This is the first of several articles on the interesting stories of the old canals. They are sent to us by William H. Somers, Box 9, Rome, New York.
Paul Yager and I set out one day to look over the O & W road bed south of Oneida. We were fascinated by the fact that it travelled for many miles way up on the hillside. Then it came down into the little village of Eaton and a spur ran over to Hamilton. Now, there is one point where there are four highways within a few feet of each other: the O & W RR, a county road, the Chenango River and somewhat above the river and a little below the railroad, another waterway, which we found out to be a feeder for the Chenango canal. Now, we are going to talk alot about the canal, but this feeder turned out to be of particular interest to us.
The canal itself ran from Utica to Binghamton. It was supposed to connect the Erie Canal with the Pennsylvania Canal. But the connecting canals in the southern part of the state and in northern Pennsylvania never quite made it. One part would fall into disrepair before the rest of it was completed. On top of this the Chenango Canal had quite a bit of difficulty; mostly that the repair bills were too high. Most of the canals in the East started out deep in debt, and if they did not take in pretty good money from the barges, they were in trouble. The Chenango's big mistake, like many others, was that they started out using wooden locks. They never held up for very long, and by the time they were all in operation, one would give out as soon as another had been repaired. So the job was generally done all over, putting in stone locks.
Well, we decided to go around and see where this feeder went. And go around is what we did. It travels all over the place, trying to keep as level as possible. In one place it goes almost a mile along the road, and then turns and comes back almost to the starting point. This feeder is to the south-west of Hamilton and has water in it almost all the way into the village.
The canal itself went right through Hamilton, but, of course, has been obliterated there. Just enough is left to trace it. On the east side is another feeder, which gets its water from Lake Moraine, a man made lake, which is now a popular resort place for the community. The lake does not have a concrete dam, but is filled in on the open side. There is still a gate house to control the flow of water. Along side the gate house is a spillway which is not used any more. This brings up the important feature of the Chenango, that it is still maintained from Hamilton north to control water into the Barge Canal. Along the way are numerous small dams, which I understand are used to make pools for trout.
It is quite hilly south of N. Y. Rte 5, and the canal does the same thing as the railroad in spots: it travels along the hill sides. It looks very strange so high above the highways, but it is important that a canal keep as level as possible. Of course the locks were expensive, and the mules could not pull again too strong a current.
Well, we were so intriqued by the unusual terrain of the canal, and particularly the feeder on the west side, that a few weeks later we brought down my canoe to take a little ride on it.
You drive on a dirt road way up a hill. Then you walk down into a hollow and cross a stream over one of its three dams. Then way back up the hill again to the canal. There is a gate house up there and a length of plastic pipe running down into the creek.
Starting off, the water was barely deep enough to float the canoe, which draws very little water, but there was a heavy growth of grass under the water, and we were slowed down quite a bit. After a matter of yards the canal turns around the side of the hill and you find yourself behind a row of houses. Our route led us between houses and their barns. It was here, with the houses so close together that we had the most trouble with barbed wire. In most cases you can hold up the wire with a paddle and slide under, but not here. Maybe the people didn't want tourists riding through their back yards, but some of them had made regular obstacle courses of their fences, and we would have to get out and lift the canoe over the fence.
We cruised under the road and up a little way and came to a spillway that lets the excess water drain off into the Chenango River. We exercised great care going past this instead of going over it, but it was hardly worth while. Because just a little bit further and we ran out of water. This is the part of the canal with the long loop in it. So we carried the boat over to the river and floated down that until we came to a likely looking spot and went back up the other hill into the canal again. Going down that little bit of the fast moving river is what got us interested in canoing on that type of water. Later we came back just to canoe the river.
We waited under the remains of the O & W bridge for a train to come along, but it didn't . . . and it still hasn't. From here on the water was unobstructed, so we soon made our way back to where we had left the car and changed the flat tire.
We enjoyed ourselves on this rather short jaunt that we wonder why these canals are not more perpetuated. I have read of one canal, at least where they ran Sunday excursions with mule or horse drawn boats. The Sunday afternoon passtime of boating in a quiet sort of way seems to have gone out of fashion. But I wonder if people know what they are missing.