into an industrial and economic world power. It is one of the destinations that are part of the Governor’s Path Through History program, highlighting historically and culturally significant sites and events throughout New York State.

“From the untamed beauty of Niagara Falls, all along the Erie Canal, and on to the soaring peaks of the Adirondacks, New York State has a multitude of historic attractions that deserve a visit to experience,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our state has played a particularly important role in the development of transportation industries and technology, and the Path Through History program is a great way to appreciate them. Whatever your interests, New York is rich with incredible destinations that will make any trip around the Empire State an unforgettable experience.”

The Path Through History program makes it easy to explore the state’s canals and transportation history sites. Important in creating the Empire State we know today, Canals and Transportation is one of 13 themes that New York State is using to organize its 500-plus heritage sites. The program’s website provides additional information to plan an itinerary that includes site visits, and identifying markers on major state highways as well as local signage with a distinctive Path Through History logo to help point the way.

Here is a region-by-region sampling of the Canals and Transportation sites highlighted in the Path Through History program along with other fun ways to experience the history of transportation around the Empire State.

Central New York:
The town of Rome was the starting point for a canal system that eventually linked Manhattan with the developing American West. There the Erie Canal Village presents a reconstructed 19th century town complete with a schoolhouse, blacksmith and mule-drawn packet boat rides along the canal. In the town of Chittenango the sight of a 96-foot cargo boat under reconstruction at the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum puts the scale of the canal’s traffic in perspective. And in Canastota, the Canastota Canal Town Museum brings the history, folklore and engineering achievements of the canal into focus with artwork, artifacts and activities.

Canal buffs will also love Schoharie Crossing State Park in Fort Hunter, where remnants of all three eras of Erie Canal development are visible including a two-mile long segment of the original “Clinton’s Ditch.” The Fort Plain Museum and Historical Park in Fort Plain spotlights life along the Erie Canal circa 1820-1850, while The Black River Canal Museum in Boonville features a full-scale canal boat replica and conveys a sense of the engineering accomplishment involved in building the 109-lock Black River Canal. For more about the Central New York region, visit

The Finger Lakes:
Canal adventures continue just beyond Palmyra in the historic town of Montezuma, where the Cayuga-Seneca Canal shoots off to connect the Erie Canal with 92 miles of the region’s rivers and lakes, including two of the beautiful Finger Lakes–Cayuga and Seneca. The canal-connected waterways and trails provide a relaxed-paced way to explore this sophisticated, rural region, acclaimed for its fine wines, artisanal food and natural beauty, while a number of museums recreate the era when canals put the region on the transportation grid.

In Syracuse, the Erie Canal Museum, housed in America’s only remaining weighlock building, is a hub for narrated sightseeing tours and canal boat charters. In Seneca Falls, the Seneca Falls Museum of Waterways and Industry offers a thought-provoking look at how the commerce and industrial growth powered by the canals helped to foster and spread social reform movements, including women’s rights.

The Finger Lakes also played a key role in aviation. The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport honors pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss, who progressed from building bikes and motorcycles to planes, making the first official long distance flight in the U.S. He also built the first seaplanes for the U.S. Navy earning recognition as “the father of naval aviation.” Dedicated to the restoration of World War II and Korean War aircraft, the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group Museum features informational displays as well as air shows at the Geneseo Airport. And in Elmira, the National Soaring Museum explores the challenge and history of motorless flight such as gliders.

Additionally, Canandaigua’s Granger Homestead and Carriage Museum, home to 19th century Postmaster General Gideon Granger, features a carriage museum with more than 100 horse-drawn carriages and offers carriage rides through historic downtown Canandaigua. Transportation by sea is the theme at the Sodus Bay Lighthouse and Maritime Museum at Sodus Point, where a climb to the lighthouse tower offers stunning views of Lake Ontario. For more about the region, visit

Greater Niagara:
The hundred mile footpath between Tonawanda, just outside Buffalo, to Newark in the Finger Lakes, has become a popular destination for hiking and biking. This westernmost segment of the Erie Canal is the longest continuous section of the Canalway Trail. Whether biking, boating or traveling by car, it’s fun to explore the nostalgic small town Main Streets, farmlands, lift bridges and multi-tier locks. As an added attraction, Niagara Falls is just a ten minute drive from Buffalo. The Pierce-Arrow Museum offers a unique collection of bicycles, automobiles, and memorabilia – many of which have a story entwined with that of Western New York’s communities at the turn of the 20th century. In Lockport, the triumph of building the canal is apparent. The town is built around two impressive five-lock staircases that move boats up the steep Niagara escarpment, which visitors can learn about at the new Erie Canal Discovery Center & Flight of Five.

More transportation history beckons at the Historic LeRoy House in LeRoy, which features more than 100 historic vehicles ranging from an ox-cart and antique bikes to a 1908 Cadillac. Naval enthusiasts will want to see the decommissioned U.S. Naval vessels, including the Cleveland-class cruiser USS Little Rock, the Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans and the submarine USS Croaker, at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. Rail buffs will also find plenty to explore in the region, starting with the Medina Railroad Museum, a beautiful wooden freight depot filled with memorabilia and model trains, which offers train rides along the Canal. The Arcade & Attica Railroad runs steam and World War II-era diesel engines from its historic station in Arcade. The station itself is a museum with everything from antique railroad lanterns to switch locks along with original photographs. For more about the region, visit

The Hudson Valley:
Before paved roads and railroads became commonplace, rivers were America’s highways, as visitors learn at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, which features visiting and resident steam tug boats, ice cutters and other vessels as well as the environmental-education vessel, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and a display on Hudson River lighthouses. The region also is home to Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park in Highland that crosses the Hudson atop the former Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. When the 6,768-foot bridge opened in 1888 it was an engineering marvel thought to be the world’s longest bridge in its day. Today, visitors come to walk, skate or bike across the pedestrian bridge as they admire the stunning views of the river more than 200 feet below. Additionally, the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh offers over 400 historic motorcycles, some dating back as far as the beginning of the 20th century.

You can also retrace the footsteps of the artists who drew their inspiration from the Hudson River Valley and the Catskills, along the Hudson River School Art Trail.

For more about the region, visit

The Adirondacks:
This region of high peaks and whitewater rivers also had a brief brush with car manufacturing. Today, the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum in Plattsburgh is housed in a factory that produced exquisite Lazier Motor Company automobiles and race cars from 1905 to 1910. The museum has expanded its scope to celebrate the region’s rich transportation history through its collection of vintage automobiles, boats and trains. Kid-friendly exhibits include a Vulcan Locomotive that kids can climb around and more than 750 Diecast model cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, tractors and fire trucks. The museum also provides transportation on the replica Sail Ferry Westerwax to the Bluff Point Lighthouse, which still operates and includes displays about the lighthouse itself and the ecology and history of the area. For more about the region, visit

The Capital-Saratoga region produced trains, and the ALCO Heritage Museum in Schenectady, currently closed for renovations, aims to share the history of the American Locomotive Company (ALCO), which built steam and diesel locomotives. The Saratoga & North Creek Railway boasts vintage cars that make multiple stops along the Hudson River and offers breathtaking views of the Adirondacks. The cars are also kitchen-equipped to provide fresh meals prepared to order.

Vintage car lovers will also enjoy the Saratoga Automobile Museum. For more about the region, visit

The Catskills:
About 150 years ago, before the era of cars, train service opened up the Catskills and spawned an era of grand hotels and friendly guest houses. Although roads have displaced trains as the route into the region, several vintage trains still operate as tourist attractions. The Esopus Scenic Train, which departs from Mt. Tremper, stops at a 1900’s railroad depot, now home to the Path through History’s Empire State Railway Museum. The important role of river travel is the focus of tours (reserve in advance) at the working Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, located between the towns of Athens and Hudson. For more about the region, go to

One of the brightest lights shining on Lake Erie emanates from the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse in Dunkirk. The 61-foot tall lighthouse, established in 1826, continues to guide sailors navigating Lake Erie. The lighthouse was automated in 1960 but still uses its original 1875 Fresnel lens. Guides here tell tales of the many shipwrecks off the coast and take visitors up the Lighthouse’s spiral stairs to the upper observation level, the restored 1800 lighthouse keeper’s home and a museum with nautical displays and military memorabilia; new this year are ghost tours.

You can also enjoy the Salamanca Rail Museum in the town of Salamanca, where a restored 1912 passenger depot uses artifacts, photos and video to paint a picture of the days when rail was the main way to travel from city to city. The station’s rich red oak wainscoting and two-story skylit ceiling have been restored based on the original architectural plans and include authentic nostalgic touches such as the “Ladies Retiring Room” sign and the telegraph machine in the ticket office. For more about the Chautauqua-Allegheny region, visit

New York City:
New York City can proudly claim the Brooklyn Bridge, the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world and the longest of its day, and the landmark Beaux-Art Grand Central Terminal, celebrating its centennial this year with exhibits, events and an audio tour among its transportation icons. Not surprisingly, the city is also home to one of the world’s premier museums devoted to urban public transportation history. The New York Transit Museum, housed in a former 1936 subway station in Brooklyn Heights with an annex at Grand Central Terminal, explores the development and importance of public transportation. And for one of the best values in the city, residents and visitors can enjoy the views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Manhattan skyline on a free Staten Island Ferry ride between the tip of Manhattan and Staten Island. For more about New York City, visit

Long Island:
Authorized by Congress in 1792, the Montauk Point Lighthouse has been part of Long Island’s land and seascape for over 200 years and its 100-foot tall tower still serves as an active aid to navigation. Tours of this National Historic Landmark include a visit to the former keepers’ dwelling, containing the apartments of the head keeper and his two assistant keepers; the Fire Control Station, a tower built during World War II which served as part of the extensive East Coast Defense Shield and the lighthouse tower itself, completed in 1796. Long Island’s seafaring past is also vividly portrayed at two wonderful museums: the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum, set an 1845 Greek Revival whale ship owner’s mansion, and the Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville, where maritime history comes to life on a sail aboard a landmark historic vessel (reserve in advance) and visits to landmark homes.

Transportation also looms large at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages in Stony Brook, which has over 200 horse-drawn carriages and other rare artifacts from the era. Admired for their beauty and craftsmanship, the carriages reflect an important part of America’s industrial and transportation history. Long Island also played key roles in aviation history, as visitors learn at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. Here visitors learn how Long Island’s flat terrain at the edge of the nation made it a natural launch point for aviation pioneers including Charles Lindbergh, as well as a center for large commercial and World War II plane producers such as Grumman. For more about the area, visit

The Thousand Islands-Seaway:
Boldt Castle, Singer Island and many of the region’s most famous sites date back to the late 19th and early 20th century when the area became popular with America’s wealthy industrialists. Then as now, many popular tourist destinations, including some eye-popping mansions-turned-museums, were accessible only by boat, conveying a sense of the importance of water travel to the region. More than 300 finely-crafted boats and thousands of boating artifacts can be seen at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. And the Tibbet’s Point Lighthouse in nearby Cape Vincent features its original working Fresnel lens along with a telescope for surveying. The lighthouse also offers hostel lodgings for those who want to overnight. In Oswego, the H. Lee White Marine Museum displays Native American dugout canoes and other boats. For more about the area, visit

About Path Through History
Path Through History highlights historically and culturally significant sites and events throughout New York State. The program, introduced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, builds on New York’s already robust heritage tourism attractions. The initiative is currently focused on 13 themes including: Arts & Culture, Natural History, U.S. Presidents, Women’s Rights, Canals & Transportation, Civil Rights, Colonial History, Immigration, Innovation & Commerce, The Revolutionary War, Native American Heritage, Sports History and the War of 1812. Important heritage sites and events across the state were selected with input from leading historians. For more information, visit

Each week, I LOVE NEW YORK social media channels will highlight one theme from Path Through History, featuring photos, videos, event itineraries and more to showcase the rich history of New York State. Follow I LOVE NEW YORK on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or use #LoveNYHistory to join us on the journey down New York’s Path Through History.

Follow I LOVE NEW YORK on social media:
Twitter: @I_LOVE_NY
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For more information, visit

See also:

A gal getaway hiking New York’s Hudson River School Art Trail and slideshow

Getaway on the Hudson River School Art Trail: Thomas Cole National Historic Site and slideshow

Getaway on The Hudson River School Art Trail: Frederick Edwin Church’s Olana and slideshow

Journey by boat and bike along the Erie Canal: Macedon-Fairport-Pittsford and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat, bike: Exploring canaltowns from Pittsford to Albion and slideshow

Erie Canal journey: Albion-Medina bikeride is most scenic, illuminating and slideshow

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Week-long Journey by Boat and Bike Along New York’s Historic Erie Canal Ends in Palmyra, ‘Queen of Canal Towns’

Neil, piloting the Canadice through a Lock 32 along the Erie Canal © 2012 Karen Rubin/

by Karen Rubin

We awake in Pittsford, and knowing we will have a long day of sailing – our goal is to reach Palmyra for the last night of our week-long journey – we once again take that picturesque ride to Fairport (this proves to be a mistake, because we get to Palmyra too late for the museums, which all close by 4 pm).

All along the canal, which is designated the Eric Canalway National Heritage Corridor – there are fascinating historic markers, often where you can compare photos from a century ago to what it looks like today. They also provide fascinating explanations that are like chapters to a story. The historic marker in Pittsford though, provides the best summary:

“The Erie Canal was the most important of America’s inland waterways. It facilitated opening the American frontier and provided route west for tens of thousands of settlers and immigrants – Villages, towns and cities were born along its route while commerce spread from Hudson Valley to the Midwest. The Erie Canal transformed NY into the Empire State, and the nation into an economic superpower. Almost 2 centuries later, its name is still synonymous with American industry and ingenuity.”

“The Erie Canal keeps evolving. Put into service in 1825, enlarged from 1834-62 and again in the 1890s, the canal finally underwent last and largest expansion in 1918.

The Erie Canal has evolved over its history. Rarely used for shipping, it has become a recreational byway © 2013 Karen Rubin/

“Each era reflected demand for larger barges and bigger cargoes. Introduction of self-propelled boats in 20th century allowed path of canal to be changed, utilizing New York’s lakes and rivers. During a century of evolution, canal’s infrastructure incorporated many new technologies, transitioning from cut stone to poured concrete, wooden lock gates to giant steel, hand-operated cranks to electrified push-button controls.

“Modernized barges, canal locks designed for steel barges with 3000 tons of cargo could accommodate boats with 100 times the capacity of those from 1820s.

“As the nation changed, the canal adapted. By the 1960s, the canal could no longer compete with modern modes of commercial transportation and the St. Lawrence Seaway. It lost its economic viability as a commercial corridor. Although still used commercially, recreational use has become primary function. (Vicky Daly, Palmyra mayor says that are beginning to ship more cargo again along the eastern section, from the Oswego Canal into the Erie, to the Hudson River).

“Steel fabricated oil barges now replaced by tour boats, pleasure boats, canoes and kayaks.”

We have been leapfrogging ports in order to see more of the canal, by boat and bike. My strategy today, for our last night, is to overshoot Macedon, where the Mid-Lakes Navigation marina is and where we need to return the boat by 9 am tomorrow, and go to Palmyra, just on the other side of two locks.

I calculate this will take about 2 hours, depending upon how long it takes to get through the locks (they estimate 25 minutes each).

The lock closes behind us as we make our way to Palmyra © 2013 Karen Rubin/

We pass through Fairport at 1 pm.  The lift operator asks our destination: Palmyra, I say.  He says he will alert Lock 30.

We do not have to wait to go through the lock – the operator tells us that when he sees us, he will begin to open the gates so we can go right in. He also operates Lock 29; it takes us 25 minutes to get there and he is already there.

Going through the locks is better than a theme park ride, because it matters.

I expect to find the town of Palmyra right on the canal, so overshoot the port. I call Mid-Lakes to get directions and find out the town is a couple of blocks up from the marina.

Palmyra calls itself the “Queen of Erie Canal towns” (it was a model for the book, Canal Town).

Most interestingly (which I did not know), it was the birthplace of the Mormon religion (how timely), and thousands of visitors converge at the nearby Hill Cumorah each July for the largest outdoor religious pageant in the world (

William Phelps Store in Palmyra is dubbed, the museum “where time stands still.” Established in 1826, and renovated by Proprietor William Phelps in 1875, when he died, his son Julius locked the doors and walked away in 1940, leaving everything as it was © 2013 Karen Rubin/

As we walk up from the marina, we pass one of the most unusual museums: William Phelps Store and Home. Dubbed, the museum “where time stands still” it has been a boarding house, tavern, bakery and general store since it was built in 1826. Proprietor William Phelps completed renovations by 1875, but when he died, his son Julius simply locked the doors (and everything as it was on the shelves) in 1940 and walked away, leaving a sort of time capsule into that time. Upstairs, you can visit the Phelps’ family home with post-Civil War furnishings (no electricity or indoor plumbing), where Sibyl Phelps lived until she passed away in 1976 (unfortunately, it is already closed by the time we come: hours are June-Sept., Tuesday-Sat, 11-4; Oct 1-May 1 (Tues-Thurs.), and in winter by appointment, 315-597-6981.

The Palmyra Historical Museum (also closed by the time we arrive) was a former hotel and tavern, and now offers 23 themed rooms on such subjects as local business, government, police and fire service, medicine, education, tools, toys. It tells the story of Erie Canal and Underground Railroad history, Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, and personalities such as Winston Churchill, Joseph Smith and Palmyra founder John Swift, a Revolutionary War general who moved here in 1790.

The Palmyra Print Shop, the newest addition to the Historic Palmyra collection, was established by John M. Jones who came to Palmyra in 1856 and changed the face of the printing industry. He produced printing presses and cutters for export around the world via the Erie Canal.

The Alling Coverlet Museum presents the largest collection of American hand woven coverlets in the country. It is named for Mrs. Merle Alling, a Rochester resident and coverlet collector, and is housed in a 1901 newspaper printing office (open Jun to mid-September, 1-4 pm)

You can purchase admission to individual museums, or get a Trail Ticket to visit all four. In addition, the museum offers walking tours, including the Erie Canal, village and cemeteries (351-597-6981,

It has a broad boulevard that runs through, flanked on each side by interesting buildings and shops.

A sign in from of this Palmyra building: “This House (322 Main Street) built by Pliny Sexton in 1827 was a station on underground railway in days of slavery” © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Here we discover the Grandin Print shop where the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, says the marker. (They offer free tours.)

One of Palmyra’s most famous spots is the intersection at Main and Canandaigua/Church Streets with each of the four corners dominated by a church: Western Presbyterian (1832), First United Methodist (1867), First Baptist (1870) and Zion Episcopal (1873).

We also see a beautiful Village Hall, dated 1867; and the Liberty House BnB (Liberty St), in a stunning Victorian.

Walking, we find on one corner a monument dated 1892 that is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower (it is called a flagpole), dedicated to President Ben Harrison and Civil War Veterans, rededicated 2005 as sign of Palmyra’s pride (why not Abe Lincoln, what did Harrison have to do with Civil War? I wonder. I learn that it was put up during Harrison’s reelection campaign by the Republican committee. Harrison lost to Grover Cleveland).

Just beyond, a sign stops us: “This House 322 Main Street) built by Pliny Sexton in 1827 was a station on underground railway in days of slavery.”

Strolling about Palmyra’s Main Street © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Some gorgeous Victorian homes, buildings. – no café, not even ice cream shop (Pittsford has 4), and not obvious option for a restaurant beyond pizza and Chinese take-out.

Just at the dock (and along the bike route and the bridge), we find Muddy Waters which is normally open only for breakfast and lunch, but on Friday nights, 7-9, it hosts folk music and food.

Muddy Waters is absolutely delightful, decorated with crew, canoe oars, flags, and serves up delectable paninis, sandwiches and salads (the Eastern Canal salad has romaine, feta cheese, cranberries, walnuts and balsamic dressing), and for dessert, a Belgian waffle that is packed high with ice cream fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

Allen Hopkins and Jim Clare, 60s-something folksingers from the Rochester area, play folk music classics as well as own music- accompanied with clever banter and stories. Their songs about the canal and people’s struggle provides the perfect connection of the Erie Canal of long ago and today.

Jim says how these upstate villages have been so hurt by economy – brick buildings shuttered, so sad.

Al introduces a song about a woolen mill in Georgia, which applies equally to what is happening in these factory towns: “Where people came up expecting to spend their lives there supporting their family, and we’re seeing that here.”

“Think of people’s lives. Whoever thought [this would happen to] Xerox, Kodak – scary,” Jim says.

Folk singers Allen Hopkins and Jim Clare perform at Muddy Waters on a Friday night in Palmyra © 2013 Karen Rubin/

They sing,  ‘The only tune I hear is the sound of the wind as it blows through town… Too old to work, too young to die.’

They provide the perfect epilogue to our trip.

“More than just a heroic feat of engineering, the Erie Canal opened the interior of the continent, providing a safe and reliable route for west-bound migrants and manufactured goods and east-bound products of forests, farms and mines,” reads a brochure describing the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor (established by Congress in 2000). “connecting places, people and ideas, it strengthened the union and fostered social and reform movements. Celebrated in art, literature, story and song, it helped establish an American identify, both here and abroad.”

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, PO Box 219, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-8643, ext 3110,

If we didn’t have to return the Canadice to the Mid-Lakes marina by 9 am, we would have loved to spend the day in Palmyra visiting the museums.

Do a better job than we did and plan at least a day in Palmyra (Palmyra, NY & Wayne County, 315-597-4849,; Wayne County Tourism, 800-527-6510,

End of a Perfect Journey Aboard Canalboat

Now old hands at navigating the locks, we entering the lock on our way from Palmyra back to the Mid-Lakes Navigation marina at Macedon © 2013 Karen Rubin/

We radio ahead to Lock 29 to say we are preparing to leave, and the operator says that once he gets a visual, he will open the gates. We are able to just sail through and on to Lock 30.

Just after Lock 30, we see the turn-in for the Mid-Lakes marina at Macedon, where we had set out a week before.

Matt is on the dock waiting for us, helping us to guide the Canadice back into the slip.

Peter Wiles, whose family owns Mid-Lakes Navigation, is here too.

The canalboat, he says, “is a platform you can design, extend, expand your activities” Peter says. “You can move around or stay longer, store stuff, but if you want to do more, you can.” Some people even simply dock the boat, and rent a car to go to Niagara Falls or travel through New York’s wine country.

The trip is ideal for any age, young couples or empty nesters; families or couples traveling together. It is fabulous for families – even with younger children – because you don’t get bored and you can stop and tie up and bike or visit places; ideal for multi-generational families; and for couples traveling together, particularly if you want to bike more of the canal trail (you can switch off, with one couple driving the boat while the other couple bikes, then reverse on the return).

The only caveat would be you need to be reasonably agile in order to jump off the boat to tie up (though people on shore are very helpful, too), and get on/and off the boat.

It is ideal for people who like to be independent, to explore.

The lifestyle onboard is much more comfortable and luxurious compared to camping.

Our luxurious Lockmaster, The Canadice, a houseboat specially designed for the Erie Canal, tied up at Pittsford © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Mid-Lakes does a superb job of preparing you for the trip – with lists of what is on the boat and what to bring; a superb job of orienting you to the boat, even taking you on a “shake down” cruise so you go through a lock with your trainer; orienting you to your itinerary so you have some idea of what is ahead. You know they really care about the guest experience when you receive a questionnaire in the mail a day after you return home. Just about every need has been anticipated and they are eager to know what else they can do to make the experience even better.

If you do not want to do the self-skippered trip, Mid-Lakes also offers 2-3 day escorted cruises on the Emita II, a 65-foot retired ferry (each day includes cruising on the canal, several lockings and lively commentary; a tour of a working lock and a historical site; meals served on board; overnight accommodations in nearby hotels; the one-way itineraries include the return by motorcoach).

Mid-Lakes Navigation has just issued its 2013 schedule which features new Tuesday departures and lower fares on weekends.

You can choose 3, 4, or 7 nights aboard your own canalboat – an amazingly comfortable houseboat with turning-heads charm.

Rates range from $1550 for three nights on the smaller Lockmasters, to $3075 for seven nights on the larger Lockmasters.

The cruising season is mid-May (when they refill the Erie Canal) to mid-October (they drain the Canal each year).

Mid-Lakes Navigation, 11 Jordan St, PO Box 61, skaneateles, NY 13152, 315-685-8500, 800-545-4318,

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, PO Box 219, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-8643, ext 3110,

See also:

Journey by boat and bike along the Erie Canal: Macedon-Fairport-Pittsford and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat, bike: Exploring canaltowns from Pittsford to Albion and slideshow

Erie Canal journey: Albion-Medina bikeride is most scenic, illuminating and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat and bike: Palmyra, ‘Queen of Canal Towns’ and slideshow

New season of self-skippered canalboat cruises on New York’s historic Erie Canal (Photos)


© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit,, and Blogging at Send comments or questions to Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at

Journey by Boat and Bike Along New York’s Historic Erie Canal: Day 4

Where the Erie Canal is built over a creek and makes a sharp turn entering Medina © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Discovering the Architectural, Historical Treasures of Albion-Medina-Brockport

by Karen Rubin 

We awake Wednesday morning on our Lockmaster canalboat, docked at the port of Albion.

I have a chance to explore Albion on foot and find it the most interesting and the most indicative of a city which has not quite caught up to the economic transition.

The Village of Albion here in upstate New York was home to George Pullman, the inventor of the railroad sleeping car! The story goes that he got the idea from watching passengers travel by canal packet boats.

Albion, another town that owes its existence to the Erie Canal, has some of the most majestic buildings but also bears the scars of decline. It does not take much to imagine the city in its more prosperous days.

Here you see pawn shops and storefront churches.

Albion, another town that owes its existence to the Erie Canal, has some of the most majestic buildings but also bears the scars of decline. It does not take much to imagine the city in its more prosperous days © 2013 Karen Rubin/

The architecture in Albion is more than beautiful, it is magnificent. Most impressive is the silver domed County Courthouse, a Greek Revival structure built in 1858 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Historic Courthouse District includes 34 buildings, from private homes to seven churches.

Albion is still the county seat but there is not even a coffee shop open in the morning as lawyers gather on the porch of the courthouse. I find it odd that a Liberty Tree was planted on the lawn in 1979 for the Bicentennial (1776-1976).

Most impressive of all are the churches – at least eight of them that go back to the Victorian/Gilded Age. On one corner (called Church Square), you see Universalist Church, Christ Church, a Catholic church and Presbyterian Church with a 175-foot spire, built 1874.

And that’s not all: there is the First Baptist Church (South Main Street) and the Christ Episcopal Church (erected 1830, it is the oldest church building in Orleans County still being used for worship).

And just a block away there is the Free Methodist Church across from the First United Methodist Church (get a glimpse of magnificent, stained glass windows. Built in 1861, the First United Methodist Church part of a Courthouse Square cluster of churches and government buildings named to the National Register of Historic Places; it recently needed $420,000 worth of repairs; about 70 people still attend.

There is a reason for this, I discover:

The Free Methodist Church was organized nearby at Pekin, New York, August 23, 1860 in the apple orchard of I. M. Chesbrough. The first Bishop of the new church was Benjamin Titus Roberts. He was a champion for equal rights, especially for women. He was also a writer, publisher, Christian educator, and holiness preacher.

Loren Stiles — who defended Roberts at his trial at the Methodist Genesee Annual Conference in 1858 — founded Albion FMC. Stiles was expelled from the Methodist Episcopal denomination in 1859 and proceeded to form a new church, the Congregational Free Methodist Church, across the street from the in 1859, a year before the Free Methodist denomination was formed in 1860. The Albion FMC currently is the largest Protestant church in Orleans County, N.Y.

The Albion FMC  was the first Free Methodist congregation. The building’s grand, white exterior is impressive, and the interior was originally constructed to seat 1,000.

Albion’s Courthouse, indicative of the fabulous architecture that abounds in this historic Erie Canal town © 2013 Karen Rubin/

meet a man who reminds me that the opulent buildings that were constructed around Church Square, away from the canal, was where the more affluent managers and owners used to live. The common people lived closer to the canal. When the Erie Canal was finished, the masons were put to work on these buildings.

Another impressive building is the Swan Library, established by William G. Swan, benefactor, Dec. 21, 1899, and opened March 17, 1906, the oldest Orleans Co. library. Lillian Achilles was the 1st Librarian. This was the former R. S. Burrows mansion until 1851. (The library is moving from the building).

The furthest west we will be able to travel is Medina (which conveniently is the westernmost town in the “100 Must See Miles” brochure. But rather than boat to Medina, which would add four hours, round-trip (at least) to our travel, I realize we bike twice as fast as we boat, and since we adore biking this 12-mile trip (24 miles roundtrip) will be our major bikeride.

It also turns out to be the most scenic and the most fascinating part of the bikeway, and should not be missed, because you see things by bike that you cannot experience from the boat.

Biking to Medina

The pastoral countryside along the Erie Canal bikeway, between Albion and Medina © 2013 Karen Rubin/

It’s exactly mid-week of our week-long trip along the Erie Canal by canalboat. This will be as far as we go by boat, since we need to travel back the same way.

After exploring Albion on foot, we set out at 10:30 am for the 12-mile bikeride on the Erie Canalway to Medina for what proves to be the most fascinating and scenic bikeride of our trip along the Erie Canal Heritage Trail.

This portion that we ride today is just a fraction of the 114-mile long Erie Canal Heritage Trail, which itself is only a section of the 376-mile long Erie Canalway that follows the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo.

Just two miles west of Albion, and I finally see the farms and pastoral countryside that I had been expecting. Hard to believe this is New York State; the scenery is more what you associate with the Midwest: classic red barns, fields of gold and green, apple orchards.

Birds are profuse – goldfinch, woodpeckers, heron, red shouldered blackbirds. In fact, I learn there are some 100 birdhouses set along the canal.

We come to a thick flock of geese that has basically taken over the bikepath. We have to basically ride through them, hoping they will move or separate to make way. As we ride through, they straighten up their necks for added height, hiss and show their tongues and teeth and are genuinely intimidating.

I see an animal that looks like a beaver or otter scamper from the canal into the bush.

On the south side of the canal, I get a view of the massive prison that has become Albion’s main industry – it is hideous, with shining silver fencing. A historic home is set in the middle, like a hostage.

Biking on the Erie Canal to Medina you get to explore The Culvert Road, the only road built under the Eric Canal, in 1823. The culvert was so extraordinary, it was even listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not © 2013 Karen Rubin/

About two miles outside Medina we come upon a major historic attraction: the Culvert road, the only road built under the Eric Canal, in 1823. The culvert was so extraordinary, it was even listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. We climb down from the biketrail to the road to see this tunnel that goes under the canal: water actually drips down into the tunnel, and the echo is amazing. From here, you can best appreciate how shallow the canal is, even today at 12 feet, and how it is truly a man-made construction.

This part, too, was rebuilt – stone from the original is now part of foundation of the Verios Touissant home, 3704 Culvert Road; the original was dismantled in 1854 and rebuilt in 1855 on the enlarged canal’s new alignment. Forty years later, in 1895, it was altered again during a $9 million improvement (that’s like $9 billion today).

You can’t see this (or appreciate it) from the boat because there is no place to tie up; to see it you would have to tie up in Medina and walk back.

But that is not all.

A little further on, just as you enter Medina, the canal is constructed OVER a rushing creek that drops into waterfalls, and makes an extraordinary turn.

Here, you bike over the concrete – which apparently was quite innovative at the time; you can look under the canal which is like a reverse dam, with the tunnel opening the way for the river.

This is a stunning engineering achievement, as the historical marker notes. “During construction of the canal, a host of technical, physical and organizational challenges inspired innovative solutions. The Oak Orchard Creek passed deep below level of canal and the sharp curve of the canal here complicated matters further. The solution that engineers chose was to create 125-foot wide canal channel – which required massive amount of high strength concrete, specially formulated and tested for this application. Oak Orchard Creek passes 45 feet under canal in 50-ft wide arch.”


Biking along the Erie Canal, you see where the Erie Canal is built over a creek and makes a sharp turn entering Medina © 2013 Karen Rubin/

The marker, which offers historical photos so you can visualize the construction process, also notes the claim to Medina’s fame: sandstone. During the building of the canal, workers discovered a beautiful reddish brown stone that came to be known as Medina sandstone. The deep color and durability made it desirable as a building material and it was close to the surface and easy to reach. This stone was exported on the Erie Canal to markets worldwide – from the Buckingham Palace in London to the pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge. It can be seen in churches and buildings including the steps of the Capitol building in Albany and the George Washington Bridge.

John Ryan opened first sandstone quarry in 1837. Demand peaked in the early 1900s; from 1903-4, 1200 men were employed in 48 quarries.

It’s about 12:45 pm when we arrive at Medina – frankly because we have been stopping so often to shoot photos and take in the scenery. The Main Street is quite nice and welcoming – with Victorian light poles decorated with flowers and speakers which pipe in music (a little eerie, actually), and the most interesting shops we have seen so far. Here you should also visit the Medina Railroad Museum and important historical buildings.

We see a banner draped across one of the imposing buildings to “Save the Opera House.”

This is Bent’s Opera House. During Lincoln’s Presidency, in 1864, as the Civil War was raging, Don C Bent built his opera House as a social center of the village and surrounding area. It operated until the early 20th century. Built of Medina sandstone, it is one of the oldest surviving opera houses in the country. The campaign to save it is being mounted by Orleans Renaissance Group of Medina (

The shops reflect an affluent suburban lifestyle, not unlike Great Neck or Port Washington, Long Island, rather than long-distance visitors – artisan food shop, a visual arts academy, dance academy, art gallery, pottery, florist, computer. There’s a Florsheim shoes and the Rosenkrans Pharmacy and Rosenkrans Gift Shop (despite the name, there isn’t a single Erie Canal souvenir and the shopkeeper shoots me a puzzled look when I ask her) but there is also the English Tea Shoppe, Delia’s Chocolates, and most phenomenal of all, the Candle Nook, which also serves as a bike rental and repair shop, and a very pleasant ice cream parlor, and offers the only truly Erie Canal oriented items we have seen so far.

Mark McDaniel in his extraordinary shop, the Candle Nook, makes every candle by hand; each is scented using natural ingredients and he says he has invented the recipes for 22,000 different scents © 2013 Karen Rubin/

You have never seen a candle shop like this – there are more than 2000 different scents on display and Mark McDaniel, who makes each and every candle by hand, using natural ingredients, says he has created (invented) the recipes for 22,000 and can customize just about anything.

“My motto is: Your color, your scent, your choice,” McDaniel, who makes every candle himself, tells us.

The “nook” comes from the fact that the sho is divided into various different sections – or themes: Mama’s Kitchen (the Popcorn candle smells exactly like buttered movie popcorn); Butcher Nook has “manly” candles include BBQ, bacon and beer candles, “Red Neck Wedding” with scents created from Moonshine and Jack Daniels (and they smell good!); Monkey Fart (made with banana, celery, pickles – everything a monkey would eat -and it smells good!); North Pole (Santa’s Lucky Night, inspired by a 16-year old, is made with scents of Victoria’s Secret Love Spell, chocolate brownies and chocolate milk). He ships, but it is enormous fun to go through the actual shop. (The Candle Nook, 409 Main Street, Medina NY14103; 585-798-3888).

We feel we could visit a lot longer in Medina, but we head back on our bikes at 3:30 pm, returning to Albion at 5:15 pm (about 12 miles).

This proves to be the best bikeride of our trip.

Brockport at night © 2013 Karen Rubin/

We set off by boat back to Brockport where we stay over for the night (the best equipped port we have found, Brockport is the only one so far that charges to overnight, $15 for the largest boat).

Helpful contacts:

Mid-Lakes Navigation, 11 Jordan St, PO Box 61, skaneateles, NY 13152, 315-685-8500, 800-545-4318,

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, PO Box 219, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-8643, ext 3110,

See also:

Journey by boat and bike along the Erie Canal: Macedon-Fairport-Pittsford and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat, bike: Exploring canaltowns from Pittsford to Albion and slideshow

Erie Canal journey: Albion-Medina bikeride is most scenic, illuminating and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat and bike: Palmyra, ‘Queen of Canal Towns’ and slideshow

New season of self-skippered canalboat cruises on New York’s historic Erie Canal (Photos)


© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit,, and Blogging at Send comments or questions to Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at

Journey by Boat and Bike Along New York’s Historic Erie Canal: Day 3

The Otisco, one of Mid-Lakes Navigation’s specially designed Lockmasters, cruising on New York’s historic Erie Canal © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Rochester, Spencerport, Brockport, Holley, Albion

by Karen Rubin

We awake on our second morning on the canal in Pittsford to beaming sunlight. I walk the couple of blocks from the canal park where we are docked to Starbucks where I can check my email.

Awakening in Pittsford on our Lockmaster canalboat, the Canadice © 2013 Karen Rubin/

After breakfast, we set out on our voyage – our first real challenge ahead: Lock 32, followed a mile further on by Lock 33.

Piloting our Lockmaster, a houseboat specially designed for the Erie Canal by Mid-Lakes Navigation, has been surprisingly easy, though docking requires some skill and practice, and agility. But the locks have us most anxious.

Both these locks are distinguished because the lines we need to catch – so that our boat doesn’t float around the lock when it fills with water – are embedded in the concrete wall.

The Erie Canal lift operators like Paul, patiently guide us in how to dock the canal boat and catch the wire embedded in the wall © 2013 Karen Rubin/

The lift operators are particularly helpful – they are very sympathetic to the fact that we are not experienced boaters (in fact, Matt, who has given us our two-hour orientation on the Canadice, says the operators nickname the Lockmasters “bumper boats”). Paul, the operator here, patiently shows us how to put our line behind the wire. It is very windy today, and he actually makes the water flow so that the boat pushes back to the wall.

The lock operators also ask where you are headed, so that they alert the operators along the way – at the lift bridges and locks – that you might be coming. Often, the operators are responsible for more than one bridge or lock, and have to travel between the them . (A site provides locations and information about the Erie Canal’s locks and lift bridges,

After we make it through the locks, we are bound for our next thrill: just south of Rochester, the Erie Canal crosses the Genessee River which is one of the rare rivers that flows to the north, emptying into Lake Ontario. This is another remarkable example of engineering that involved a dozen bridges, east and west of the river.

There are literally four-corners. We make a right turn from the canal onto the Genessee River to travel into Rochester’s downtown, 4 miles further.

We are headed to Cornhill Landing, the dock in downtown Rochester, beyond which you cannot go any further because there are rushing falls right in the city. But along the way, we see a dock and assume that is Cornhill Landing. It is directly across the river from the University of Rochester campus on the eastern shore, and is not on the chart. This turns out to be Brooks Landing, attached to a relatively new hotel, the Springbridge Suites, that serves the University of Rochester.

It proves a better place to tie up anyway. We take our bikes and ride along a bike trail alongside the Genessee River (best to ride the eastern shore), up to the falls and then return to the boat.

Rochester, New York, a city that developed largely because of the Erie Canal © 2013 Karen Rubin/

The Erie Canal turned Rochesterville into an American “boom town” and today, it is the third largest city in New York State, my brochure says. The canal first went through the center of the city, across an 800-foot aqueduct over the Genessee River – a major achievement at the time. A second, sturdier version, built in 1842 to replace the original aqueduct, can be seen at the base of the Broad Street ridge.

Eventually, as Rochester was built up and the canal interfered with traffic, the canal was rerouted to bypass the city. You can see old Lock #65 along the 490 Expressway. The High Falls Historic District has an interpretive center, archeological site, pedestrian bridge across the gorge, and the 96-foot waterfall. There are also nightclubs, restaurants, shops that fill former factory and warehouse spaces, and Rochester is renowned for its museums. During our visit, a popular Jazz Festival is underway.

I am not really in a Big City mood, though. I’ve been enjoying our sojourn into small-town America too much, and after our brief visit to Rochester, we set out again on the canal, continuing our west-bound journey.

Before long, once we get passed Greece (there are several towns here named for countries – Sweden, Egypt) and we are back into a rural looking setting which makes you forget entirely that you are in New York State or even in the 21st century.

As we sail along on our way to our next port, I reflect how they built the canal three or four times: in 1822-3, during the Civil War (mind-boggling), in the late 1800s, and again, 1917-1918 (during another war); the west is all man-made, but the east used existing lakes and rivers.

Beginning in the 1980s, the canal was transformed from commercial use and now is almost entirely for recreational use – boating, kayaking, canoeing, crew, fishing, though not long ago,  it was used to transport two fighter jets from the Intrepid in New York City to another museum, and blades for wind turbines (a harbinger of the future, perhaps?).

In the 1980s, the control of the Erie Canal was shifted from New York State’s Department of Transportation to the quasi public-private New York Thruway Authority, which established the New York State Canal Corporation, funded by the fees charged the boat operators (like Mid-Lakes), which pays for the operators and the maintenance.

I think how glorious the Canal must be in fall – lined with maples, oaks (Mid-Lakes Navigation operates until mid-October; the Canal is actually closed on Nov. 1, when they pull the plug; the canal is refilled around May 1).

The canal is absolutely beautiful between Greece and Spencerport – the  landscape and the bike trail as well.

We arrive at Spencerport, where we dock for the night (no charge here; the south side has access to water as well as electrical plug ins, and the Spencerport Canal Museum serves as a welcome center with computer and WiFi, showers; the north side only has electrical plug in, and a delightful picnic pavilion).

We still have an hour or so of daylight (we are here during the longest days of the year), so we take our bikes westward on the bikeway towards Adams’ Basin, where we find the charming Adams Basin Inn (315-352-3999), beside the lift bridge. Historical photos at the marker show that the inn has been in the same place to serve the canal as long as the canal has existed.

It’s about 8:30 pm by the time we get back to Spencerport. Someone tells us about a charming bistro, Bad Apples, at Brockport & Spencerport Road. But it is a pretty long walk to get there and we don’t think we can make it before 9 pm when it closes, so we find Tops grocery store (open 24/7) and a Chinese Take Out (Chef King) that proves absolutely fabulous, and have another picnic dinner under a pavilion on the canal beside the boat.

Sunset in Spencerport, where we tie up on the Erie Canal for the night © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Spencerport’s slogan is “Someplace Special.” The village began as Ogden Center in 1802 and became Spencerport in 1825 after the Erie Canal was cut through Daniel Spencer’s land. Shops developed along Main Street to serve the boats and passengers brought by the canal. We find few shops on Main Street today.

Our houseboat is very much like a floating RV, but one of the big differences is that our “house” goes right to the downtowns, rather than an RV which goes to camp grounds.

Tuesday: Spencerport-Brockport-Holley-Albion

We wake in Spencerport to brilliant sun, blue sky, a bit of a wind and a chill in air, but the sun is hot.

I have been enjoying the idea of traveling without any schedule or itinerary, but reality sets in as I realize we will have to make it back by  9 am on Saturday. I have to abandon my hope of getting to North Tonawanda, the farthest point you can go on the canal in order to see Niagara Falls.

We will not even make it as far as Lockport, where I was so anxious to see the last remaining “original” section of the Erie Canal and the historic 1842 “Old Flight of Five” staircase locks (replaced by Locks 334 and 35) (it takes about 25 minutes to go through each of the locks, so you have to tack that onto your travel time).

I make a plan of action: to stop and stay tonight at Albion and bike along the bikeway 12 miles to Medina (since we bike twice as fast as we boat). At least, then, we will have traveled most of the route of the “100 Must See Miles of the Erie Canal.”

As we chug along on our travels today, the wind against my face and this openness to the surroundings, there is something very special about the experience of piloting the canal boat, seeing the canal from the water.

From this perspective, you can best appreciate what a marvel of construction, capitalism and can-do spirit the Erie Canal was.

You have an enormously satisfying feeling of acquiring skills, knowledge of handling the boat, doing it yourself, being on your own.

As we near Brockport, I finally see a farm, as we enter an agricultural region.

Brockport has lift bridges at its east and west entries. We arrive at Brockport 12:35 pm. There is a very welcoming visitor center here, and the most well-equipped port for boaters we have found (it is also the only one we encounter on our trip that charges; up to $15 for a boat 40 feet or more).

Here, you can borrow a bike for an entire day (return by 7 pm; don’t expect great bike); use Wifi and a computer, see TV, DVD, use the restroom and shower, washer and drier, telephone (local calls), copier and fax machine, grab a cup of coffee pot, brochures and maps. The visitors center is staffed by 100 volunteers.

Brockport has a pleasant, revitalized Main Street – but not much in the way of interesting shops, except for what is claimed to be the biggest bookstore in the region (this is a college town, SUNY Brockport is walking distance).

The Morgan Manning House, on Main Street, Brockport © 2013 Karen Rubin/

I come upon the Morgan Manning House, on Main Street. I learn that a pioneer reaper industry was developed on Erie Canal banks by William H. Seymour and Dayton S. Morgan. This 1854 dwelling became the Morgan family home in 1867. The eldest daughter, Sara, wife of Frederick A. Manning MD, lived here until died, 1964. The building was deeded by the Landmark Society of Western NY and Western Monroe Historic Society (637-3645).

Brockport, it turns out, was where Cyrus McCormick found a factory to manufacture his reapers, to meet the growing demand of orders from farther west (there is a marker near the dock).

Another marker describes Luther Gordon who “epitomized Brockport involvement in canal commerce during its heyday.” Gordon owned the sawmill and 7000 acres of timberland; he shipped 2-4 million board feet of lumber, 400,000 pounds of buildingstone on the canal throughout NYS. Gordon also was founder and president of the First National Bank of Brockport which served as the repository of canal tolls collected here.

We walk passed the First National Bank Building, with the dates 1864-1927, on Main Street.

This was the Industrial heartland – as we travel, I am struck by how many innovations came from this area. The towns today show skeletal remains of those glory days, when these towns were important, and had a place in global commerce.

At about 3 pm, we bike from Brockport west,  to Holley, just about 5 miles away, and arrive by 3:40. Here there is a pleasant parkline port and a bikepath named the Andrew Cuomo Canalway. opened in 2000 (It was built with a $1 million grant from HUD, when Andrew Cuomo was Secretary, under the Canal Corridor Initiative. The trail is only 100 yards long; two 5-foot-tall Medina sandstone monuments inscribed with his name mark the entrance).

Holley was settled in 1812 and established on the original Erie Canal. This was an enormous and complicated loop that was changed, putting the town a few blocks from the canal. The restored railroad depot (circa 1907) s now a museum.

Bill Billotti, proprietor of the Goodie shop in Holley © 2013 Karen Rubin/

We bike the short distance into the center of the village – literally a public square, bordered on all sides by lovely buildings, including the Odd Fellows Hall (1890), and several charming shops, like Jonathan’s Pastry and the Goodie Shop, where proprietor Bill Billotti offers ice cream and collectibles, and on Thursday nights, presents the Goodie Shop Singers (7-9 pm). I note the “Save the Old Stone Store” signs.

Billotti tells us about the village’s unique attraction, the Holley Falls, and we follow the signs to see the falls.

Holley was the center of an Italian immigrant community who were brought over to work the sandstone quarry at Medina (the sign says, “affectionately called, Podunk”). Billotti’s own father came as a shoemaker, and he was a mason before he retired and took over the shop.

We leave Holley by 4:45 pm for the six mile bike ride and are back at the boat in Brockport a half hour later – not bad for the six miles.

We have been leapfrogging ports so that on our return, we can stay in different wants. So we depart Brockport for Albion, which I calculate will take 2 ½ hours. I use the chart book to estimate the distances and see that we will have to cross 3 lift bridges.

Piloting the Canadice on the Erie Canal in the quiet of the summer evening, on our way to Albion © 2013 Karen Rubin/

There are hardly any other boats on the canal now. It’s like having the canal to ourselves.

What a feeling: the bridges lift for you; the locks load for you. You get the hang of reading charts (I ask operator approximate time will take from Albion to Holley, 1 ½ hours, as I calculated)

He tells me “see you at the next lift” – in a  half hour, since he covers both.

The long days of summer make a difference to what you can do: we want to do about 2-4 hours of biking and 2-4 hours of boating and 2-4 hours of visiting/touring a day.

Albion is an agricultural area with orchards, fields and farms which come into view after the Keitel Bridge.

We dock at Albion at 8:20 pm just as the sun is going down.

There are several fast food places here, but the only restaurant we can find that is open late is the Village House diner, a few blocks walk up Main Street. Main Street is dead at 8:45 pm.

Helpful contacts:

Mid-Lakes Navigation, 11 Jordan St, PO Box 61, skaneateles, NY 13152, 315-685-8500, 800-545-4318,

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, PO Box 219, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-8643, ext 3110,

See also:

Journey by boat and bike along the Erie Canal: Macedon-Fairport-Pittsford and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat, bike: Exploring canaltowns from Pittsford to Albion and slideshow

Erie Canal journey: Albion-Medina bikeride is most scenic, illuminating and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat and bike: Palmyra, ‘Queen of Canal Towns’ and slideshow

New season of self-skippered canalboat cruises on New York’s historic Erie Canal (Photos)


© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit,, and Blogging at Send comments or questions to Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at

Day 2: Journey by Boat and Bike Along New York’s Historic Erie Canal

The Otisco, one of Mid-Lakes Navigation’s Lockmasters, traveling on the Erie Canal © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Fairport and Pittsford are Jewels Among Canal Towns

by Karen Rubin

The Grand Canyon may be a natural wonder, but the Erie Canal is a marvel of human industry and ingenuity.

We are experiencing the Erie Canal by canalboat, a floating home, really, specially designed for the Erie Canal but based on the English canalboats that Peter Wiles, who operated, by Mid-Lakes Navigation, a tourboat company on Lake Skaneateles, had seen.

At the time, the canal was being “transitioned” from commercial traffic to recreational use – boating, canoeing, kayaking, crewing.

All along our travels, as we boat and bike from town to town, we have been fascinated by historical markers with explanations, historic photos of the construction and of the people and businesses that developed along the canal. The story seems to unfold.

And so we learn that the canal evolved over time, and is still evolving.

In the early 19th century, countering mammoth opposition, New York State Governor DeWitt Clinton got the Legislature to allocate $7 million (the equivalent of $7 billion today) to build the 363-mile long Erie Canal, which opened in 1825.

“The canal became the most  successful and influential artificial waterway in North America. It connected the Hudson River at Albany with Lake Erie at Buffalo, establishing the first all-water link between the Atlantic seaboard and the Great Lakes.

“More than just a heroic feat of engineering, the Erie Canal opened the interior of the continent, providing a safe and reliable route for westbound migrants and manufactured goods, and eastbound products of forests, farms, and mines. Connecting places, people and ideas, it strengthened the nation and fostered social and reform movements.”

The Erie Canal was designated the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor by Congress in 2000.

All of this unfolds for us as we travel along the canal on the Canadice. More interestingly, is how seeing history first-hand resonates in how we understand and deal with the challenges of today.


The Canadice, at the Port of Pittsford © 2013 Karen Rubin/

After just under two hours of boating from Macedon, where we started out on our self-skippered Lockmaster canalboat, we come to the first town we will visit: Fairport.

Theoretically, I need to jump off at just the precise moment with the line and tie the bow before the boat pulls away from the dock. It’s my first time and I am nervous. but just in the knick, someone helps us tie up at the dock (one of the pleasures of this style of travel, there are usually people to help or advise you) – a man who has spent a year on a houseboat traveling on the Erie Canal through the Great Lakes to the Mississippi down to the Gulf of Mexico to the west coast of Florida, and up the eastern coast to the Hudson River and back onto the Canal; I am in awe. He gives us some pointers on handling our canalboat (piloting the boat on the calm waters of the canal is not the problem – it is only docking and going through locks that you need to get the knack of).

Fairport is a most charming town, with shops and restaurants right along the canal. It is a picture-perfect model of revitalization.

Fairport did not exist before construction of the Erie Canal dried up a swamp and produced a “fair port” for travelers. “Commerce thrived as entrepreneurs turned ideas into products,” says one of the best guides to this portion of the canal, “100 Must See Miles”

One of these products was Henry Deland’s idea to produce baking soda from wood ash. The building right on the canal and next to the bridge, where there is now a delightful Towpath Cafe, one of the more delightful eateries along the canal (live music, too), and the offices of an engineering and landscape architectural firm, once was where Deland manufactured baking soda which was transported by canal to international markets.

The Deland Mansion in Fairport. Henry Deland made his fortune producing baking soda in a factory beside the Erie Canal and shipping it via the canal to markets © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Just up Main Street, on the south side of the canal, I find the Green Lantern Inn, which was the Deland Mansion, built in 1876. Deland has a Florida connection: after he made his fortune in Fairport, he bought land and founded Deland, Florida, in 1876, where he envisioned creating a citrus, agricultural and tourism center. He sold his northern business and hired people to clear land, lay out streets, erect buildings and recruit settlers, most of whom came from upstate New York; then he lost his fortune in an orange freeze in 1885.

The mansion is magnificent: Second Empire style with tower, porches, fireplaces, it was one of the grandest private residences in western New York. After several private owners, including the Clark Family, the Deland Mansion opened as the Green Lantern Inn sometime after 1928, and served as a restaurant, speakeasy, rooming house, banquet hall.

The mansion is across from the First Baptist Church, which was built at same time as Deland built his mansion. The Deland family donated its windows and paid more than one-third of construction cost, but stipulated that the door of church and door of mansion be directly across (now there is a small building in front of the mansion that obstructs; building is for sale).

Each of the canal towns has done a superb job of using historical markers and photos to illustrate the “then and now.” As we follow them, it is like a story that unfolds.

At Fairport, there is a marker that shows how Old South Main Street “yields to urban renewal: Commercial block changes from necessities to niceties.”

There is also a plaque honoring Peter Wiles, Sarah and Peter’s father, for his leadership in developing the Erie Canal for recreational purposes.

On the north side of the canal, passed the railroad tracks, where freight trains rumble through frequently during the day, we find a shuttered factory still waiting to be “repurposed.”

Fairport, a charming canaltown has been revitalized © 2013 Karen Rubin/

The beauty of the canal boat is that you can organize the day around what you want to do – whether it is to just hang out in a town – perhaps visit a museum. Our main purpose is to position us to bike the towpath. And so we tie up the Canadice at Fairport, take down our bikes from the roof, and head out about 7 miles to the next major town, Pittsford, along the canal bikeway. It is one of the prettier rides, with lovely homes on the canal.

We pass Perinton Park, a beautiful community park where there are tennis courts and is a lovely place to picnic.

Just before Pittsford, we cross over a mile-long section called “The Great Embankment.” This is the highest canal embankment, actually built over the Irondequoit Creek which rushes through a tunnel under the canal.

In the earliest days of the Erie Canal, the embankment thrilled both onlookers and passengers as boats seemed to travel in midair over the mile-wide valley created by the Irondequoit Creek. The canal has been rebuilt three times since it originally opened in 1823. The original canal was a mere four-feet deep and 40-feet wide; three times it was enlarged, made deeper (first 7 feet deep and 70-feet wide, then 12-feet deep and 120-feet wide), and in many cases, moved entirely to make a better route as boats became motorized.

This is our first introduction to the engineering of the Erie Canal. I really hadn’t even thought of the canal as having a false bottom, that the canal is actually drained (around November 1), and refilled (around May 1) each season.

The Great Embankment is a revelation, but we will find even more dramatic examples of engineering, as we explore by bike and boat.

We return to Fairport, and prepare to get underway again – actually boating back to Pittsford.

It’s just passed 6 pm when we leave Fairport.

But to leave Fairport, you have to go under a lift bridge, and Fairport’s is very distinctive: it is constructed with no right angles.

One of the thrills of cruising the Erie Canal is going under the lift-bridges. Fairport’s is particularly interesting: it has: no right angles© 2013 Karen Rubin/

There are 16 lift bridges on the Erie Canal, all of them in the west, and the eastern-most one is here at Fairport. The bridges are delights to look at – they have ornate towers and it is wonderful to watch how they work. (A site provides locations and information about the locks and lift bridges,

Matt has instructed us on the etiquette of using the radio to ask the operator to lift a bridge or open a lock. Some of the bridges are covered by operators handling multiple bridges, so you might be told to standby and wait for the operator to get back to the bridge.

The operator tells us we will have to wait a few minutes.

For the most part, we are lucky on our trip, there is not a lot of traffic so we are never stacked up. The operators also ask where you are headed so they alert the operators ahead. I figure out to call as we get near a bridge or lock, to get an idea of how fast or slow to approach.

It is just before 8 pm when we dock at Pittsford– I jump off with the line.


We tie up for the night at the newly refurbished Port of Pittsford Park, right below the Main Street Bridge (there is no charge; some of the ports along the canal charge up to $15 to overnight).

By this time, it is nearly 9 pm on a Sunday and though Pittsford has some of the best selection in restaurants near the canal that we find of any of the towns, just about everything shuts down by 8:30 pm.

We stroll the charming streets (and there are some gorgeous residential streets as well), and see what an affluent community Pittsford is – like Great Neck is to Manhattan. It is loaded with doctors, engineers and professionals. Old money, and new money poured in over the last 15 years to revitalize the downtown area.

Pittsford was settled in 1789 by Revolutionary War veterans, but it was the Erie Canal that first brought prosperity to the town, because it facilitated transport to market of tons of heavy gravel from the nearby hills.

We see stunning Victorian-era buildings – the Phoenix Hotel, built in 1812 in the Federalist style, 1812 to serve the Erie Canal and Turnpike trade, restored 1967 (now an office building which houses the Institute 4 Priority Thinking, offering Leadership Coaching, Organizational Development, and Ethics Education; across from the Town Hall, dated 1890. There is also the Canal Lamp Inn, a stunning Victorian, right beside the canal bridge. (Self-guided walk through Pittsford,

Pittsford’s Flour Mill has been repurposed into an office tower© 2013 Karen Rubin/

Pittsford offers some of the best examples of a town that has “repurposed” from its industrial heritage: the silo for the Pittsford Flour Mill has been converted to an office tower; the Coal Tower has become a restaurant’ Towpath Bike Rental shop was a hardware store. There is still a shuttered barn and factory which adds character to the waterfront.

At this late hour, we are guided by a resident to Pontillo’s Pizza Place and bring our slices back to the canalpark to dine on a picnic table beside our boat.

We watch ducks that appear to be doing elaborate synchronized swim in the canal, when they believe no one is around to watch.

Staying overnight in the canalside park where we are docked (it is closed to all but the boaters after 10 pm), the setting is magical.

Just minutes after we finish our picnic dinner, get inside our boat and close the hatches, it starts to pour. We are cozy inside. We hear the patter of rain as we watch a DVD on our computer.

It’s been a day of adventure and discovery, as perfect as can be.

The star attraction – and a major character – in this travel epic is the Erie Canal, itself. The historic markers we come upon are like chapters in the story, and as our trip unfolds, our appreciation of what the canal was, what it represented, and the impact it had, grows.

The Erie Canal journey by boat and bike continues..

Helpful contacts:

Mid-Lakes Navigation, 11 Jordan St, PO Box 61, skaneateles, NY 13152, 315-685-8500, 800-545-4318,

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, PO Box 219, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-8643, ext 3110,

See also:

Journey by boat and bike along the Erie Canal: Macedon-Fairport-Pittsford and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat, bike: Exploring canaltowns from Pittsford to Albion and slideshow

Erie Canal journey: Albion-Medina bikeride is most scenic, illuminating and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat and bike: Palmyra, ‘Queen of Canal Towns’ and slideshow

New season of self-skippered canalboat cruises on New York’s historic Erie Canal (Photos)


© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit,, and Blogging at Send comments or questions to Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at


Journey by Canal Boat and Bike Along New York’s Historic Erie Canal

Our Lockmaster canalboat, the Canadice, tied up at Fairport’s dock © 2013 Karen Rubin/

by Karen Rubin

I am at the helm of a 41-foot canal boat, a boat so enchanting and lovely, it turns heads and evokes waves, smiles, and snapped photos as it chugs pleasantly along at a top speed of 6 mph.

From this vantage point, I finally understand this marvel of engineering, of grit and ingenuity, of how vast and marvelous the Erie Canal was, and the vital role it played in the United States’ emergence as an Industrial giant in the 19th century and a dominant economic power in the 20th century.

There is simply no place in the United States like the Erie Canal, and no experience like having your own self-skippered canal boat – our floating home for the week – and bicycle with which to explore the towns that developed with the canal, and the countryside

It is extraordinary and thrilling to travel on the nearly 400-miles long Erie Canal that slices through New York State and played such a vital part in the nation’s history.  especially as we go through locks and under bridges that must be lifted for us to pass.

Most of all, it lets us truly explore and discover these small villages and towns that developed because of the Erie Canal – the factories and businesses that developed to cater to the canal and the innovators who developed new products and processes they could get to market because of the canal- and how it has all undergone a dramatic transition, just as the Erie Canal has changed from a commercial artery to recreation.

This is a true adventure. One where there are new discoveries, new insights, new perspectives formed with every new encounter.

Setting off on our adventure on the Erie Canal on the Canadice © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Setting off on our first morning, I have rarely felt that exhilarating sense of being so fancy free – to not have a set itinerary or schedule but to have the power and ability just go where your curiosity leads. It is a marvelous.

We have decided to travel west from the Mid-Lakes Navigation marina at Macedon, where we have chartered the Canadice. Sarah Wiles, whose family owns the company, tells me that there are more towns to visit, more heritage to be seen, and more of the original canal. (Original? What does that mean?). What is more, I have the idea of possibly going as far as North Tonawanda, the closest port from which we can get a taxi to visit Niagara Falls.

That is, until I consult the chart they have provided which places that distance at a total of 18 hours of boating, which would mean 6 hours a day for the three days we would allocate, and then the same back.

But our objective (yours might be different) is to bike as much as we can along the canal, and see as much as we can.

That is one of the benefits of this style of travel – it can be as active, or as sedentary, as you like.

Who could imagine this is New York State? The Erie Canal is a triumph of human engineering, sweat and smarts, which helped spur the US into an industrial and economic power in the 19th century, made US an industrial giant and connected the East and Midwest.

Today, the barges and packet ships are rarities; the canal is mainly populated by pleasure boaters, kayakers, canoers, and along one side, a 376-mile long Erie Canalway Trail, a bikepath (mostly unpaved gravel), where the towpath had been. In the west, where we travel, this is the Erie Canal Heritage Trail, 114-miles from Buffalo to Newark, with some of the most historic sections of the canal, including 16 lift-bridges and 7 locks.

It all seems so far away and long ago, but it was only yesterday, that we traveled seven hours by Amtrak from Penn Station in New York City to Rochester, and then 20 minutes to Macedon where Mid-Lakes Navigation has a full-service marina.

Between admiring the stunning scenery along this rail route – we follow the Hudson River until Albany, then travel alongside the Erie Canal going west for much of the way to Rochester –  I review the material that Mid-Lakes has sent me – an operating manual for the boat, and brochures about the various places we might visit along the canal.

I think to myself: they are going to let me pilot this boat? They don’t even require any experience (though they do ask if you have any).

I became enamored of the idea of a houseboat on the Erie Canal after doing a barge hotel canal cruise in Burgundy, France, and biking along the towpath there, and before that, riding part of the bikeway from Waterford, near Albany, where I spotted, for the first time, the loveliest canal boat. I learned that you can bike nearly 400 miles alongside the Erie Canal on what used to be the towpath, and I figured that a houseboat would be an excellent way to travel between points.

It turns out that the canal boat that so enchanted me was built by Mid-Lakes Navigation (it is operated by a different company in Waterford),

We had trepidation about navigating the boat – a 41-foot long houseboat, like a floating RV – docking and most intriguingly, going through the locks along the canal.

But when we arrive on a Saturday afternoon, Matt spends two hours orienting us to the boat – every aspect about operating it, plugging in to electricity and water; how to turn on the engine, the stove, the shower, flush the toilet; how to recharge the batteries by running the engine in neutral; how to operate the radio and the correct protocol when contacting bridge and lock operators to request passage (Request passage?).

He also reviews the route we say we want to take, and finally, takes us on a “shake-down” cruise that includes going back and forth through a lock located just around the bend from the marina, and practice how to make a 360-degree turn. They provide a chart book (we can buy our own, as well), and a handy sheet that lets you approximate how many hours between ports. These become our Bible, and pretty soon, I get the hang of how to read them properly.

There is also a logbook, which we are asked to keep, which we can consult about previous travelers’ recommendations of what to see and do, where to eat.

He also gives us a checklist that reminds us of all the key points he has reviewed, plus telephone numbers in case we need to contact anyone (he can trouble shoot by phone, and even hop in a car and get to us if necessary). “Don’t worry, we won’t leave you,” Sarah Wiles tells me.

Her other key advice: “Don’t approach anything faster than you would care to hit it.” In other words, just slow down if you are unsure.

The steel-hulled boat is powered by a 50 horsepower diesel engine; its top speed is 6 mph, and it weighs 11 tons “so you can’t get into trouble.”

The canal boat is outfitted with just about everything you might need – from ponchos to potholders to paper towels (they send you a list of what’s on the boat, and what you should bring – such as hats, sunscreen, insect repellent (add to that list DVDs and computer). There is even a grill and BBQ tools and canisters of propane.

Our boat, the Canadice, is 41 feet long and can sleep 4 people (one double bed and two bunk beds in the galley), suitable for a family; the largest Lockmaster can accommodate 6 adults.

Mid-Lakes even provides beach bikes, but if you are serious about biking the towpath (as we are), you will want to bring your own (hybrid or mountain bike tires for the gravel, grit, pebble and sandy surface), but you can also arrange to rent bikes (TowPath Bike, Pittsford, $40/day, $100/week; open year-round;

Since we have arrived late in the afternoon, and it is already early evening after our orientation, we stay the night in the marina. settling in comfortably into the Canadice.

Mid-Lakes even arranges for us to have the use of a car so we can go to Walmart (open 24/7) to pick up groceries, and have dinner (at Flaherty’s, an Irish pub).

Sunday: We’re Off

Fairport’s distinctive lift bridge is renowned because it has no right angles © 2013 Karen Rubin/

Sunday morning we linger a bit, taking our time to get organized (still a little nervous to get under way), we use the facilities at the marina (a very pleasant shower room; if you want, there is also WiFi in the marina).

But by mid-morning, we unplug and finally untie and we are off! Neil makes the hard-right turn out of the slip and we make our way the short distance to the canal, blasting our horn (5 seconds), as we were taught, to alert any boats on the canal: We are coming!

We turn to port (west) onto the Erie Canal, and we are off.

We are nervous when we depart, but very soon, it feels comfortable. The canal is calm and flat, and for the most part even straight.

The boat is surprisingly responsive, surprisingly nimble. The canal is wider than I expected.

It doesn’t take long before we realize how easy it is to pilot the boat, how responsive the tiller is, really, to little touches here, a tiny shove there, to keep it going straight or turning into the slight bends in the canal.

Within moments, the thrill of what this is all about floods over me: This is a real adventure, where have to do everything yourself, not have it done for you, make decisions.

The very idea of setting off without an itinerary or a schedule (though you wind up having one because you have to calculate amount of time to get to port, and get in), not knowing what is ahead or what will greet you. I rarely have felt this fancy free.

I have a comfortable perch from the helm to sit – a rail makes for a backrest. I sip coffee as we chug along.

I can see over the front, and can stand on a step for even better visibility. There is  a breeze – even though is quite hot today, it is comfortable.

Cruising up the Erie Canal © 2013 Karen Rubin/

As we sail along, I reflect on how lovely this boat is: the gorgeous knotty pine wood detailing; the varnished wood seats and a railing that makes for a back rest as you hold the tiller, brass and varnished wood. Inside the cabin are beautiful knotty pine. It has a canvas canopy over the helm and even on a hot day, the breezes as we travel are delightful. The bow has screens with plastic and canvas that zip and snap easily so we can close everything up in the event of rain and a table that can even be moved inside.

The galley has stainless steel counters, a half-refrigerator, a stove and oven and sink. You can also convert a seat to two beds.

The designs for the boat came from Sarah and Peter Wiles’ father, Peter Wiles, Senior, who was a key architect in the transition of the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use.  He had a small tour boat business on Skaneateles Lake and went to England  to see the self-skippered canal boats that operated on the Thames, and brought back the concept for boats that he would design and build here. In all, Mid-Lakes has built 19 of the Lockmaster canalboats, operating 10 of them (the others were sold, some to other companies along the Erie).

He took the charm and the traditional design but adapted the boat to the Erie Canal, so the boats have a wider beam,  are mostly flat bottomed and do not have a keel.

We’re off on what proves to be one of the most marvelous adventures.

Our Erie Canal journey continues….

Helpful contacts:

Mid-Lakes Navigation, 11 Jordan St, PO Box 61, skaneateles, NY 13152, 315-685-8500, 800-545-4318,

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, PO Box 219, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-8643, ext 3110,

See also:

Journey by boat and bike along the Erie Canal: Macedon-Fairport-Pittsford and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat, bike: Exploring canaltowns from Pittsford to Albion and slideshow

Erie Canal journey: Albion-Medina bikeride is most scenic, illuminating and slideshow

Erie Canal journey by boat and bike: Palmyra, ‘Queen of Canal Towns’ and slideshow

New season of self-skippered canalboat cruises on New York’s historic Erie Canal (Photos)


© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit,, and Blogging at Send comments or questions to Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at