Genesee Valley Canal
The following information was submitted by Richard Palmer
HISTORY OF THE CANAL SYSTEM OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
TOGETHER WITH BRIEF HISTORIES OF THE CANALS OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA
BY NOBLE E. WHITFORD
THE GENESEE VALLEY CANAL.
Including the Dansville branch, the extension to Millgrove, and the various feeders and reservoirs, from the inception of the project to the abandonment of the canal. The year 1825 marked a new era in the internal navigation of New York State. New York City now had direct water communication both with the Great Lakes and with Lake Champlain by means of the Erie and Champlain canals. The next step was by a system of branch or lateral canals, to connect the inland portions of the state with these main waterways.
The prosperity which had followed the opening of the Erie, section by section, and the rapidity with which the glowing predictions of early promoters were being realized led to a veritable canal mania. From all parts of the state came the cry for a share in the benefits of internal navigation, and the Legislatures were flooded with petitions which, if acceded to, would have covered the state with a network of canals.
In the western section of the state, in the valley of the Genesee River, was an extensive tract of wonderfully fertile and productive land, having no means of access to the markets of the country. The Genesee river, which meets the Erie canal at Rochester, is separated from the Allegheny river at Olean by a very narrow divide. By constructing a canal across this divide and by canalizing the two rivers, an unbroken inland water communication would be afforded between all the important sections of New York State and the valleys of the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri. Arkansas, Osage, Illinois, Wabash, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, three-quarters of the entire territory of the United States. The dream of so extensive a line of internal communication appealed to the people of the Genesee valley as affording irresistible arguments for constructing a canal along this route. As early as 1823 a petition from citizens of the counties of Monroe, Livingston, Genesee, Allegany and Cattaraugus was presented to the State Legislature praying for an appropriation of $10,000 from the State treasury for the purpose of improving the navigation of the Genesee river. This petition, however, had no immediate results.
This route was not considered to be of sufficient importance or else its advocates were not insistent enough to have it included in the first group of lateral canals that were authorized, but it was begun after the mania for canal-building had somewhat abated, after the utility of railroads began to be demonstrated, and its construction was protracted during a long period while the resources of the State were being severely taxed for the enlargement and repairs of the other canals. The whole history of this canal reveals a series of unfortunate events; the numerous delays were very costly; the time for building, most inauspicious; and even the advisability of beginning the project at so late a day is not sustained by results. The subject first came before the Legislature for serious consideration as the result of a message of Governor De Witt Clinton in February, 1825, "respecting a navigable communication between the waters of the Allegany river and the Erie canal, and soliciting a full investigation of the proposed measure by able engineers" 1 and recommending the adoption of effectual preliminary measures. As a result of this message, together with sixteen petitions from counties in the neighborhood of the proposed improvement, an act was passed on April 20, 1825, rendering it "the duty of the canal commissioners to cause examinations, surveys and estimates to be made of the most eligible routes . . . from Rochester to Allegany river at Olean, through the valley of Genesee river; from Scottsville by way of Le Roy, to the upper falls of the Genesee river; . . . from Lake Erie to Allegany river, through the valley of the Conawanga, and from the Allegany river at Olean to the Erie canal by way of the village of Batavia." 2 In accordance with this law the canal commissioners in 1826 reported the practicability of each of these routes, although they did not endeavor to make any comparisons between them. This act of 1825 showed to what an extent this desire to participate in the benefits of canal navigation had spread throughout the state. The act ordered the surveys of seventeen separate routes in various parts of the state. James Geddes, the veteran engineer of the Erie canal, made the surveys, and his reports were embodied in the communications from the canal commissioners. Although twenty-nine petitions were presented during the spring of 1826, no legislation was enacted concerning this project. In 1827 fifteen petitions were presented, some praying for the construction of a canal from the Erie canal by the way of Tonawanda creek to the Allegheny river at Olean; some by the Genesee valley route, and others for a canal from the Erie canal at Buffalo to the Allegheny river along the valley of the Conewango creek. The canal committee to which these petitions were referred could not select a line from the rough surveys already made of the three routes, and recommended that for the present the condition of the finances of the State was not such as to warrant the expense of constructing this canal.
In April, 1827, an act was passed incorporating a company to improve the navigation of the Cassedaga and Conewango creeks and the Chautauqua outlet. Although incorporated for the purpose of constructing the long desired canal, this company accomplished nothing. During the next three years twenty-seven petitions were received. In April, 1830, an act was finally passed authorizing a careful survey of the Genesee valley route, but as the appropriation ($750) was so obviously inadequate, no survey was attempted. From 1831 to 1833, only nineteen petitions were presented, but in 1834 the friends of the Genesee valley route began work in earnest and twenty-eight petitions were brought before the Legislature. The desire for the canal was no longer confined to the counties in the western part of the state, but from every section came petitions. Even the common council of the City of New York and the American Institute of the City of New York passed resolutions "appealing to the intelligence, justice and patriotism of the Legislature" to effect the necessary legislation for the opening of intercourse with Pittsburg and the inexhaustible beds of bituminous coal of western Pennsylvania by means of the canal system of the State. The valley through which this proposed canal was to pass contained over one hundred thousand inhabitants and remarkably fertile lands. Annually over 200,000,000 feet of lumber passed down the Allegheny river, and it was supposed that this would, for the most part, be deflected to the New York State canals. From these considerations the canal committee recommended a minute survey of the Genesee valley route. An act to this effect was passed on April 30, 1834, and it also provided for a side-cut from the village of Dansville down the Canaseraga creek to the Genesee valley line at or near Mount Morris.
In compliance with instructions received from the canal commissioners a very complete survey and examination of the proposed route was made by an engineer, Mr. Frederick C. Mills, the result of whose investigations was embodied in the report of the canal commissioners on March 2, 1835. Mr. Mills reported that the proposed canal, side- cut and navigable feeders, if located on the west side of the Genesee river, would extend over 122 ¼ miles, with 1,057 feet of lockage and were estimated to cost $1,890,614.12; if the east side of the river were chosen, the length would be 123 3/10 miles, the amount of lockage the same, and the estimated cost, $2,002,285.92. These estimates did not take into consideration damages to lands through which the canal was to pass or to hydraulic works and water- privileges. A part of the line south of Mount Morris was shown to be very difficult and expensive. At the falls, the high lands closed in upon the river with perpendicular sides, at some places rising nearly four hundred feet. In a distance of two miles the river appeared to be a continuous succession of falls, descending two hundred and seventy-four feet. The plan proposed was to construct a tunnel for one thousand and fifty-six feet through an immense projecting cliff of rock. The summit level of this canal was to be eleven and a half miles long and the greatest depth of excavation was stated at twelve feet. It was estimated that an adequate supply of water could be obtained without any material damage to water-privileges.
This report was made too late in the year for any action to be taken on it, but the friends of the project were determined that by persevering they would win, and during the sessions of 1835-6 one hundred and eleven petitions were filed. Finally, on the 6th of May, 1836, an act was passed (chapter 257), providing for the construction of a navigable canal, to be known as the Genesee Valley canal, "from the Erie canal in the city of Rochester, through the valley of the Genesee river, to a point at or near Mount-Morris; and from thence, by the most eligible route, to the Allegany river, at or near Olean; and also a branch of the same, commencing at or near Mount-Morris, and extending up the valley of the Canaseraga creek, at or near the village of Dansville. And should the canal commissioners be of the opinion that the construction of the said canal will injure the hydraulic privileges at Rochester, then they are required to connect the said canal with the Genesee river, above the feeder dam above Rochester, and from thence to construct a navigable canal to the Erie canal, or improve the Erie canal feeder from this place, as may best promote the public interest.
"The canal commissioners shall determine on the width and depth of the said canal and branch . . . and shall borrow, on the credit of the state, . . . such sum or sums of money as shall be required for the same, as they shall deem best for the interest of the state, not exceeding two millions of dollars." 3
In June, 1837, contracts were let for building that portion of the canal extending from the Erie canal in Rochester to the rapids on the Genesee river, a distance of two miles. The estimated cost of these two miles of canal, including the expense of a dam across the Genesee river, was $47,492.59. On the fourteenth of November, 1837, proposals were received for constructing twenty-eight miles of this canal from the rapids to Piffard’s in the county of Livingston. The cost of the work calculated at contract prices was $522,181.89, while the estimate of 1834 was only $408,725.63, but the prices of supplies of all kinds, were considerably higher than when the first estimate was made.
At Scottsville the Genesee Valley canal crossed that of the Scottsville Canal Company, a company that was organized in 1829, with a capital of $15,000 to build a canal from Scottsville to the Genesee river.
By January 1, 1839, the first two miles of the Genesee Valley canal were completed and work was in progress on fifty-one miles more, from the rapids to Dansville, all of this work to be completed, according to the terms of contracts, by October 1, 1840. In addition, the canal commissioners had made a careful examination of the various proposed routes from Mount Morris to the Allegheny river, and after having finally decided on a route, contracts for fifty miles had been let on October 31, 1838. This route passed from Mount Morris up the valley of the Canaseraga creek to the Keshequa creek, following the line on which the branch canal to Dansville had been located; thence up the valley of that stream through the village of Nunda and Messenger’s hollow, by the deep cut near Colonel William’s, and thence to the Genesee river, crossing that stream by an aqueduct to Portageville; thence up the west side of the river to Black creek; thence up the valley of that stream to Cuba; thence down on the east side of Oil creek to Hinsdale; thence down on the east side of Olean creek to near the village of Olean, crossing that creek by an aqueduct, and thence passing the village of Olean to the Allegheny river. The work under contract at that time between Rochester and the village of Nunda called for an expenditure of $1,959,011, while the estimated cost of completing the canal between Nunda and the Allegheny river amounted to an additional sum of $2,791,111.79. These contracts and plans called for a canal twenty-six feet wide on the bottom, forty- two feet wide at water-surface, the banks seven feet high and calculated for four feet of water, the locks to be built of hammer- dressed masonry, laid in hydraulic cement, ninety feet long and fifteen feet wide.
In May, 1839, an act (chapter 305) was passed favoring a cheaper form of lock and giving the canal commissioners the power to change the plans accordingly, thereby reducing the expense of the canal $384,506.95. The contracts for the remaining twenty miles were let in October, 1839.
That portion of the Genesee Valley canal between its intersection with the Erie canal at Rochester and the Genesee river dam near Mount Morris, a distance of thirty-six miles, was so far completed that water was admitted in the latter part of August and navigation was opened on the first day of September, 1840. On that day the first packet boat passed up the canal from Rochester to Mount Morris and a daily line of packets then began this trip. Numerous warehouses were erected along the line of the canal and freight boats were engaged in the transportation of produce and merchandise. A collector’s office was established at Scottsville and from then until the close of the season $6,929.15 was collected in tolls.
In the fall of 1841 the canal was opened from Mount Morris to the junction at Shaker settlement, 5.22 miles, and the branch from thence to Dansville, 11.12 miles, thereby giving fifty-two miles of finished canal. In April, 1842, a collector’s office was established at Dansville and a collector appointed. The portion of the canal, from Dansville to the Genesee river, which was completed, was supplied with water from the Canaseraga and Mill creeks. In April, 1840, an additional appropriation of $500,000 had been granted to carry on the work of the Genesee Valley canal, and by an act (chapter 194) passed May 18, 1841, the canal commissioners were authorized to borrow, on the credit of the State, $550,000 to be applied toward the construction of the canal.
The financial panic of 1837 had so disturbed monetary affairs that the work of enlarging the Erie, building the Black River and Genesee Valley canals, and repairing the other canals was prosecuted under considerable embarrassment till the passage of what is popularly known as the "Stop law." On March 29, 1842, this act (chapter 114) was passed for the professed purpose of "paying the debt and preserving the credit of the State." It ordered the suspension of all expenditures on public works at that time in progress of construction, except such as were necessary for the protection of work already done. This act practically stopped all work on the canals of the state, and contracts already let were stopped abruptly. From this time till the new Constitution allowed further appropriations there is little of interest to record. In March, 1843, it was estimated that the total cost of the Genesee Valley canal would be $4,535,776.47 and work to the amount of $4,224,700.88 was then under contract. During the summer of 1843 practically no work was done on the canal beyond that absolutely essential in the line of repairs. During this season navigation was more or less interrupted on the Dansville branch from the inadequacy of the water-supply. Another obstruction to navigation during the early part of the season was experienced in consequence of large accumulations of deposits above the dam across the Genesee river near Mount Morris. It was originally intended to cross the river at this point by means of an aqueduct, and the contract was let and well under way, when in 1839, under an act respecting the Genesee Valley canal, passed May 1, 1839, the aqueduct was dispensed with by the acting commissioner then in charge, who was of the impression that he was thereby cutting down expenses, and a plan of locking boats to the pool above an existing dam was adopted. The aqueduct would have been very expensive, but a channel had to be dredged above the dam to allow boats to cross the pool, and nearly four thousand cubic yards of accumulated earth had to be taken out annually. If all the difficulties of maintaining good navigation through the pond could have been foreseen, it is probable that the original plan would have been carried out and the aqueduct constructed.
The citizens of Dansville were dissatisfied with the terminal facilities that had been supplied for them, and after having applied in vain to the canal board and the canal commissioners for the construction of a slip or for permission to construct a slip from the village of Dansville and connect it with the side-cut, they proceeded to construct a slip and basin and applied to the Legislature in 1844 for permission to connect them with the side-cut. Several remonstrances were also presented to the Legislature against building or assuming this work as a State charge.
After a bill for this purpose had been defeated the people of Dansville were greatly aroused and one evening at dusk more than a hundred of them assembled on the bank of the canal. One of their number who was a large property owner mounted a pile of lumber and made an incendiary speech to the people, describing the manner in which the bill was defeated; he said to the crowd that they "were the sovereign people, and their rights had been trampled on, and they must do as their forefathers did to resist oppression, obtain their rights (as he called them) by their own power." 4 On the following morning they reassembled and cut through the berme bank and let the water into the new side-cut, after using force to eject the State employees from the village. Indictments were secured against the ringleaders of this mob and they were all punished.
At the next session of the Legislature another bill authorizing the builders of the side-cut to connect with the Dansville branch of the Genesee Valley canal was defeated on the ground that its passage would sanction a violation of law.
Not until 1848 (chapter 172) was the canal board authorized to assume the Dansville slip and basin as a part of the Dansville branch of the Genesee Valley canal. The main objection to this slip was the fact that even without it the supply of water was inadequate and it would require a great deal of water from the side-cut and could give none in return. In accordance with this act the canal board assumed the slip and basin on December 10, 1851, and they were thereafter considered a part of the canal.
Some repairs were made to the canal in 1844-5. The banks were, to a considerable extent, composed of material easily affected by the action of water and required much labor to keep them in repair. By an act of May 12, 1846 (chapter 246), the commissioners of the canal fund were authorized to pay to the canal commissioners $10,000 to be expended by them in protecting and preserving from decay the unfinished works and in the preservation of materials collected for construction. A large amount of this fund was spent for transporting materials from the unfinished to the finished portion of the canal near the Shaker settlement, to be used in repairs or to be otherwise disposed of. Although operations had been stopped, for the most part, for over four years the work was standing well. The unfinished portion extended from the junction at Shaker settlement to Olean, a distance of sixty-six and a half miles, in which there were ninety- five lift-locks, the foundations of seventy-one of which had been laid. On January 1, 1847, the new State Constitution went into effect; this permitted appropriations for the canals under article 7, section 3, which reads as follows: "After paying the said expenses of superintendence and repairs of the canals, and the sums appropriated by the first and second sections of this Article, there shall be paid out of the surplus revenues of the canals, to the Treasury of the State, on or before the thirtieth day of September in each year, for the use and benefit of the General Fund, such sum, not exceeding two hundred thousand dollars, as may be required to defray the necessary expenses of the State, and the remainder of the revenues of the said canals, shall, in each fiscal year, be applied in such manner as the Legislature shall direct to the completion of the Erie Canal enlargement and the Genesee Valley and Black River canals, until the said canals shall be completed."
From the time of resuming work till the opening of the entire canal in 1862 the record shows a continuous succession of small appropriations. The first of these was made by the act of May 12, 1847, (chapter 263) by which $128,000 was appropriated towards the construction of the Genesee Valley canal. In pursuance of this act contracts were let for finishing section No. 54, known as the "Deep Cut;" for finishing the Portage tunnel, ten hundred and eighty-two feet in length, and some smaller pieces of work. By an act of 1847 (chapter 446) a further appropriation of $50,000 was made and this enabled the commissioners to let the contract for the completion of the foundations and masonry of the Portage aqueduct and several locks. About this time it was found that the Genesee Valley and Erie canals were taking so much water from the Genesee river as to greatly damage the water-privileges of the many manufacturing interests located on the river, in and below Rochester. The Legislature took action immediately, and after several methods of augmenting the supply of water in the river were examined, they decided that making a reservoir of Conesus lake was the most feasible plan, and by an act of April 12, 1848, (chapter 339) they authorized the canal commissioners to construct the works necessary for this purpose. The Legislature appropriated the sum of $218,000 on April 10, 1848, (chapter 217) to be applied to the construction of the canal, between the navigable canal at Mount Morris and the Genesee feeder at or near Caneadea. The contract for the completion of the Portage tunnel was abandoned by the contractors with the consent of the commissioner in charge, in September, 1848, and a new contract for an "open cut" in place of the tunnel was awarded, thereby directly saving over $72,000 to the State, and indirectly a large amount, as a tunnel would require very large expenditures to keep it in repair.
In 1849 that section of the canal from Mount Morris to the Caneadea feeder, thirty-six and one-half miles, was all in progress of construction. This entire distance was to be supplied with water from the Genesee river at Caneadea and from the Wiscoy creek. On the remaining portion from Caneadea to Olean (thirty-two miles), a large amount of work was done previous to the suspension of work in 1842. From previous experience with stone found in this vicinity, it was found that it would not withstand the action of the atmosphere and frosts, therefore the canal commissioners changed the plans, specifying wood instead of masonry locks, thereby reducing the cost $38,500.
On April 5, 1849, (chapter 227) the $128,000 appropriated in 1847 (chapter 263), or as much as remained unexpended, was reappropriated and in addition $120,000 was appropriated (chapter 229), to be applied between the navigable canal at Mount Morris and the Genesee feeder at or near Caneadea, and $20,000 to the Ischua reservoir. In the following year an appropriation of $170,000 was made (chapter 192), to be expended on the construction of the canal. In the spring of 1851 thirty-six miles of canal extending from the Shaker settlement, four miles above Mount Morris to the Genesee river feeder, near the village of Rounesville, were opened. This made eighty-eight miles of completed canal and left thirty miles partially finished. Work on this last section was going on rapidly. The Rockville reservoir and the Ischua feeder were commenced in 1839 and 1840. Millions of feet of lumber and staves, besides timber, shingles and other produce were transported over the new portion of the canal during the season of 1851.
Most of the supply of water required for the canal between Oramel and Olean was to be furnished from Oil and Ischua creek feeders and reservoirs, the estimated cost of which was $133,400. These were the most important and expensive works yet to be constructed and it was necessary that they should be started soon, as their completion was essential to the opening of the last thirty miles of the canal. In 1853 (chapter 620), $100,000 was appropriated towards the completion of the Genesee Valley canal. In the following year (chapter 329) an additional sum of $65,000 was allotted to this canal. In 1854 (chapter 331), in response to petitions for a navigable feeder for the Genesee Valley canal from the Genesee river at Wellsville to intersect the canal at or near Belfast, the Legislature instructed the canal board to prepare maps, plans and estimates for this feeder. In March, 1855, the canal board reported unfavorably on this project.
In the spring of 1856 an act was passed (chapter 149), directing "the state engineer and surveyor and canal commissioners . . . to cause surveys to be made for extending the Genesee Valley canal, from or near the first lock north-east of the village of Olean, across and through the bottom lands lying between said lock and the Alleghany river, to the pond in said river known as the Millgrove pond, and to make the necessary plans and estimates of the cost of the construction of said canal, by the route and to the point aforesaid." 5 At this session of the Legislature only $32,000 was appropriated for the Genesee Valley canal (chapter 148). At the next session, April, 1857, an act was passed (chapter 247), authorizing the extension of the canal as contemplated by the act of 1856 (chapter 149), provided the total cost could be kept under $109,000. By chapter 365 there was appropriated $63,142.36 towards the completion and extension of this canal, and in the next year (1858) $40,000 was apportioned for the canal proper, and $61,212.36 for the extension.
In the spring of 1856 all work on the main canal was under contract and rapidly nearing completion and the contract for the Oil creek reservoir, which was to supply the deficiency of water experienced during the dry part of the season, had at last been let, and was in a fair state of progress. Two miles of canal from Oramel to Belfast had been opened in 1853, and in 1854 three miles more, extending from Belfast to Rockville, were completed and brought into use, making ninety-three miles of completed canal. That section from Rockville to Olean (twenty-four miles) was completed in the season of 1857, thus making one hundred and seventeen miles of completed canal. During the first season the only sources of water-supply for that portion of the canal south of Rockville were the natural flow of Black, Oil, Chamberlain and Ischua creeks, as the Oil creek reservoir was not completed until 1858. In consequence of the leaky condition of the banks and the scarcity of water, the canal below Hinsdale could not be filled and it was found necessary to construct a feeder five rods in length from Olean creek to the canal.
In November, 1857, the work for the construction of the extension of the Genesee Valley canal from Olean nearly seven miles up the valley of the Allegheny river to Millgrove pond was put under contract. About six miles of this canal was completed and brought into use in August, 1859. The rest of this work was so situated that it could not be done advantageously except in time of low water. This extension of 6.70 miles would, when completed, connect the Genesee Valley canal with the Allegheny river; and by a navigation of twelve miles on that river, and a projected railroad of about twenty miles, it would connect with coal mines said to be of great value and of almost inexhaustible supply, and also with very extensive timber tracts. Although one of the objects of constructing the Genesee Valley canal was to connect with the Allegheny river at Olean, that object was not then accomplished. To connect with the river at this point would involve the construction of two locks, originally estimated to cost $23,220. At this time it was thought that the construction of these locks might be desirable but that their completion was not then demanded. Neither the State of Pennsylvania nor the United States Government had carried out their alleged plans of improving the Allegheny river, so that the original scheme of drawing trade from the Ohio and the other great rivers, to which its waters afforded access, was destroyed. Pennsylvania did not wish to further New York’s interests in this way, for she now had means of transporting goods from Pittsburg to the coast without permitting any other State to reap the advantages of their transportation.
The Buffalo, Bradford and Pittsburg railroad was then being exploited. This railroad was to cross the Allegheny river about fifteen miles below Olean, and it was claimed that its construction would bring for transshipment to the river and thence to the canal, coal and lumber in sufficient quantities to warrant the expenditure necessary for the construction of the locks and the improvement of the river. In 1859 (chapter 149) $17,700 was appropriated for the completion of the canal and extension. This was followed in 1860 (chapter 213) and 1862 (chapter 137) by appropriations of $56,840 and $8,000, respectively.
In December, 1861, the extension of the Genesee Valley canal was completed and brought into use on the opening of navigation in 1862. This completed the construction of the canal and the accounts were closed. The lockage from Rochester to the summit level in Allegany county was all ascending, as was also that by the branch to Dansville in Livingston county. The summit extended from New Hudson to North Hinsdale, a distance of about twelve miles, thence the canal descended to the Allegheny river.
The provisions made for supplying the canal with water were as follows: proceeding southerly from the Erie canal, there were: first, a feeder from Allen’s creek at Scottsville; second, the Genesee river, one mile north of Mount Morris; third, a feeder from Wiscoy creek at Mixville Landing; fourth, a feeder from the Genesee river at Oramel; fifth, Rockville reservoir at Rockville; sixth, a feeder from Oil creek reservoir, two miles north of Cuba; seventh and eighth, Champlain and Chamberlain’s creeks, in the village of Cuba; and ninth, a feeder from Ischua creek near Hinsdale. The last four feeders entered the canal on the summit level. South of the summit at Smith Mills there was a short feeder from Olean creek. The Dansville branch was supplied by a feeder from Mill creek at Dansville and one from the Canaseraga, two miles north of that place. The supply for the branch was not quite sufficient during the dry season, but that of the main line was ample for the needs of that time if properly husbanded. Of all these feeders and reservoirs the Oil creek reservoir was by far the most important. Its flow line, when full, covered about four hundred and seventy acres and its average depth was estimated at twenty-five feet. At the dam it was forty-six feet in depth. The embankment forming the dam was two thousand feet in length, fifty-six feet in height and two hundred and ninety feet in breadth at the base where it crossed the channel of the creek. The locks of the canal were of three kinds: wooden, composite and stone. The wooden locks were used on account of the poor quality of the stone of that region and the great expense of bringing stone there before the canal was opened. It was intended to rebuild these with stone as soon as the canal could be used as the means of transporting the material.
In April, 1863, an act was passed (chapter 342) authorizing the canal commissioners to raise the water in Oil creek reservoir three feet, also to build a dam across Ischua creek at Ischua feeder at such elevation as might be determined by the canal board and to raise and maintain, at an elevation of five feet above the bottom of the canal, the dams across the streams that supplied with water that part of the canal designated as the extension of the Genesee Valley canal. It was difficult to meet the ever increasing demand for more reservoirs, caused by the growing business of the canal, and in 1864 (chapter 170) the Legislature appropriated $85,000 towards making a reservoir of Lime lake and towards rebuilding with rubble masonry five locks. In 1866 (chapter 304) the balance of the 1864 allowance was reappropriated and the further sum of $6,936.26 was added to it for the original purpose of the act of 1864.
The locks were completed and brought into use during the following season. Owing to the nature of the country, either with its many streams flowing into the canal or with the canal following their winding courses through the narrow valleys, the Genesee Valley canal was bound to require large expenditures for maintenance and repair. It was a country of floods; the outlets of the valleys could not take care of their great drainage areas and the floods frequently washed out canal embankments and carried away dams, locks and aqueducts. On May 7, 1868, an act was passed (chapter 715) appropriating the sum of $242,000 for furnishing additional water to the summit level of the Genesee Valley canal, improving Ischua feeder, changing the plan of rebuilding Ischua feeder aqueduct, removing Mud lock, deepening and widening the channel of the Genesee Valley canal, from the guard- lock at the rapids to the junction with the Erie canal, for protecting the canal at the "slide banks" and for improving the canal in general.
After careful investigation it was decided that the best way of increasing the supply of water for the summit level was to raise the surface of Oil creek reservoir six feet (covering an area of about five hundred and twenty-five acres) and to construct a new reservoir on the Ischua creek by raising a dam about twenty-five feet in height, and thus flooding some two hundred acres. It was estimated that these improvements would furnish a supply of water sufficient for the lockage of twenty-seven boats per day in each direction through the entire season and that this would meet all demands for many years to come. But in 1869 the canal commissioners decided that, as the proposed reservoir of Ischua creek would flood the best farming lands of that section, it would be cheaper to raise the State dam across the Ischua creek about six and one-half feet and to increase the capacity of Oil creek reservoir by raising the dam there an additional two feet.
On May 12, 1869 (chapter 877), the Legislature set aside $50,000 for protecting the slide banks and otherwise improving the Genesee Valley canal. In the following year (chapter 767) $100,000 was allotted to the Genesee Valley canal for improvements and for completing work already under contract. In 1871 the Legislature (chapter 930) appropriated $13,000 for constructing a stone abutment and docking at the east end of the dam across the Genesee river at Mount Morris and $12,000 to pay for work at that time under contract and for protecting the Genesee Valley canal against the encroachments of the Genesee river.
On May 23, 1872 (chapter 850), the Legislature made provision for increasing the water-supply at the Dansville end of the Dansville side-cut. An appropriation of $10,000 was made for conveying the water from Loon lake into the canal at Dansville by discharging it through Mill creek. Loon lake was about ten miles from Dansville; it was about one mile long and one-third of a mile wide, and by opening a channel about one-quarter mile in length the water would pass down natural watercourses to Mill creek above the point where that stream entered the side-cut. The contracts for deepening the summit level and for raising the dam of Oil creek reservoir were completed during the season of 1872. In 1873 the Legislature appropriated $18,537.94 for the canal (chapter 643) and in the following year (chapter 399) $2,000 was set apart for raising the tow-path bank on the four and six-mile levels to prevent flood waters of the Genesee river from overflowing.
There was considerable delay in the opening of navigation in the spring of 1874, occasioned by an extraordinarily high freshet. At first it was supposed that the damage which the canal had sustained was so great that the State would not be warranted in attempting to put it in repair. The dam was carried out at Shaker’s, together with much embankment both there and along the Cuba level. It was finally decided to make temporary repairs and navigation was opened about the first of June.
Shortly before this time the public mind began to be agitated on the subject of abandoning some of the lateral canals, but as another chapter has been devoted to a study of the causes that led to this condition it is not needful here to repeat the deductions from that study, but simply to state a few of the facts as they related to the Genesee Valley canal.
At the fall election of 1874 the State Constitution (article 7, section 6) was so amended as to "give the Legislature the authority to sell, lease or otherwise dispose of" any of the canals of the State, except the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and the Cayuga and Seneca canals. As it could not have been supposed possible to "sell or lease" the other lateral canals which were not paying financially, on conditions which required the purchaser to maintain and operate them, this amounted to abandonment, should the Legislature decide to dispose of them.
By an act of 1875 (chapter 499) the Legislature required the canal board to investigate and report upon the disposition to be made of the lateral canals; to take testimony and examine maps, surveys and documents relating to the same; to ascertain whether they should be sold, leased or abandoned; whether any should be retained as feeders and as to what effect such sale, lease or abandonment would have upon the legal rights of individuals.
According to the report of the canal board the Genesee Valley canal had cost in the aggregate $6,723,625.23, with some claims against the State on file in the appraisers’ office. They recommended that the State should lease the canal for a term of years or should sell it outright on condition that it should be maintained in good condition for four or five months each year. If it were impossible to either sell or lease the canal, they advised that the State should abandon the canal at the end of three or five years.
In May, 1876, a commission of three citizens of the State, – Warner Miller of Herkimer county, E. W. Chamberlain of Allegany county and Artemus B. Waldo of Essex county – was appointed by the Legislature (chapter 382) to further investigate the advisability of abandoning the lateral canals. An appropriation of $40,000 was made at the same time (chapter 386) to defray the expenses of collecting tolls, superintendence and maintenance for the year.
These commissioners reported that many of the structures on this canal were in a condition to last for two or three years with slight repairs, but some of them would need extensive repairing to fit them for another season’s service; that the amount of tolls collected during the season of 1876 was $14,668.50, the amount of tolls contributed to the Erie canal was only $513 and the expenditures for repairs and employees amounted to $23,264.10; that the expenses for operating the canal during a season of three or four months in 1877, if no unusual break occurred, need not exceed those of 1876; that the reservoirs and feeders along the line of the canal were not required to supply the Erie; that ample facilities for transportation were furnished by the adjoining railroads and that these roads had already superseded the canal in the carrying of nearly all the trade and tonnage of the country, except in the article of lumber. Therefore, they advised that it should be opened for at least a part of the season of 1877, that the lumber products stored along the route might be shipped, and that then the canal should be abandoned. They recommended that the Dansville branch should be closed immediately (January 19, 1877).
By an act of June 4, 1877 (chapter 404), the Legislature directed that the Genesee Valley canal should be abandoned and discontinued as a canal and be no longer subject to the control or authority of any of the canal boards or officers of the State on or after the thirtieth day of September, 1878. The act also directed that it should be the duty of the canal commissioners or Superintendent of Public Works, subject to the approval of the canal board, as soon as practicable after the close of navigation in the year 1878, to advertise for sale and to sell the Genesee Valley canal, its feeders, branches, appurtenances and water-privileges. On June 18, 1879 (chapter 522), this act was amended and the date for selling the canal was changed to January 1, 1880.
In 1880 the division engineer of the western division reported the need of retaining the Cuba and other reservoirs of the abandoned Genesee Valley canal as feeders for the Erie canal. Under chapter 326, Laws of 1880, the Legislature authorized the commissioners of the land office to sell the banks and prism of the Genesee Valley canal for $100 per mile to any railroad corporation that would give bonds as a guarantee that it would, within two years, begin the construction of a standard gauge railroad substantially following the line of the Genesee Valley canal. This act reserved two sections of the canal property – from Allen’s creek feeder to Rochester and from Cuba reservoir to Rockville reservoir.
On November 6, 1880, the Governor deeded the main line of the Genesee Valley canal to the Genesee Valley Canal Railway Company, so that, with the exception of the Cuba reservoir, its feeder of about three- fourths of a mile between the reservoir and the Genesee Valley canal, about seven and a half miles of canal below the mouth of the feeder and about ten miles between the dam across Allen’s creek and the City of Rochester, the Genesee Valley canal was no longer under the control of the State. These portions were retained for the purpose of feeding the eastern end of the "long level" of the Erie canal in the City of Rochester.
By an act of 1882 (chapter 166) the State sold the Dansville side-cut and the Wiscoy and Ischua reservoirs and feeders to farmers whose lands abutted on these sections of the canal and feeders. This canal with its numerous structures, costly in their original construction and not less so in their maintenance, was built after the era of canal-building had substantially ended. The locomotive, and consequently the method of transportation by railway, had just come into use and was practically tested when the construction of the Genesee Valley canal was entered upon. The Erie railroad was completed and in operation when the last section of the canal was brought into use at Olean.
The expectations of the projectors of this canal, as they related to its business and its pecuniary importance to the country, were never realized. The Genesee Valley canal, like the other laterals, probably did not, in the way of tolls received, pay more than one-quarter the cost of repairs, but it saved over $150,000 annually to the people of the City of Rochester in the reduced price of lumber. The measure of its utility was out of all proportions to its cost, but there is reason to wonder whether the agricultural wealth it created, the industries it stimulated, encouraged and established, the thousands of benefits and conveniences which it yearly conferred, directly and indirectly, on the country through which it passed and at its termini, were not so vast in the aggregate as to counterbalance to a large extent the expenditures that the State had made.
1 Assembly Journal, 1825, p. 612.
2 Laws of 1825, p. 356. (chapter 236.)
3 Laws of 1836, p. 340.
4 Senate Documents, 1845, No. 96.
5 Laws of 1856, p. 243.